Posts Tagged Success

Want to Be Successful? Beware of End-of-the-Rainbow Thinking

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jeremy Schultz

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jeremy Schultz

Our culture has been infected with a disease of distortion, what I’m calling “End-of-the-Rainbow-Thinking.” We can all be guilty of this. We see the mega-best-selling-indie, the New York Times best-selling author, the successful small business, the guy with the big house or the family who lives debt-free and we scope-lock on the end result as if this “success” POOF! erupted from the ether.

Reality television superstars, fluke mega-advances for first-time authors, and lottery-winners only reinforce this Get-Successful-Quick-With-No-Effort-On-Our-Part mindset.

The Kardashian Konundrum

A couple days ago, I was checking out at the grocery store and there is an entire issue of a magazine devoted to Kim Kardashian. Why? What has she contributed other than fodder for the gossip mill? Yet, these are the role models that, whether we like it or not, can infect how we view ourselves, our goals and what we seek to accomplish.

We must be mindful to separate junk food “entertainment” from reality.

America in particular has transformed from a culture that once valued hard work and apprenticeship, to one that elevates the ego, the individual, the “self-made”. Yet, serendipity aside, those who’ve experienced authentic success didn’t uncover some pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

They worked and they worked hard. They worked harder, failed and learned to work smarter.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of dfbphotos

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of dfbphotos

Value the Apprenticeship

Before the Industrial Revolution, skilled labor was very different and had been for centuries. One began studying as an Apprentice under a Master, then, upon reaching a certain benchmark, graduated to Journeyman. After years of skilled practice, a Journeyman might eventually reach the level of Master.

These days, we all have this mistaken notion that we are natural “Masters” on Day One. I can’t speak for any of you, but I know I was this way. I didn’t need craft classes *snort*. I knew how to write a novel. I made all As in English, duh. My biggest concern with my first novel was all the agents who would be fighting over it.

You can laugh at me. I do.

Mastery Myopia

But why I want to bring this up is that, if we believe we should be Masters from the get-go, we risk being less open to feedback, and even potential mentors. Growth is stifled and our gift suffers. We can get discouraged when we haven’t reached a certain benchmark because we are completely unaware that the benchmark was utterly unrealistic to begin with.

For instance, I opened WANA International a year and a half ago. I was a baby CEO. I had people on my team who up and quit because, after six weeks of being “open” we weren’t bazillionaires taking the world by storm. If I hadn’t had my tail end handed to me on a platter by my experiences as a writer, I would have probably bailed, too.

Setbacks are normal. Stalling is normal. Failure is a good thing.

Failure keeps us humble and often opens up better or more efficient ways of doing things. Humility and a realistic perspective liberates us to ask for help, to be open to being teachable. Failures emancipate us from the responsibility of having to “know everything.”

It’s Okay to Be Growing

A year-and-a-half later? I am still growing. I am no longer a Baby CEO. I’m a Toddler CEO well on my way to being fully potty-trained :D. But last week, I was being particularly hard on myself and I stopped. WHY? I’m still relatively NEW.

This isn’t permission to be lax, foolish, lazy, but it is permission to remember I’m learning. I’m learning by doing and sometimes FAILING. I’m reading stacks of business books penned by those who did this “business thing” better (books that make me want to hurl myself into traffic, btw).

When we aren’t grounded in the reality of what it takes to be successful, we’re vulnerable to barbs from the outside world, because, remember…many of them have fantastical thinking, too.

How many people have you met who have a “great idea” for a super-duper-successful story? They believe the only thing separating them from JK Rowling is writing a book. Many outsiders have a similar belief that command of our native tongue naturally qualifies us to be rockstar best-selling authors.

It’s one of the largest causes for the push-back we experience as authors. If our first time to bat book isn’t a home-run runaway best-seller then we’re “failures.”

Again, End-of-the-Rainbow-Thinking.

The Callouses Behind the Curtain

Most of the world sees only the “finished project” or the “outcome of a dream.” It’s the Ooooooh, ahhhhhhh sparkly stuff they see.

