Stars Who Burn Too Bright

Present word count of WIP:  32,767

I am so sad over Whitney Houston’s passing…yes, we will never hear that magnificent voice again except in recordings. But it isn’t so much the fact that she is gone as it is the sad, sad decline that led to her departure. The waste of a beautiful soul in the grip of addiction.

So many bright, talented stars in this world (and I’m not speaking of Hollywood or the Music Industry here, but artists of all kinds) burn out all too soon before any of us would wish them to depart the scene. Most tragic of all are those who lose all control over their lives, almost giving life away as if it were too much to bear. I hope her daughter can heal from the loss.

I can’t segue from these thoughts to something so practical as steps you can take to make certain your book gets the kind of launch it needs. I’ll continue Godin’s advice on Friday.

For now, I can only be grateful for the life I have…away from the glare of lights and cameras and media, where my artistic struggles are performed in private, my poor attempts to capture truth on the page not spread out for the world to trample on…until I am ready. And even then, a very slight portion of the world takes notice. That’s a good thing. I am thus ensured years, during which I can perfect my art. Years that every now and then (like yesterday and today) I do not take for granted.

Originally posted 2012-02-13 17:48:09.

Whether to go “big” or “small”

Present word count:  28,073

Husband’s home, cat’s healthy, I’m writing. YAY!

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

7. Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a ‘real’ publisher. You give up a lot of time. You give up a lot of the upside. You give up control over what your book reads like and feels like and how it’s promoted. Of course, a contract from Knopf and a seat on Jon Stewart’s couch are great things, but so is being the Queen of England. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you. Far more likely is that you discover how to efficiently publish (either electronically or using POD or a small run press) a brilliant book that spreads like wildfire among a select group of people.

Okay, I actually have to quibble with a lot of this, although I kind of agree with the gist of what he’s saying.

Actually, given such online sites as QueryTracker, you’re spending a year trying to please A LOT of different people in New York (and some in Colorado or the West Coast), hoping that AT LEAST ONE will want to represent you and get you a traditional contract. Besides, if you’re doing things right, you’re not spending ALL of that year trying to achieve that…you’re also continuing to write more stories.

I don’t think, if you do it right, you give up a lot of time. Let’s say you’ll devote a couple of hours each Friday afternoon to queries. That’s not a lot of time.

As for giving up control over what your book reads or feels like, that may be a good thing! You may really need an editor. Hopefully not, but you may. I’m just saying.

And the promotion point is kind of moot, unless you’re going to be the next J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, etc. Why? Because big publishers don’t really do much promotion anymore unless they think you’re going to be that big a success. So, in 99% of the cases, the promotion’s pretty much up to you, anyway. You’re controlling it (hopefully).

I guess Jon Stewart is the new Oprah (and Godin told us not to bother with her in his last point), but, yeah, I’d take a seat in his studio any time. He is sooo funny (except when he swears or is a bit vulgar). But who says it’s great being the Queen of England? I’d rather be Oprah. Kate Middleton can have all those garden parties and laying of wreaths. I’d rather write, thank you very much.

Finally, if he means my family and close friends when he’s talking about my book spreading “like wildfire among a select group of people,” well…I can’t quibble with that.

My conclusion: if I think I have a “big” concept, I’ll go “big.” Otherwise, I’ll probably be content with a smaller press.

Originally posted 2012-02-06 17:14:24.

Cat-tastrophe Averted

Present word count: 25,772

Husband out of town on business. Cat deathly ill. Result: 35 words written. At least, Peach is on the mend (I know he’s a sensitive cat, but only an hour after we had seriously considered putting him down, he began to finally eat again without vomiting)…and my husband returns tomorrow. It’s been a long, unproductive week. Some weeks are like that.

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

6. Resist with all your might the temptation to hire a publicist to get you on Oprah. First, you won’t get on Oprah (if you do, drop me a note and I’ll mention you as the exception). Second, it’s expensive. You’re way better off spending the time and money to do #5 instead, going after the little micromarkets. There are some very talented publicists out there…, but in general, see #1.

