From Daggers to Doughnuts: What to Research While Writing Fantasy


Am I stating the obvious?

Probably. But it still needs to be said.

Look, I don’t care if you’re writing about an orc falling in love with a dragon in a multidimensional galaxy, you still need to maintain certain standards of reality to keep your audience invested in your story.

I get it. There’s a freedom to writing fantasy due to its lack of restrictions, but there are still restrictions. If your orc from another world suddenly starts eating McDonald’s, I’m going to be yanked out of the story by sheer incredulity.

No one likes to be interrupted in the middle of a good book, so don’t be the one responsible for doing that to your readers.

Good, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk physics, food, and fundamental weaponry.


Think you weren’t constrained by the laws of earthly physics? You thought wrong – to an extent.

Physics is one area where you need to know the rules to break them. Why? Because until told otherwise, those are the rules your audience live by. It’s also much easier to alter these assumed rules than it is to scrap them and create your own – but if you choose to do that then you need to explain that to your reader.

A great (spoiler free) example of this comes from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas.

Maas uses descriptive imagery of her witches flying, including the wild freedom of the rushing wind. When the witches get an upgrade in flying apparatuses, she explains that the wind doesn’t bother their eyes because they have a second set of eyelids that they can blink into place, serving as a sort of natural flying goggle. The witches are vicious killing machines, they can’t be bothered by something as insignificant as the wind in their eyes.

NOTE: My fiancé pointed out that flying itself goes against the laws of physics, but Maas explains this through her complex magic system. She does a great job of integrating the rules of it throughout the series instead of having a giant infodump.

*rolls eyes at fiancé*



Gabriel Kreuther, NYC

Food is a major element, because while your audience may not be familiar with the feeling of escaping a dragon, they certainly know what a good meal should look like.

This is a big one for me. I. Love. Food. I am a foodie, and I do not discriminate. I love burgers and chateaubriand. This means that I am, perhaps insanely, familiar with foods from different cultures and classes.

Classes? You ask. Why does food have to be classist?

I’m glad you asked.

It doesn’t have to be, but if your characters are dining in the great hall of a palace and they’re eating gruel, your readers are going to be confused.

If they’ve been bragging about their chef, I don’t expect them to be excited about the bread. It’s minor details that can distract the reader.

I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m saying, make it make sense. Also, if your story is influenced by a certain culture, research their food. This can be so much fun, and you might end up with a few new recipes!

Ex. 1
In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins distinctly identifies the food based on which District the characters are in, specifically focusing on bread. When Katniss goes to the Capitol, she is enthralled by the luxurious food, but the excessive richness makes her feel sick because she is not accustomed to it. There is a distinct difference between the special meal that Katniss’ family prepares for the Reaping, and the food that Katniss imbibes on her journey. What’s more, Katniss doesn’t take it in stride, because even the cuisine is a vastly different experience from what she’s used to and where she comes from.

“I try to imagine assembling this meal myself back home. Chickens are too expensive, but I could make do with a wild turkey. I’d need to shoot a second turkey to trade for an orange. Goat’s milk would have to substitute for cream. We can grow peas in the garden. I’d have to get wild onions from the woods. I don’t recognize the grain, our own tessera rations cook down to an unattractive brown mush. Fancy rolls would mean another trade with the baker, perhaps for two or three squirrels. As for the pudding, I can’t even guess what’s in it. Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitution for the Capitol version.”

 – Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

Ex. 2
In Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo illustrates the luxurious lifestyle that the Grisha live in contract to the common army when Alina suddenly discovers that she has the powers of a Grisha. She is removed from her post in the First Army to train at the Little Palace, where she is given a lifestyle more opulent than she has ever known. Literally, the only thing less extravagant than her previous life is the food. Bardugo does include some exorbitant meals, but in the dining hall itself she maintains a standard of common fare such as herring and rye. She has the Darkling use the food as a tool to humble the Grisha, despite the splendor of their lifestyles. As explained by Genya:

“The Darkling is very keen on the idea that we all eat hearty peasant fare. Saints forbid we forget we’re real Ravkans.”

 – Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone

Fundamental Weaponry

If you don’t have any sort of weaponry in your fantasy WIP, A) I’m shocked, and B) slightly impressed, so shoot me a copy when your done (haha, get it?) so I can satisfy my curiosity.

Most fantasy works, however, do have weapons involved in some way, whether it be wands to channel magic as a weapon or swords and daggers themselves. It’s especially important to research weapons to know how your characters interact with them and what their proper uses are. If your character is experienced with weaponry and uses a battle axe to chop wood, I’m going to cringe. Most weapons experts consider their accoutrements as almost sacred. There are also a variety of factors to consider such as weight or balance, in addition to experience

Ex. 1 & 2
In An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir takes care to note the differences between how her character Elias reacts when faced with an experienced versus an inexperienced opponent. Elias has been trained multiple forms of weapons and warfare for most of his life, and the narrative is more fast paced and full of action when fighting his experienced opponent. Likewise, his tone is almost nonchalant when faced with an inexperienced opponent.

“We match each other stroke for stroke until I get a hit on her right arm.
She tries to switch sword arms, but I jab my scim at her wrist faster than she can parry. Her scim goes flying, and I tackle her. Her white-blonde hair tumbles free of her bun.
“Surrender!” I pin her down at the wrists, but she trashes and rips one arm free, scrabbling for a dagger at her waist. Steel stabs at my ribs, and seconds later, I am on my back with a blade at my throat.”

Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes

“‘Don’t be sorry.’ I look for the clearest exit, but most are flooded with students. ‘You’ll be holding a knife to more than one throat before this is all over. You’ll need to practice technique, though. I could have disarmed you-“

Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes

Finally, research your own book.
What? But you wrote it. Why should you have to research it?

So you can be consistent.

You’re creating an entire world with complex rules of magic and laws of nature that do not currently exist. Don’t assume that your readers will forgive inconsistencies. Even if they will, why would you do that to your book? As a fantasy novel, your book already relies heavily on your readers’ suspension of disbelief, so don’t push them to the point of incredulity.

These are some of the most common matters that I’ve found distracting in fantasy novels, mainly because they are so prevalent in everyday life, with the exception of weaponry. Wielding weapons, however, is a skill that needs to be mastered and so few protagonists train enough for the skill level that they display.

What other common mistakes do you find in fantasy novels that distracts you from the story?

One I’ve seen frequently is using the wrong honorific for royalty, it always makes me cringe.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll (hopefully) see you next week!


BLOG Marketing 101

Hi friends! Here’s another marketing post, by request. It’s another lengthy one, so if you’re in for the long haul, buckle up.

This post covers the bare essentials of setting up your blog for success. I didn’t cover reaching out to the blogging community, even though they are amazingly supportive, because I wanted to focus on how to breach through to a larger audience.

Is there something I missed? Comment below!

Note: If you’re wondering why the heck you should even read my marketing advice, check out my BOOK Marketing 101 post for my credentials. I’m not going to type them out again, I feel pretentious doing so. Also, with regard to email marketing, Dea Poirier has a wonderful post on Email Marketing as an Author which covers some of the legal and social aspects of having a mailing list. It’s mostly geared toward writers, but many of the points overlap for bloggers as well.