What they DON’T see are all the small steps, calloused hands, and hardened resolve led to that place. They aren’t conscious that any success (financial, personal, professional) is merely the final product, a cumulation of tiny “right decisions” and a series of tough lessons from “wrong decisions.”

They see the beautiful “house” not rebar, concrete, pipes, sheetrock, bricks, nails, blood, and smashed thumbs.

People don’t see when we choose to write instead of going to the mall. They don’t see us up until two in the morning to make a deadline even when we KNOW the toddler will be awake in four hours. They don’t see the rejections, the missteps, the @$$chewings because we made a bad choice. Outsiders don’t see the tens of thousands of words cut away, unusable, the hours and creative blood they represent.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Outsiders don’t see the sacrifice and they won’t appreciate the sacrifice because they weren’t willing to sacrifice, themselves. If they’ve never been through the fire, how can they see it or even value it?

In a world of $100,000 millionaires and instant-credit, the outside world has forgotten. And we can’t control how they think, but we can control how WE think. Every time you choose to write instead of watching TV, count it a victory. Every time you write when you don’t feel like it or research something that is tedious but important, VICTORY!

Every time you stick to the novel you are revising instead of flittering off to a newer “shinier” idea? You’re one step closer to being the professional you’re destined to become. So, lighten up.

Allow room to grow, to fail, to get up and work harder and smarter. You’ll get there. Likely the world will hail you an “instant success” and then you can wink my way because we know better ;).

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced push-back because you weren’t an instant Stephen King or JK Rowling? Are friends and family some of your toughest adversaries? Are you your worst critic? Do you need to learn to give yourself grace? Hey, I did and still do.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

WANACon now has Day One and Day Two for sale separately so you can choose if you only can fit part of the conference. Just a note: A LOT of major authors sacrificed time for no or little pay to pay it forward and offer an affordable and easily accessible conference for those who need one and WANA is extremely grateful to have them.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

Get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE for $149 and all recordings for anything you miss or need to hear again. Sign up today, because seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

For those who are total newbies, I am running a Writer’s Guide to Social Media Class TONIGHT for $39 5-7 EST (NYC time). Use WANA15 for 15% off. We will cover the major platforms, what they do, and which ones might be right for you and your brand.

I am also holding ACHOO!! The Writer’s Guide to Going Viral 5-6:30 EST (NYC time). This class is $49 and, again, use WANA15 for 15% off. Not all content is created equal. This class helps you understand how to understand how search engines work, how to gain favor, and how to create content that will give you traction. Feel like you are blogging to the ether? This class can help.

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Take Your Career to the Next Level–Getting Pruned

Image via Mark Smith Flikr Creative Commons

Image via Mark Smith Flikr Creative Commons

I’d like to blame it all on Jay’s roast, but having time away, true downtime, allowed me to do some thinking (which is generally dangerous and has a wide blast radius). For any of you who’ve done any yard work, you know that for a vine to bear fruit, for a rose bush to produce more flowers, for a tree to grow taller, it needs to be pruned.

One of the key ways we grow in our careers (or even as people) is to be pruned. Pruning hurts. It sucks. It takes away all the pretty fluff we thought was “progress” and renders us naked and vulnerable. After pruning, we might not look like a lot to others, but inside and beneath, great things are happening. Our roots (commitment) dig deeper so we can stand taller.

Image via Keith Williamson Flikr Commons.

Image via Keith Williamson Flikr Commons.

The first step to being pruned is honestly and critically looking at where we are weak. I know there are all kinds of experts who say, “Only focus on your strengths. Don’t work on your weaknesses. You can’t be good at everything,” and that is true to a degree.

But…

On some stuff? We need to become experts.

When I first started writing fiction, my dialogue was fabulous, my prose lovely and my characters all adorable…but I could not wrap my head around the antagonist and plotting, thus wasn’t generating true dramatic tension.

Okay, I was playing Literary Barbies.

This was a critical node that would undermine everything I wrote. So I read every book available about plotting and tore apart every book I read and every movie I watched until I had it nailed. But I had to admit my weakness (pruning) to grow stronger.