First of all, Oprah’s no longer an option (not that it ever really was). Secondly, I’m convinced that after all the hard work we do as writers, hitting the big time really does come down to luck: having the right concept in front of the right eyes at the right time. The stars align and…Voilá! You get waves of recognition and publicity.

Once more, we need to ask ourselves why we write. Are we in it for fame or success? I believe there’s a difference. Success means you regularly produce fiction that you find personally satisfying and that attracts its own gradually expanding pool of readers. Fame is a whole other stratosphere, generally beyond one’s control.

So, who really needs a publicist? What we really need to do is learn to force ourselves to write, even when our personal lives get stressful…like, say, when one’s cat looks to be on death’s door.

Originally posted 2012-02-03 19:46:33.

Find Your Readers

Present word count:  25,737

Okay, first of all I need to explain why I only wrote 447 words over the past two days (Sundays don’t count because I don’t write on Sundays). One of my cats, Peach, has been really sick and we thought we might have to put him under, even though he’s only 7 years old. We have two cats and he’s my favorite…in fact, he’s my writing buddy, so it’s been hard to focus. His little cat bed is in my office and he’s the one that bugs me every day around lunchtime so I’ll get up to go have some lunch. He keeps me on schedule, but with him being unable to keep food or water down, my schedule kind of suffered. Anyway, my husband took him to the vet today, not knowing if he’d be bringing him back. Yay! He came back. Hopefully, I won’t have to take him back for the last time if we get bad news about his tests. The good news is that my husband’s going on a business trip tomorrow and won’t be back until Saturday, so I get LOTS and LOTS of uninterrupted writing time…that should pick up my word count considerably. I promise to keep you posted about Peach.

And now…

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

5. Don’t try to sell your book to everyone. First, consider this: “58% of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school.” Then, consider the fact that among people even willing to buy a book, yours is just a tiny little needle in a very big haystack. Far better to obsess about a little subset of the market–that subset that you have permission to talk with, that subset where you have credibility, and most important, that subset where people just can’t live without your book.

First, let me just say that 58% statistic is just sad. Sad, but probably true. I remember my shock when I met a woman in my previous church congregation down in Southern California who admitted that she never read books. She hated reading. Something inside me kind of shriveled up that day. Oh, well. These are obviously not the people we’re writing our books for.

It’s great to have big goals like writing and publishing a best-seller, some novel that whole new hordes of people line up to buy, but realistically, most authors are going to have to be content with developing their fan base gradually. The way you write and the things you write about are going to appeal to a certain group of readers. If you write genre fiction, you can try to capture all the readers of your particular genre, but there is so much out there that you’ll still only get a slice. You might increase your numbers by mixing a couple of genres and getting crossover appeal. But, hey, a 10,000 reader slice sounds terrific to some of us! I have several author friends who easily surpass that and I’m honored to know them.

The key is building that relationship with your readers once they happen across your orbit, so that you can keep them coming back. First, I think you need to keep providing a steady stream of product for them. This means, of course, that you can’t afford to sit back on your laurels. You’ve got to keep writing because they’re always asking when your next book is coming out. Second, you need to be responsive without letting them take over your life. Third, you need to be very visible online these days. Those are just my ideas.

I’d love to hear what my more experienced author friends have to say on this subject. How have you found your readers? More importantly, how have you kept them?

Originally posted 2012-01-30 17:55:14.

Think of your books as souvenirs

Present word count:  25,290 (I know, I know…not enough…I promise much more next time)

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

4. Understand that a non-fiction book is a souvenir, just a vessel for the ideas themselves. You don’t want the ideas to get stuck in the book… you want them to spread. Which means that you shouldn’t hoard the idea! The more you give away, the better you will do.

