If there’s a book you want to read, then write it.
– Toni Morrison
My foray into fiction began with an idea for a story. An amazing story that I believed I would query or publish, then repeat with another hit—once all the press had died down from the first one, of course. Thankfully, I attended my first writers’ conference before I sent out a single query letter or uploaded the story to an online retailer. The conference was an eye-opener that demonstrated how little I knew about the craft and business of writing. I left that conference feeling humbled, overwhelmed, and questioning whether I was cut out to be a twenty-first-century author.
Understand Your Why
If I’d understood the amount of work, humility, and effort—did I mention humility— involved in writing a novel, I’m not sure I would have undertaken the task. But the thing that’s kept me going over the past several years has been my why.
I began writing fiction because I wanted to tell stories about imperfect love in a way that I hadn’t seen done before.
I wanted to tell stories that reflected the diversity of the world around me.
And, I wanted to make a living doing something I loved. A great living.
So, on the days when my critique group suggests I scrap a scene and start over, I remember my why.
When people quote stats about how difficult it is to become a successful author, I remember my why.
And on the days when a successful career as a writer seems more like something out of a futuristic novel than my real life, I think about my why.
Your why has to be strong enough to propel you through those times when the learning curve seems insurmountable, and the last thing you want to do is write.
Write a Lot. Write Often.
Write a lot and write often. It’s the one piece of advice you’ll always hear from successful authors.
As new writers excited to gain traction with our first books, our response to hearing the above is usually something like, “Okay, okay, I know that, but what about finding an audience? What about Twitter, and Instagram, and what in the world is a Snapchat? And since we’re hurling honest questions at each other, what if my writing is no good? What if I’m no good?”
Take a moment to fully grasp this fundamental truth: it all comes down to the writing.
Writers have active imaginations. It’s a job requirement, a skill that’s necessary to create our characters and our worlds. But that active imagination can lead us down roads long before we’re ready to take them. So, before you start worrying about how you’ll juggle a press tour between your family life and other obligations, take a moment to fully grasp this fundamental truth: it all comes down to the writing.
If you maintain a long-term view of your writing career, you’ll likely need more than one book to even start gaining traction. Some say the number is three. Others say six. The consensus is, the more the better.
There are exceptions. Andy Weir’s The Martian for one. New Adult phenom, Colleen Hoover, began hitting bestseller lists a few months after publishing her first novel. But these are exceptions. Exceptions are awesome, and maybe some of us will hit that winning mix of magic, luck, and good writing that lands us on bestseller lists and snags movie deals, but I propose a more measured approach to thinking about your writing career.
If we can create an environment where we’re constantly writing, thinking about writing, or reading about writing, then we will begin the work of establishing a strong foundation. The marketing and publishing must come, but for now, fellow writers, write a lot and write often.
Photo credit: Pixabay
David vs. Goliath
Neo vs. Mr. Smith
Batman vs. Superman
Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
While there’s yet to be bloodshed (at least I haven’t heard about it in any of my writing circles), there are people lining up on both sides of the twenty-first-century publishing debate.
In one camp are the “traditionalists” who cite the dismal quality of many self-published books, the absence of gatekeepers, and all the marketing and self-promotion indie writers have to do just to keep their heads above water.
In the other camp are the “indies” who point to draconian publishing contracts, an industry that lacks diversity, and all the marketing traditionally published writers still have to do to keep their heads above water.
And both camps point to statistics that suggest unlikely chances for success no matter what publishing route you take.
The Best of Both Worlds
I believe the “battle” between the groups is a lie that only ends up hurting authors, no matter what path they choose. The beauty of the twenty-first-century writing career is that emerging authors can learn from both camps. I truly believe that by adopting an entrepreneurial mindset, authors can create sustainable writing careers.
I’m a member of several online self-publishing groups. The marketing tactics and techniques I learn from other members are head-and-shoulders above what I’ve learned anywhere else. By paying attention to indie authors, authors seeking to go the traditional route can employ methods such as reader magnets that can exponentially grow their email lists. Lists that will only serve to strengthen your appeal when approaching agents and editors.
Indie authors can hire professional editors, proofreaders, and cover designers who will make their books indistinguishable from traditionally published work.
The future of writing and book publishing is one where writers harness their collective power to shape the industry’s future— delivering books people want to read in the ways they want to read them.
Photo: Designed by Freepik
Met a friend for lunch today. Like me, she’s a writer. Also like me, she’s in the early stages of launching her dream career. I’m working on a blog post about my takeaways from our meeting, but one thing we talked about is how we (the collective) often enter creative ventures hoping or expecting or believing that someone will rescue us.
It’s not something we do consciously. It’s a secret desire that somehow someone bigger, smarter, and much further along in the journey will help us with a shortcut to major success. Of course, we put in some work, and effort, and a whole lot of thought, but somewhere at the forefront of our thoughts is the idea that this individual or this opportunity will somehow present itself and give us our big break. We’re subconsciously seeking a hero.