  • Figure out what you’re going to write about.
    • I know this seems fairly basic, perhaps you have a broad idea in your head. For ex. I’m a book blogger who focuses on YA/NA novels. That’s great, BUT A) there are a lot of different genres within YA/NA (ie. fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc.) and B) due to its popularity, there are A LOT of other bloggers that focus on the same thing. So why should anyone care about what I have to say?
    • I personalize my blog in two ways, A) in my About page, I emphasize that I hold a degree in English Literature from the University of Texas, so I am qualified to discuss ALL literature (sorry that I didn’t go to law school Mom), and B) I have a section on my blog for book reviews and a section for my  “rambling thoughts” as I like to call them. These are two ways in which I try to stand out, both by proving that my credibility and by allowing me to interact with readers. Thus far, my rambling thoughts section has consisted of requests made by readers, so thank you all for even taking the time to read it. I am truly humbled.
    • While it’s important to differentiate yourself, do not beat a dead horse by posting it at the beginning of every post (or video, if you’re vlogging, but that is a post for another day.) A great way to have it featured is to have an “About the Author” section at the bottom of each post, especially if you have a stable of writers who collaborate on the blog.
  • B-R-A-N-D-I-N-G
    • PERSONALITY IS IMPORTANT. Don’t be some emotionless voice on the internet. Unless you’re writing a science or tech blog, in which case by all means, feel free. But that’s still a part of your brand. As I said last week, branding deserves a post on its own, but I’ll go over some of the basics here and why it matters. I’ll also use my own website for an example. (Please note: I’ve technically had this website for a few months, but I hadn’t actually been active on it until last week, so it’s still being polished.)
    • As a blogger, you are the narrator of your blog, and maintaining the credibility of your narrative is essential to getting your readers to trust you enough to keep reading. What’s more, they are more likely to recommend your blog to someone else. It’s also important to figure out who you are as a blogger before moving on to this step. Why? Because that persona will effect the tone of your blog posts, your website design, and everything in between.
    • Ex. Lissa’s Library.
      • Lissa’s Library is not the first blog that I’ve run, but it is the first personal blog that I’ve launched.
      • Writing Style: You’ll notice that my writing style is a little ditzy and zany, with a touch of professional diction sprinkled throughout. This is intentional. It is a young adult blog geared toward a younger audience. I could easily write a post debating the merits and credibility of Bathsheba as a trailblazer for feminism in Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, but that would be off-brand. My audience doesn’t want that. (Side note: if you do want that, please let me know, because I can go for days on that one.) 
      • Website design: You’re probably thinking, but Lissa, what website design? The stark contrast of the plain white background with the vibrant colors of the book covers I have reviewed is on purpose. It’s meant to be an aesthetic representation of my degree in English and the literature that I review with it. It’s the first impression of my credibility that you get before falling down the rabbit hole.  It’s also a metaphor for the way that I, myself, am a storyteller for other peoples stories as an audiobook narrator. Without their stories, my voice is a blank canvas, but writers add their own color.
        • Less is more sometimes. Look at your homepage. Is it cluttered? Is it difficult to navigate? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, consider cutting back and simplifying it until you’re happy with your base. Once you have a homepage that is on-brand and that you are happy with, it’s easy to add on from there. If you aren’t quite sure, it can never hurt to get the opinion of a professional. There are some wonderful website designer’s out there who specialize in blogs, and many will also be happy to give a consultation.
      • Social media: I LOVE supporting the writing community of Twitter. What’s more, as a book blogger, it’s completely on brand for me to do so. I’ve pretty much composed my entire Twitter account around this premise. It has enabled me to connect with some great writers and even other bloggers in my niche. More on this in a second. That being said, there are a few things I strictly steer away from on social media. I won’t curse, I don’t talk about drinking, partying, and I don’t overly promote myself. Why? Once again, I blog for the YA/NA audience, so the first three aren’t on brand, and I don’t want to alienate them. Overly promoting yourself is also almost as bad as doing no promotion at all. If your social media feed consists mainly of promotions, then your followers will either A) silence your feed, B) unfollow you, or C) just grow immune to them. Here’s a direct quote from my BOOK Marketing 101 post: “If your voice can’t cut through the clutter on your own feed, then that’s a problem. Also, as humans, we have grown so accustomed to seeing ads everywhere all day that we naturally tune them out. ‘Cutting through the clutter’ is literally an advertising term for making your ad (in this case yourself and your books) stand out, because in America alone its estimated that on average each person encounters approximately 5,000 ads a day.”