I think this applies equally well to fiction. We definitely want the characters, issues, and themes in our stories to spread. More than that, we want our fan base to spread out and grow. Godin is all about giving ideas away for free because he knows that, in the end, you reap what you sow.

That’s what I love about author communities like LDStorymakers and ANWA. The more we give to our fellow writers (whether it’s the benefit of our experience, or helpful critiques, or simply our attention), the more we grow and are enriched as writers. I’ve felt badly that I haven’t given more lately in either group, but my time has been crunched by both the Storymaker website and reading for the Whitneys. Still, I know that once my schedule frees up, I can make up for lost time. I don’t know if it’s the fact that 99% of us are still struggling for the audience we want… or the fact that one hit today doesn’t guarantee a lifetime of success, but for some reason, our hearts can’t help but go out to each other. Writers, as a whole, are some of the most unselfish people I know in business.

And our books truly are souvenirs for both us and our readers. They help us remember what our own lives were like as we wrote them. Depending on the content, they can help us remember people, places, or events in our lives. And they speak to our readers in similar ways, though the reading experience is unique for each person who reads our words. They meld their own memories, experiences, and ideas with ours as they read.

Sometimes, book marketing is not about sales so much as spreading your words. Think of your books as souvenirs and give some away.

Originally posted 2012-01-27 13:19:24.

An Editor is a Must

Present word count of WIP:  24,186

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

3. Pay for an editor. Not just to fix the typos, but to actually make your ramblings into something that people will choose to read. I found someone I like working with at the EFA. One of the things traditional publishers used to do is provide really insightful, even brilliant editors (people like Fred Hills and Megan Casey), but alas, that doesn’t happen very often. And hiring your own editor means you’ll value the process more.

Hear, hear!!! I am reading a book right now for Whitney judging purposes that has all kinds of typos, head hopping, even whole words left out. I’m not sure if it’s because the author rushed the PDF version in order to qualify it for judging, or what, but you can be sure it won’t make my top five.

Whether you’re self-publishing (and particularly if you’re going that route) or not, you should have extra eyes on your manuscript once you think it’s in its top, finished form. I did that for my first novel (self-published) and it really paid off. Not only did the woman catch all my favorite words and phrases, but she pointed out a weakness or two in the plot or pacing.

I don’t care if you’re working on your first novel or your fifteenth. As you write, you develop what I like to call “writer’s blindness.” You are so used to the story in your head and all you have developed in terms of backstory, as well as all you know that’s coming up, that you forget to read what you’ve written as a critical reader would. I’m not sure it’s even possible for you to do so.

I have a terrific writer’s group, and while I rely on one member for the overall plot picture and pacing, another for the emotion in my scenes, another for the lilt of the language, and the last for the nuts and bolts of grammar and spelling, I still plan on running the finished version by a professional editor. Why? Because, unlike my writer’s group, he/she will read it in a more condensed time frame, not having fallen in love with it gradually as my writer friends may have. He/she will be critical, honest, thorough, and most of all–worth it!

So, plan for an editor.

Originally posted 2012-01-23 16:50:02.

Aim High or Aim Low?

Present word count of WIP: 20,552

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

1. Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don’t expect much.

This is the kind of advice that is comforting to the writer who has received a lot of rejections, the writer who’s gotten kind of lazy, or the writer who is surrounded by other successful authors and unsure whether he/she should continue.

But is it good advice?

I suppose it depends on your goals as a writer, and this leads me to a lengthy posting by Kristine Kathryn Rusch on her blog here, in which she takes many authors to task for not being ambitious enough or not being realistic in our ambitions. Granted, she’s definitely in the self-publishing camp (which becomes obvious as you read her post), but I think her main points are well-taken and apply to any author–traditionally published or not.

It’s the rare writer who actually has ambitions—real ambitions—and stands up for them. It’s the rare writer who not only dreams of glory (bestseller lists, millions of dollars, fame, lasting acclaim, or whatever) but actually works toward those dreams.