But as much as I love the DC and Marvel Universes, as much as I dedicate way, way too much time watching the Flash and Arrow on TV, I have to acknowledge that when it comes to the creative career I’ve set out to establish for myself, the literary version of Batman is not sitting on pins and needles waiting for my “writer in distress” signal.
He doesn’t have an eye trained to my tiny corner of Georgia looking for the next breakout multi-cultural, women’s fiction, romance mash-up writer. He probably has no idea what a multi-cultural, women’s fiction, romance mash-up writer is. Literary Batman is not going to launch my writing career into the stratosphere.
So here’s the reality we as writers and creatives must confront if we intend to stick around for the long haul: We must become our own heroes. It’s that simple. At the end of a long day fighting battles with words, we have to go home, peel out of our sweat-slicked costumes, dab some salve on our wounds, and get ready for the fight that tomorrow will most assuredly bring.
It’s that simple. But it’s definitely not that easy.
I’ll follow up next time with the next thing I learned at my meeting: Once you make your desire to launch a creative career public, you’ll be surprised where your help comes from, and where it doesn’t.
IndieRecon, the online conference for indie-authors, is officially over. The conference was jam-packed with live interviews and presentations. Good news if you missed the conference: they’re posting everything on their website. I’m still working my way through the list but after watching HM Ward’s presentation, I was chomping at the bit to share a few things I learned.
If you’re not familiar with HM Ward and you’re interested in the indie publishing scene, you should definitely check out her blog, http://blog.demonkissed.com/. Ward is a New York Times bestselling indie author who writes “sexy awesome books.” In fact, since 2011 she’s sold over 10 million of them. That’s not a typo. That’s 10 million books in under 5 years, all without using a traditional publisher. It doesn’t hurt that Ward writes in the hottest indie-publishing genre. But if you’re thinking that her advice won’t be relevant because you write in another genre or because you write non-fiction, you’re wrong. Ward’s advice is practical and applicable no matter what you’re writing. In my opinion, these are the top takeaways from her talk:
Price is no longer the big determining factor it once was in the eBook game
Makes sense when you think about it. With the glut of free titles being made available on a seemingly daily basis, readers who like free and cheap books now look at other things to help them make a choice. The key is understanding what makes a reader choose one book (in their preferred genre) over another. Which brings us to Ward’s second point…
Time is the new obstacle
With so many free books available to readers, time (not money) becomes the real obstacle a new author has to surmount. And the question then becomes, how do I show the reader that my book is worth their time. Ward believes there are three things that get readers to buy a book. She calls it…
The Golden Trifecta
Ward used the image of a three-legged stool where the book was the seat, and the blurb, cover, and sample were the three legs. She argues that if you don’t get all three right, your sales will be hindered. Covers are a no-brainer. If you have a horrible cover, your book will barely get a look. A few highlights about blurbs and samples:
Blurb – Look at your query letter and use that as a guide. Provide a clear hook and give them just enough to want to read the book. The blurb isn’t a summary, either. Keep it short, tight, and interesting. I liken it to a movie trailer. Put in all the exciting stuff, leave out everything else.
Sample – Your cover was awesome, your blurb fantastic. The reader liked both enough to download the sample. Don’t give them backstory or a beginning that doesn’t deliver any excitement before the sample concludes. Give them conflict, action, and empathy.
Here’s a suggestion. Go back and revisit a book in your genre that you loved. Study the cover. Reread the blurb and the first few pages. And then figure out what it was about those things that drew you in, that turned you from a browser to a buyer to a reader, and maybe even a fan.
I encourage you to head straight over to the IndieRecon site and watch Ward’s entire presentation. You can find it here.
Image attribution: Steve Baty Flickr
A very short, and very true story about the day I fell.
I see the crack in the sidewalk, but I’m going too fast to avoid it. Four weeks post-surgery and this cross between a tricycle and a scooter is my primary means of transportation. And it’s about to be my downfall. Literally.
You know how the movies slow stuff down for dramatic effect? There’s a reason they do that. It’s because when it happens in real life, it being you and your tri-scooter going topsy turvy in your office parking lot, it really does happen in slow motion.
I feel myself pitching forward, and I sense the very moment when momentum has taken me too far forward to reverse what’s about to happen next. I do have the presence of mind to avoid landing on the foot that’s gotten me into this mess in the first place. And I land squarely on my left knee and the palms of my hands.
As I’m going down, I hear a wailing. But it’s not me. It’s my mom, and she’s calling on the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not sure if she’s calling on him to save me or her, but either way, he let us both down because as I’m gathering myself together on the filthy parking lot ground, my mom is bawling and shaking her fists at the sky, all the while yelling, “Not on my watch! This shouldn’t happen on my watch!” Now it’s hilarious, but at the time, the pain in her voice drowns out the throbbing of my knee and palms and pushes me to move double time over to her to comfort her.
You see, in the flight or fight dichotomy, my mom is neither. She’s the other “F” – Frozen. My mom is so distraught at the prospect of me falling that she has planned her response before it actually happened. A quickly placed hand might have set me straight, but alas, my mom was already planning our defeat.