  • Say it with me: CON-SIS-TEN-CY
    1. Post consistently and constantly. If you have to choose one though, go with consistency over frequency. If you have enough writers collaborating to post every day, or multiple times a day, then that’s great! If you’re working on your blog solo and can only commit to posting once or twice a week, that’s fine too! It’s more important for your readers to know that they can rely on your posts than for them to have a frequent flow of content. Why? That doesn’t make sense? Actually, humans are creatures of habit. If reading your blog becomes a part of that habit, and then suddenly your posts become erratic, you’ll lose- want to take a guess?- THAT’S RIGHT, CREDIBILITY.
    2. I’m not quite sure how it works with WordPress, but if you’re posting multiple times a week, then don’t email your subscribers after every single post. It goes back to the issue of clutter. Break through it, maybe send an email once a week with a summary of your posts as a kind reminder for the subscribers who haven’t already checked your site. No one wants to read those emails every single day unless they’re your mother. Even then, I don’t think my mom has even looked at my website yet. (HI MAMAN)
    3. Do some research and try to figure out what is the best time to post. Are you writing a trade blog? Then most likely, people will be reading it during their workday. I have a very talented friend who is a journalist for a cyber security news site based in DC, and they send out an email to their clients (they operate behind a paywall) at the beginning of the work day with breaking news. SIDE NOTE: News services are different from blogs and are expected to send out daily updates to their subscribers. Unless you’re running The New York Times, or BuzzFeed, please abstain from daily emails. Dea Poirier said it best:
  • Networking
    • Can you say guest blogs? Good. Go write about it. First, though, you must make friends who will graciously allow you into their home(page.) Guest blogs are a symbiotic service that allows bloggers to be featured to each other’s reader base, and increases traffic and flow to your blog. Try to maintain your credibility on these blogs though, don’t write about a topic that’s completely off-brand. Why? Well, say I were to write a guest blog for one of my Mental Health blogger friends. Hypothetically, let’s say Reader X liked my post on relaxation techniques so much that they decided to go check out my book blog. Reader X was expecting another mental health blogger, and leaves the website. See how that’s ineffective? Now, if I were to tie the post to my book blog somehow, perhaps on how to choose a good book for relaxation, it better prepares Reader X for what they would encounter when they come to my site. For a more effective guest post, I recommend writing for a friend who writes to a similar audience. I have some lovely author friends who have agreed to host me, and their fan bases happen to coincide with my audience.
  •  SEO
    • Search. Engine. Optimization. Don’t know what this is? That’s okay, it’s easy to learn. There are some great resources for learning online and at your local library. Or, if you decided to get a professional website designer, many include this as an add on to their packages. 
    • SEO is essentially a way of using key words in the metadata of your website to improve visibility in the results of search engines. It helps direct people to your website. Please note that SEO is not a one-time thing. The algorithms that search engines use are being updated all of the time, so I recommend refreshing your SEO at least once a month to maintain your place in the search cue.
    • SEO can be used on any page of your website, including each of your blog posts and articles, to help boost clicks directed from search engines. Make sure to direct your SEO toward your audience. For example, when my friend Virginia time to do my SEO on Lissa’s Library, she’ll gear each particular book review toward the fanbase of that author. Ie. the grishaverse for Leigh Bardugo, Potterheads for J. K. Rowling, etc.
  • Advertising (Optional)
    • If you have the funds, targeted ads at the niche market your blog applies to are a great way to boost your reader base. Clickbait, especially on social media platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter, entices the reader so that they are already invested in the piece before they are directed to the website.
  • Quality Content
    • I can’t help you here. This is entirely up to you. I can give you all of the tips and tricks to draw people to your blog, but if the content isn’t there then they might read one post and then move on. Stay on brand, interact with your readers, and edit until each piece shines. Remember to consider what unique perspective you can offer your posts, that no one else can.
  • Analytics
    • Most social media and blog sites have an analytics section where you can track impressions and clicks. These are extremely helpful for those who are DIYing it and help to perfect your process for your own blog through trial and error.