Practice does make perfect, if it is intelligent practice.  If practice isn’t guided, it can just create a crap load of bad habits we’ll just have to fix later. Just ask anyone whose worked five minutes with a golf pro. Swinging the club incorrectly a thousand times doesn’t improve our game. It creates tendonitis, back problems, and eventually we get a lot of chigger bites from hunting for golf balls off in the rough.

Image via CompanyGolfLessons Flikr Creative Commons

Image via CompanyGolfLessons Flikr Creative Commons

Ah, but to know where to gain expertise, we need to know and admit our weaknesses and flaws.

Back to pruning. We love to look at our flowers, the stuff we’ve done well. Ah, it’s so pretty. I think I’ll call her “Tiffany.” It’s hard to admit where we fall short or are outright failing.

This is one of the reasons rest is so vital (and has been an area where I’ve been failing a lot). We can’t live off caffeine and adrenaline (Who knew?). And if we are always knee-deep in the mess, we lack perspective. Pulling away allows us a new vantage point and permits our brains to calm down long enough to really “see.”

Know there is a difference between fixing weaknesses and fixating on them.

I launched WANA International about a year ago. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I wanted a way to reach more writers and offer affordable classes. I also wanted a way to highlight what I believed was emerging talent and use my platform to boost theirs.

Launching a business (publishing a book) requires risk and often we don’t know what we don’t know. More often, we figure it out when it goes BOOM. The learning curve of being a baby CEO has been steep and I am still learning.

My CEO photo.

My CEO photo.

I have been pruned…a LOT.

I’ve had to fire people I adored, who I really wanted to succeed. I’ve tried technology that sucked and formats of classes that just didn’t work out. Put out classes no one signed up for.

To succeed, we need to take risks and I will warn you ahead of time that a lion’s share of the risks we take (especially early on) will be mistakes. But some will turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done, too.

I took a risk on Lisa Hall-Wilson and Marcy Kennedy and they have become shining WANA diamonds. But for every person who works out, there are fifty who haven’t. The ones who didn’t? That’s pruning. Each “failure” took me down a notch to learn to be better at diamond-spotting. Still working on it.

Sometimes ideas are just coal.

Sometimes ideas are just coal.

I took a risk helping Piper Bayard with her disaster book, Firelands, which has become a best-seller. But for every Piper, there have been a hundred writers who didn’t want to face the ugly and do the hard stuff. Some just faded away, gave up, and some have been all-out cataclysms (for more read Plagiarism and Terrell Mims–A Chronic Case of Epic Stupid).

Major pruning *head desk*.

Terrell (and others) taught me that talk is cheap. Pay attention to what people do and what they say. Are they congruent? Does the person have character? Are they focused? What is the person’s work ethic? Are they willing to do the hard stuff?

But where would I be if I’d just sat and cried I was bad at business and a failure and terrible at judging people?

Fix, don’t fixate.

Pruning isn’t Personal

I suppose part of the reason it’s tough to have a Kristen Lamb roast is that I serve roasted Lamb daily on this blog :D.

After my vacation, I have a teensy-tiny list of like one small thing…okay a long…okay a looooooong, looooong, like longer than my arm list of stuff I am committed to working on now that I’m home.

For instance, there are areas of business I just don’t understand as well as I need to in order to be an effective CEO. Does this mean I need to get a degree in business and be a new Jack Welch? No.

But I do need to study, to understand stuff well enough to know who to delegate what to and then how to hold said person accountable. I need to know enough to ask the right questions and understand if I am getting the right answers….or even if I need better answers.

Yes, work on your strengths. Writing is my strength and I train it daily. But, as writers, we are also small-business owners. We need to know the business side of our business or we waste time, energy, money and can even get fleeced.

And you will likely screw up. It’s okay. We learn by making mistakes. Too many people expect to write the perfect book the first time out, or hire the right web person day one, or make every business decision perfectly, but that isn’t how life works.