We’re all good now. My knee was swollen for a couple of days, my palms bruised. And we can all laugh about the fall now. Particularly this bit. My mom, on the phone that night, tears and pain forgotten, said, “My biggest regret is that I didn’t get to her sooner.” But here’s the thing. My mom technically never got to me at all. She was frozen, in place, the entire time. I walked – or rolled rather – over to her.
Grace W. is a writer, blogger, part-time chef (nope), and full-time geek. She’s working on her first novel. The Writer’s Station is where she shares the trials and tribulations of being a wanna-be author.
One thousand words a day.
It’s the least I can do for myself. It’s the best thing I can do for myself.
One thousand words that may not be the best, but that will eventually lead to my best.
One thousand words that when compounded over time add up to dozens of blog posts, or an entire book, or several books. And ultimately, a career.
One thousand words without judgement, without thought of how I will possibly repeat it tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.
In 2015 a thousand words a day, without judgement, is my gift to myself. It’s my way of thanking God, my way of persevering, my way of demonstrating faith.
Only 881 to go.
What are your writing goals for 2015? Share them in the comment section, then follow me on my own writing journey here on my blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Happy Writing!
A little over a year and a half ago I attended my first writers conference. While there, I was reminded that so many of the lessons I’ve learned about writing transcend the practice and apply to life in general. Sometimes these lessons aren’t new, but serve as reminders of the life we want to live. From the humbleness and approachability of a New York Times best-selling author, to the “butt in the chair” mentality of the just-published, never-been published, and everyone in between, I learned something from everyone I came across.
Lesson 1: People do judge a book by its cover. When you’re the author of the book, that can be a great thing – if the cover says everything you want it to say about what’s on the inside. But as readers (and observers of life), we should be wary of judging a book by its cover alone. That judgement (the conclusion we come to about that book) is only skin deep, and we might miss out on some wonderful content just because the packaging doesn’t look the way we expect it to.
It’s a great metaphor for how we look at people who, at first glance, appear different – even very different – from us. By focusing only on outer appearances, we bring all our history and baggage (often unfairly) into the judgment process and by so doing, miss out on potentially life-changing conversations and relationships. Great covers are great to look at, but be prepared to value a book, not for its cover, but for its content.
Lesson 2: I’m not one to strike up conversations with strangers, but I find that (particularly at a writers conference) people will talk if you will listen. I didn’t want to take the easy way out and hide behind my phone or tablet so I took the opportunity to sit with people I didn’t know. Every time I did, I was inspired by their stories of tenacity and perseverance. In the span of two days, I had conversations with: Continue Reading →
“Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan.” I first heard this piece of advice while listening to NPR on the way to work one morning. The story was about Macular Degeneration, and featured a woman who loved to read. As the macular degeneration robbed her of her eyesight, she found herself falling into depression.
The psychologist being interviewed for the piece talked about therapy for individuals in this situation. The therapy involves making a plan. In this woman’s case, she not only loved to read, she loved to cook, but with her eyesight failing, she could no longer read her recipe books. The plan was to create recipe binders. Each binder would hold one recipe, each page in the binder one ingredient. Obviously using this method took longer than she was accustomed to, but she eventually was able to prepare a huge dinner for her entire family. In her words, the meal covered everything “from soup to nuts.”
“Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan,” was a constant reminder to follow the plan and the recipes she’d so carefully laid out, regardless of how she was feeling on any particular day.
As writers we’ll most certainly have feelings of self-doubt. We will feel incapable, inadequate, incompetent. We will question our talent, our ability, and we will, at times, feel like throwing in the towel. I know this, because I feel these things on a regular basis. It sucks, it can be debilitating, and while we’re feeling it, it is for most of us, counterproductive.
And this is where plans come in. Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan. Your plan is to write your book, your short story, or your screenplay. It is to query agents, to submit your essays or to self-publish. Your feelings will derail you at times but if you can write despite of these feelings, if you can stick to your plan, eventually you’ll be able to do what you set out to do, from soup to nuts.
Photo credit: Flickr
I borrowed the term “The Ugly Middle” from a writing blog I follow called The Write Practice. You can read the original blog post here. That post refers specifically to writing, but as with so many writing related topics, the lessons can apply to much more.
Beginnings are exciting. Endings can be triumphant.
The middle though…sometimes the middle is the mess.
It’s far enough from the excitement of the beginning that you sometimes forget why you started. And so far away from the end that you wonder why you started in the first place.
I’ve now, in earnest, been writing fiction for over a year. I know, for some of you a year sounds like nothing, and in the scope of a writing career I’m aware it’s a drop in the bucket. BUT a year in I realize that I seriously underestimated the sheer amount of effort, work, time, and mind-space it would take to actively pursue writing. A few months shy from publishing my first short story I’m realizing the magnitude of what I’m trying to do. In many ways, I’ve entered the ugly middle. Continue Reading →