My post next week will be uploaded on Friday, instead of my normal Saturday routine. Thanks for reading. I love you all and good night!

BOOK Marketing 101

UPDATE 11/21: This post is for the bare basics of marketing a single book and building a good foundation as a writer. Dea Poirier has a wonderful post on Email Marketing as an Author that goes into detail on how to effectively (and legally) market yourself and your books via email.

Hi friends! Class is now in session.

Honestly, this week’s post was absolutely going to be a rant about Charles Dickens and his not so hidden misogyny (more on that later), but then one of my lovely Twitter followers started asking me some questions about how to market his book.

Fun fact, friends: my background is in marketing and advertising.

My actual degree from the University of Texas is in English Literature, but my minor was in advertising. I was about one semester short of a double major. I also worked at a marketing firm for several years before switching to audiobook narration full time. Before that, I spent several years helping to run a venture capitalist firm in Austin, Texas, doing everything necessary to help brand and launch entrepreneurs and their companies.

Anyway, credentials out of the way, I thought it might be fun to jot down some of the most basic essentials you need to market your book, and how to start your journey.

  1. Finish the book.
    • I know. This one seems obvious, but I don’t simply mean get to the end. Find beta readers and listen to them, edit and then edit again, polish that baby until it shines, take it on a pilgrimage to your editor and pray. (Side note: if you don’t have an editor, I highly recommend getting one. It is worth the investment. If you’re serious about selling your book, which I assume you are since you are reading this, then DO IT. Some of them even have payment plans, and you’ll be surprised how much you missed.)
    • Only once your book is beautiful and shiny should you continue. Why? Why shouldn’t you simply release it and test the waters? Because, my darling, there are terribly picky bloggers out there, like me, who will tear stylistic and grammatical errors to shreds. Not to mention major plot holes *shudder*. You can write the story of the century, but if it’s filled with issues:
      • It kills the credibility of your narrator.
      • It distracts from your overall story.
      • People will notice. Not just bloggers, but your readers. That is not what you want people to remember about your book. 
  2. Identify your target audience.
    • This is so important for about a million reasons, but it also helps you narrow your marketing efforts so that they are reaching the right demographic. How do you do this?
      • Start by determining the genre of your book. Find similar authors in your genre, and see who is buying their books, who they are marketing to. Goodreads is a great source for this, as their amazing users have compiled list upon list of books organized by genre, emotion, and pretty much anything you can think of. I was in Minnesota last week, and I looked up books to read when its snowing outside.
      • Another great way to find similar authors is to go to your local bookstore. Find the section with your genre and spend some time looking through their books. Jot down the names of authors with similar titles and look them up. Most authors have their own website, and many have blogs or newsletters in which they talk about their own experiences. Even if they don’t, you can see their marketing tactics when you look them up. Are their posts geared toward teens? What blogger community do they interact with the most? Keep in mind that many of these authors have publicists that are armed with statistics and connections, but there is no reason why you can’t make your own dent if you do your research.
  3. DO judge your book by its cover. Everyone else does.
    • I plead guilty. To be fair, I’m biased, but a good book cover is the first thing we see, be it online or in the store. A good book cover jumps out at you, and if it has an interesting summary to go with it, usually jumps right into my basket. This is one area where your earlier research in Section 2 comes in handy. What the covers look like of other books in your genre? What about the books most similar to yours? Obviously your cover shouldn’t look exactly the same as theirs, but there are subtle cues in the design that scream the book’s genre, and informs the reader where it belongs. A great multimedia example of this is how the Stranger Things logo is actually inspired by Stephen King’s book covers, because they wanted something that is automatically recognized as horror and sends a chill through the audience. Subtlety is an art form.
    • Not artistically inclined? There are several wonderful graphic designers who make a living doing book covers. Make sure to find one who specializes in your genre. They might even feature your book cover in their portfolio and on their social media.