We Can’t Avoid Pruning—Indecision IS a Decision

I actually had to fire someone I cared about because this person would not take risks. This person needed validation from twenty people that every decision was perfect, and if one person said change the plan, this person changed the entire plan. We cannot live life by committee. Not and stay sane, at least.

This person was afraid of being pruned, didn’t want to lose the pretty flowers. But no pruning? No growth.

My advice? Get out there. Get dirty. Take risks. Yes, failure and mistakes will come, but they prune us so we can bear more fruit and better fruit.

What are your thoughts? Are you like and bracing for a new round of pruning? Does pruning scare you? Have you been pruned and have the fruit to show for it?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENT: I have a class coming up SOON, Creating Conflict and Tension on Every Page if you want to learn how to apply these tactics to your writing. Use WANA15 to get 15% off.

Also, my new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

I will announce July’s winner when I’ve had a chance to unpack.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T isn’t FREE!!!

 

Last week in What’s the Problem with FREE!? we talked about how giving away FREE! downloads of our books can actually do more harm than good. I also gave an example of the software company that refused to offer anything for FREE! back in the dot.com boom in the 90s when all the competition was handing out goodies left and right. When every other dot.com was giving away golf shirts, trips, goodies and software for FREE! this company stood firm and offered nothing…for nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, this company gave away FREE! stuff. They just didn’t give it away for free ;).

Free! is Best When It Isn’t Free

I read J.A. Konrath’s  and Bob Mayer’s blogs because both of them provide a lot of valuable insight for the writing professional. At first it might seem that Konrath and Mayer and I would disagree, that we would be at odds. Why? Because Konrath and Mayer will be the first to give us writers a digital kick in our digital @$$ to get off Twitter and Facebook to write more books. They make no bones about telling writers to get back to work and WRITE! Me, being a Social Media Expert Jedi, should be aghast.

What? How can you tell writers to get their tuchus off Twitter? Twitter is the best thing since Gummy Bears! And Facebook? What are you communists in league with SOPA to keep writers from sharing that video with the dancing squirrel?

Actually, I agree with Konrath and Mayer and it is one of the reasons WANA methods look VERY different from most social media approaches. See, I am not here to make you guys social media experts. I am here merely to help you use this tool called social media in the most time-effective way, because the best thing you can do to become a successful author or even a brand is to write more books. Write as many books as you can! Good books.

Write! Write like the wind! This is true for ALL authors—traditional, indie and self-pubbed. The more books we have for sale the greater our odds of success. And don’t think I am telling people to churn out crap just to have more books. There is nothing further from the truth. In fact, I dedicate every Monday on this blog to help y’all grow to be better and better writers. But few things can help our writing abilities like…um, writing.

Rocket science, right?

I just taught an on-line class about branding. I had all kinds of questions about Google Ads, Goodreads, Pinterest, blog tours, etc. to sell books and brand. My answer? Don’t become an expert at social media, become an expert at writing good books. Social media is a means not an end. The one critical ingredient to ALL author brands? BOOKS. GOOD BOOKS. The more, the better. Successful authors are not judged on the quality of their fan page. They are judged by the quality of their books.

Okay, you guys got the point. WRITE!

Yes, sometimes it might seem that I am beating a dead horse, but this is really critical. Konrath and Mayer had a distinctive advantage when they decided to self-publish. If, for no other reason? They had a lot of good books to offer. Why does this matter? Well, for today’s purposes, it has to do with FREE!

FREE! has More Power the More Titles We Have to Offer

FREE! is what can hook a long-term commitment. We can give a teaser to gain passion and loyalty. Yet, we can only do this if we have more than one title for sale. A potential customer (reader) sees that we have more than one book for sale. Ah, but one is FREE! This makes a reader a bit more excited since now…

FREE! is in Context of NOT-FREE!

Value is relative. If readers go to a site and an author has her one and only manuscript up to give-away, we might bite for the FREE! download. But, when we go to an author page and there are ten titles for sale, all for 4.99, yet one is FREE!, naturally we feel better about our decision to bite on the FREE!. Also, because this pricing was given in context, as humans, we will place more value on the download so we are more likely to read this one FIRST.