She teaches a lot of published authors who have lost their way in their career and are trying to get back on track. Her observation:

I urge these writers to become individuals and go on their own path, and if they don’t agree with something I say, then they should do it their way and prove me wrong. Most of the students are startled that I want them to question. I want them to think.

But that’s the only way you can have a long-term career as the person in charge of any business. You have to think, and be creative, and you can’t let roadblocks stop you.

You have to find a way around them.

But most of all, you have to question accepted wisdom. Last week, a lot of people came on my blog in the comments section spouting myths that teachers, editors, agents, and other writers have pounded into them, mostly telling these poor folks how impossible it is to do well in this business.

The key, in her opinion, is thinking big.

If you look around and see a small world, filled with a few friends, professors, and local bookstores, you’ll never make the kind of decisions that you need to survive in an international business. If you believe you have to chase sales with low price points or blog tours or book signings at area bookstores, you’ll never make the kind of decisions that you need to survive in an international business.

If you strive to do the best you can, write a lot of books, and make sure your books are in as many bookstores as possible—ebookstores, audio bookstores, foreign bookstores, as well as US bookstores, in English as well as dozens if not hundreds of languages (over time)—then you will succeed in this international business. You’re looking at the big picture.

So, do we aim low, not expecting much, as Godin advised, in order to ensure our contentment and happiness…or do we aim high, shooting for the stars, as Rusch advises? Something tells me the answer lies in our own personal natures, for that is where ambition begins. Do we tend toward fear and self-doubt or faith and self-confidence?

Originally posted 2012-01-16 17:06:11.

Why Do Authors Always Do It Backwards?

Present word count of WIP:  23,516

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

2. The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.

So, basically, he’s saying we need to think about selling long before we have a product to sell. Of course, most authors do it backwards. They build the product first and then think about how to sell it…when it’s probably too late to get the most for our efforts.

Then, again, we don’t pick up pen and paper (or type away at a keyboard) in the first place to make money. We do it for the love of writing and storytelling. But if you’re in this business to make a lot of sales, then it might be best to heed his advice.

With rare exceptions (like J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer), it takes most authors a good 5-6 books to begin to have a real following. Why? Because it simply takes that long. Not only is each novel generally improving in quality, but over time more readers are added to their fan base as word spreads from friend to friend.

You might argue that Godin writes nonfiction, and for the nonfiction writer, platform is everything. These days, however, I’d argue that platform is becoming just as important for the fiction writer.

That’s why I’m going to keep blogging away, friending on FB, tweeting (though I need to get a lot more consistent there), writing reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and other places online, and taking every possible opportunity to attend/present at conferences and retreats (as long as I can afford it, that is).

If Godin’s right, then I can expect to be published by 2015 (traditionally, that is…of course, I’m actually hoping for some time this year with Laps). And by then, I should have at least three more manuscripts ready and available for the audience I will have built.

But, then, by 2015 who knows what publishing will look like in America? And on that note, what do you think of the new iBooks Author?

Originally posted 2012-01-20 17:07:18.

Sharing Some Advice for Writers

Present word count of WIP:  19,405

I’m a bit miffed that, after such a good start, my son’s sudden end-of-semester homework requirements took me off-track. After four days in a row of knocking off 1,000+ words a day, I was only able to write 265 words on Wednesday. Thursday and today were even worse. I’m hoping that, after dinner tonight, I can knock out 1,000+ words and update my word count. The bad news is, he’s got another big assignment due next week. I’ll work around it somehow.

In the meantime, I promised to share some advice for writers received in an email from Seth Godin at the Domino Project.

He sent it in two batches. The first was written by him six years ago and basically consists of these five ideas about the state of publishing: (My comments follow in blue)

1) “Book publishing is an organized hobby, not a business.”

His point was that authors and publishers, alike, don’t get much for all their efforts…they’re doing it for love more than money. But there is a certain cachet attached to having written a book or being in the publishing industry. He also noted that writers have an opportunity to “spread an idea and a brand far and wide.” So, if you want to write a book, you need to think long and hard about your true motivations.