  4. Network.
    • Talk with other writer, book bloggers, your readers. Even your graphic designers, you never know when you’ll be in a pinch and they’ll go the extra mile for you because they know your face. I did a book cover for a friend last month as a favor, and I hadn’t done graphic design in over a year.
    • Your peers are some of your biggest supporters. They know how hard it is to make it as a writer and with them, you get what you give. They’re in the trenches with you, and we all support one another.
  5. Social Media.
    • Okay, so technically social media should go under networking, and it does. There are some key points, however, that I feel need to be addressed here. Social media can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
    • The number of followers that you have is irrelevant. That’s right. I said it. You could have ten thousand followers, and someone with one hundred could outsell you if their network is more interactive than yours. Why? Because people who interact with you actively care about your work. I don’t mean retweeting every tweet about your book, I mean actual conversations. Don’t get me wrong, retweeting is a great way to support your friends, but is your entire feed other people’s promotions? If your voice can’t even cut through the clutter on your own feed, then that’s a problem. Also, as humans, we have grown so accustomed to seeing ads everywhere all day that we naturally tune them out. “Cutting through the clutter” is literally an advertising term for making your ad (in this case yourself and your books) stand out, because in America alone its estimated that on average each person encounters approximately 5,000 ads a day.
    • How can you use social media effectively? Start by showcasing your own voice consistently. Post your thoughts, have conversations with your followers, tempt us with snippets from your book. In short, make people care about what you have to say. 
  6. Bloggers.
    • I’m sure that you’re tired of me yammering on about networking and calling it by a new name, but seriously this one is important because bloggers will give unbiased opinions on your book. If you do it correctly. That being said, a lot of book bloggers will post on their website whether or not they are open to unsolicited requests/ARCs. I know that it’s your book baby, and it’s hard to give it away for free, sending it on its way all alone to face the criticizing eyes of reviewers, but it has to stand on its own. You can tell the world that your book is amazing, and it might be, but why should they believe you? An unbiased opinion will give more credibility to your book baby, and their readers might be intrigued enough by the premise to go pick up a copy for themselves.
    • Also, on this note, do your research before contacting a book blogger. Every time someone calls me a novelist, I groan and roll my eyes, because I know that they didn’t take the time to read my profile. The stories that I tell are not my own, and I am proud and humbled that authors have trusted me to bring their books to life.
  7. Consider audiobooks.
    • As an audiobook narrator, I am of course partial to this medium, but it also opens up your book to an entire new spectrum of readers, including the people who *whispers* don’t read. Shocker! Those people do exist, which is sacrilegious, I know. *Glares at fiancé across the living room.*
    • Audiobooks open up your story as well, and the right narrator might even give it a new life that you hadn’t expected. The audiobook audience is loyal to authors and narrators alike, and once they find one that they like, they tend to go back for more.
    • Think you can’t afford to create an audiobook? Several production companies, the one I work for included, offer stipend programs for certain books to cover the costs of production in exchange for partial rights to the audio. They also might offer to buy the rights outright.
    • ACX, Audible’s contractor marketplace, also allows you to choose between paying the producer PFH (per finished hour) or via their Royalty Share program. ACX gives you more freedom when choosing your narrator, but many (not all) of their narrators work independently, and the quality can be hit or miss. If you choose to go this route, its important to address quality concerns during the audition process.

Don’t even get me started on branding, that would take an entire post on its own. Maybe two.

This was a long post and I’m exhausted. Honestly, I’m impressed if you made it this far. It’s about 2 am over here in Austin, so I’ll go back and edit in the morning. I know, you’re probably thinking “Whaaaat? It’s 2 in the morning on a Saturday night (Sunday morning?) and you’re writing a blog post?”

Yes. I just love you guys so much.

I hope you find this helpful, and feel free to ask any comments in the section below!

See you next week, friends!