This is one of the reasons that authors like Konrath, Mayer and Eisler have done so well. Not only were they offering vetted titles, but they offered a lot of them, thus their product (the book) could be judged in context. John Locke, the successful self-published author, didn’t have vetted titles, but he did offer A LOT of them. Thus, those who liked Locke’s FREE! book now had a whole list of other his titles for sale.

FREE! is only valued when consumers believe it costs us (the giver) something.

Go back to the example I gave last week. I have a half a dozen magnet calendars I got for FREE! in my junk drawer. Does any of this make me want to do business with any of these real estate agents? No…because in my mind it really didn’t cost them anything. But what about the agent who sent me a $100 Lowes gift card? (Our agent sent us this after we closed on our house). That man will have my loyalty FOREVER, because he gave something that cost him, even though I know he made money off the sale of our house. He didn’t have to send $100 gift card. He could have sent us a calendar and a thank you note like my mom’s realtor did to her. But he didn’t and he now has a customer for LIFE.

This is why multiple books for sale help the impact of FREE! Since we have other titles for sale at a higher price, then it is perceived (by the consumer) that we are taking a loss when we offer something for FREE! This creates the reciprocity that is critical for driving sales. Reciprocity is very often negated when an author gives away her one and only manuscript for FREE!

FREE! is Most Effective When We Maintain Our Negotiating Power

If all we have is one book…then we give it away, the power has just completely shifted over to the reader. We are completely at the mercy that he or she will be compelled to talk about our book. Since we have no other titles for sale, we have nothing else to gain, other than maybe some ranking on Amazon. But even then, that only worked well when everyone wasn’t giving stuff away for FREE! We are in a position of weakness, of need. Not the best place to earn R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

FREE! is Most Powerful as a Part of a Quid Pro Quo

I’m not, per se against giving away books for FREE!, but I do think that there are smarter ways to go about doing this. As I stated earlier, FREE is best when it isn’t FREE!

In fact, FREE! can actually be a wonderful tool to get customers to spend MORE money…but the clincher is we have to have more than one book to offer.

Since it would be almost irresponsible for me NOT to mention Amazon at some point during this discussion, we will use them as an example. A while back Amazon.com started offering FREE! shipping on orders over a certain amount.

Thus, a person who purchased a book for $14.95 might pay an extra $3.95 for shipping. In total, the customer would be out less than $20. But, if they bought another book for a total of $29.95…they would get their shipping for FREE! Many people probably didn’t even want or need the second book, but the power of FREE! proved just too much to resist. And obviously this tactic works because Amazon still offers FREE! shipping when we consumers jump through various hoops (all of which are, of course, profitable for Amazon).

This is why it is critical to write more and more and more books, especially if you are self-published, because then you can use FREE! to its maximum advantage.

Bundled is Better

A good way to gain more sales traction? Bundling.  Buy two books for $4.99 and get a FREE! download of another short story, novel, whatever. This kind of FREE! makes readers very happy. Consumers are then lured to put out money to get the FREE! I happen to be very blessed to be part of Who Dares Wins Publishing and they do these types of deals regularly and it is a win-win for authors and readers.

FREE! Needs a Perceived Value

FREE! doesn’t have to be in the form of books or downloads. Heck, offer FREE! shipping on orders over a certain amount. Why reinvent the wheel? Copy what works, and, if Amazon has done this successfully, then so can we. Yet, again, this only works when we have more than one title for sale.

My Biggest Gripe About FREE!

I think writers, especially self-published writers, get overly fascinated with marketing, and the allure of FREE! only makes this worse. I see far too many writers uploading that ONE manuscript and then spending every spare waking moment, promoting that one book to the point of being viewed as spam. They tweet with every imaginable hashtag, “Come get my book for FREE! FREE NOW! A book for FREE!” ….and after the 40th time we get this tweet, we are willing to pay the writer to stop tweeting.