2) “The timeframe for the launch of books has gone from silly to unrealistic.”

I agree that a world that once moved slowly now changes from day to day, so I can see his point that we have to consider carefully the “shelf life” of our ideas or stories. (He writes nonfiction, so this is more pertinent to him than to me.) Still, it’s a bad idea to try and write what’s currently popular because, if you’re lucky and it gets published three years later, its popularity will most certainly have waned. Write what you feel like writing regardless!

3) “There is no such thing as effective book promotion by a book publisher.”

He immediately adds that, of course, this isn’t true. Look at Harry Potter or Freakonomics. His point, though, is that out of 75,000 titles published six or seven years ago, only about a hundred were effectively promoted. This, of course, is not news to authors. They expect to have to do the lion’s share of their own marketing these days…most of it online. He also points out that blurbs don’t sell books in and of themselves. What is most effective is to have a platform already–with thousands or tens of thousands of people who care about what you have to say. That platform can be a popular blog, celebrity status, lots of employees, or a personal relationship with someone who has a huge platform and believes in you.

4) “Books cost money and require the user to read them for the idea to spread.”

His point here is that people hate to part with their money and less and less people, apparently, enjoy reading. So we have two obstacles to overcome. I, personally, am not convinced of the latter. Back in November the president of Goodreads did an interview in which he said they then had grown to 6,000,000 members. That said, I think the REAL challenge is finding a way to get your book to stick out among the hundreds of thousands now being published and self-published each year. Now, that’s hard!

5) “Publishing is like venture capital, not like printing.”

It’s true. Anyone can print a book today. That’s why so many books are being self-published. The big traditional publishers, however, are taking a risk when they sign an author to a contract. They’re investing in that writer. As he puts it, “They invest cash in an advance. They invest time in creating the book itself and selling it…and they invest more cash in printing books.” So, you have to decide: Do you want their advance and expertise (I do)…or do you want total control of your printing?

After sharing these five ideas, Mr. Godin gives this advice:

“Build an asset. Large numbers of influential people who read your blog or read your emails or watch your TV show or love your restaurant or or or…

“Then, put your idea into a format where it will spread fast. That could be an ebook (a free one) or a pamphlet (a cheap one–the Joy of Jello sold millions and millions of copies at a collar or less).

“Then, if your idea catches on, you can sell the souvenir edition. The book. The thing people keep on their shelf or lend out or get from the library. Books are wonderful (I own too many!) but they’re not necessarily the best vessel for spreading your idea.

“And the punchline, of course, is that if you do all these things, you won’t need a publisher. And that’s exactly when a publisher will want you! That’s the sort of author publishers do the best with.”

He’s right, of course, but that’s not to say that publishers only publish authors with large platforms. That’s simply not true. Why? Because they love a good story as much as the writer does, and if it’s good enough, they’ll publish it. Oh, you’ll still have to do the lion’s share of the marketing, but I think it will be a good bit easier if you’re traditionally published.

That was only his first batch of advice and it was six years old! His second batch was from five years ago and consists of 19 different points. I think I’ll post about each in turn every Friday over the next several months.

 

 

Originally posted 2012-01-13 17:06:45.

Keeping My Head Down

Present Wordcount of Current WIP: 17,196

While fellow authors are discussing e-rights, submission processes, marketing ploys, etc., I’ve decided that the best thing I can do right now is to keep my head down and continue to churn out 1,000+ words a day. So far, so good. And as I’ve pushed myself to increase volume, my story has taken on interesting twists. I love the creative process that takes over as I let my fingers fly.

This is not to say that I’m unaware of the importance of online presence and platform. I particularly appreciated 5 big ideas for writers put forth by Seth Godin in an email I got today from his Domino Project.

I’ll post more in detail about his advice on Friday.

Originally posted 2012-01-09 19:53:49.