They remind me of gamblers chasing their losses. Because ONE DAY they had X number of downloads, they are back at the track trying to make that number appear again. If we run around handing our one and only manuscript for FREE! then what good does it gain us? I am sure there is some good that can come from it, but not the real game-changing benefit that I want all of you to enjoy.

If we study the success stories, especially in indie publishing, the winners always had multiple titles—J.A. Konrath, Bob Mayer, John Locke, Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory, etc. So Mayer and Konrath are correct—write, then write some more. Less tweeting and more writing.

When we have more than one book to sell, FREE! becomes a pricing strategy, not a desperate cry for attention.

Yes, I am the social media expert for writers, because I will be honest enough to tell you guys that the point to all this tweeting and blogging and FBing is to drive enough book sales that we can lose the day job and do what we love. We can’t do this with one book. The odds of this are about the same as getting mugged and hit by lightning on the same day. If we are spending too much time on social media, then we aren’t writing more books. Thus, social media is no longer a powerful advantage…and neither is FREE!

So what are your thoughts? Opinions? What are your experiences with FREE!? Any thoughts, suggestions? Recipes for killer chocolate martinis?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great book.

Winner’s Circle

Winner of last week’s 5-Page Critique is Tahlia Newland. Please send your 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Ginger Club is the winner of last month’s 15 page critique. Please send your 3750 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Congratulations!

Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is a WONDERFUL resource for the best information in this industry.

Joe Konrath’s blog is another wonderful resource.

Colin Falconer had an AWESOME blog Historical or Fiction?

Friesen Press has a great post that I need to print and STUDY, Take the Busyness out of Business.

The real way to build a social network by Reid Hoffman over at CNN Money

The Big Reasons Indie Authors aren’t Taken Seriously at Huffington Post

Red Pen of Domm, Why Blog Hits Don’t Matter Though I don’t agree 100% we actually agree on a lot. We can have 10 zillion hits and they are all bots or random clicks. Quality trumps quantity and I agree.

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3 Steps to Freedom–Grab Hold of Your Brilliant Future

This blog is dedicated to helping writers holistically. We are more than robots sitting at a desk pounding out word count. We have hopes, dreams, fears, bad habits and baggage. Monday is dedicated to helping you guys with craft. Wednesdays is to help you build your platforms. Fridays are my choice, but I like to dedicate these blogs to helping writers with life skills. If we want to be successful authors, we have to be good at time-management, stress-management, setting goals, facing fear, etc.

I always have people asking me how I have the energy to get so much done.  I am not where I need to be, but I can say that I am not where I used to be and that is great news. I still struggle with organization and time-management, but I do feel I have some lessons I can pass on that might help some of you reading.

Three Lessons of Confession

Confess the Real Emotion—Name It and Claim It

One of the first things that offered me a new sense of empowerment was when I learned to confess the real emotion I was feeling.

This was almost ten years ago, but I recall one day that I just couldn’t seem to get out of bed. It was a really dark time for me. I had lost my career in sales due to a misdiagnosis (doctors thought I had epilepsy), and I was on the verge of eviction and facing having to move in with my mother. I had no energy and no real desire to do much of anything. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat and all I wanted to do was cry.

Some of you may be able to relate to my upbringing. I had a single mother who was doing all she could to keep us afloat. Thus, my brother and I were never angry, disappointed, discouraged, or overwhelmed. We only had two feelings; we were “sick” or we were “tired.” Being ill or needing more rest would never make my mom feel guilty. Thus anything negative we ever felt ended up getting pigeon-holed into one of these two categories.

It was a really bad habit to get into.

So years later I found myself still only having two “emotions”—sick or tired. My mother came over to check on me. It was like ten in the morning and I was still in bed. Not sleeping. Just staring at the ceiling and thinking of all the reasons I was a total and utter failure. My apartment was a disaster and I couldn’t bear to ask anyone for help.  I knew I needed to pack, but I just couldn’t seem to move.

My mom stood in the door, crossed her arms and asked, “Kristen, are you depressed?”

I sat up and said something that marked a moment of change in my life. I said, “You know, Mom. I would like to tell you that. I have every reason to be depressed. I have no job, no money. I am afraid of my mailbox because it is full of all these bills I can’t pay. But that isn’t it.”

“What is it, then?”

“I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin. You know what else?”

“What?”

“I’m heartbroken.”

By naming the specific emotions I was feeling, I had unleashed tremendous power. I had opened a way to make a plan. As long as I was sick or tired, there was very little I could do to remedy either. And, to be honest, I wasn’t sick or tired. I was just so out of my depth that it was making me sick AND tired…all the time. I had lost a lot in three years—4 deaths in 6 months (including my father), my career, my health, my apartment, my dreams. And it was bad enough that I had lost those things, but then I never properly grieved any of those losses.

How could I? I was only sick or tired.

But this day was different. For the first time…I was heartbroken, overwhelmed, discouraged. For the first time I felt connected back to that intimate part that was…me.

This simple lesson was the first major step to a more productive life. Once I admitted that I was overwhelmed, it was easier to break big problems into manageable bites and get busy. Once I admitted out loud that I was discouraged, it freed me to dust off and try again. Suddenly, it was okay to be disappointed. I could grieve, feel the pain and then start anew. I have found that life is lived best in forward gear.

From that point on, I made it a habit to name the real emotion. It was too easy to hide behind, “Oh, I am just tired.” It took courage to say, “I am disappointed. You said you would help me with this project, but you haven’t been doing your share.”

It was scary, and still is. Naming my emotions has opened me up to possible confrontation. I suck at confrontation. It’s easier to just take a nap because I’m “tired.” I would love to tell you guys that I have been perfect in applying this. I haven’t. But, with practice, I am getting better and better.

When I hear myself saying, “Oh I don’t feel well” or “I’m just tired” I stop and ask the hard questions. What am I really feeling? What can I do to change things?

We are more healthy and productive when we focus on what we can control then refuse to worry about things we can’t. The trick is to cast our care but keep our responsibility. Too many people cast their responsibility and then keep their care.

Stop worrying about not having enough money. Focus on where we can minimize waste and save.

Stop worrying about the future of publishing. Focus on that 1000 words a day.

Stop worrying about whether our platform will be successful long-term. Focus on forging relationships.

Confess the Real Problem

One thing I have learned is that we will never get a handle on time-management until we confess the real problem.

Oh I just cannot find the time to write.

Possible translations:

I am terrified of failure.

I don’t deserve success.

I’m overwhelmed and I don’t know where to start.

There is a problem in my story and I don’t want to admit I don’t know the answer to fixing it.

Whenever we start hearing ourselves make excuses, we need to stop and peel back the layers. What are we afraid of?

If we won’t get to the real problem, we cannot recruit help. Recently I found myself saying I didn’t have time to work on my fiction. I stopped myself and asked the tough question.

Kristen, what are you afraid of?

When I got real honest? I was afraid to delegate, and I was afraid of not being in control. I grew up taking care of everything. If I didn’t do it, it didn’t get done.

Guess what? Life is different now. I have capable people dying to help me. I needed to let them, but I was too afraid of being out of control.

The problem was that I had to make a choice. I could control everything and do everything…and not have any time left for my fiction. OR I could step into my fear, face it, and take a chance that I might actually free up some time.

So, I made a list of all the things that were eating my time and I—GASP—delegated. And guess what? Not only did my world NOT blow up *round of applause* but the person I asked for help actually did a BETTER job than I ever could (Thanks, Ingrid).

But the lesson I hope you guys get is that I needed to first admit the REAL problem. How can we climb over an obstacle we won’t admit is there?

Confess Your Brilliant Future

Did you know that the subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between truth and lie? That is why we need to watch what we say. It has been scientifically proven that we believe our own voice more than any other.

What are you saying about you? Your future? Is it positive?

When I was growing up my grandmother had this saying every time I screwed up, “Kristen, you just can’t stand prosperity.” Now do I think my grandmother sat up all night thinking of ways to make my life miserable? No. To her it was just a comment. Just words. Didn’t mean anything.

But, I recall years later being plagued with problem after problem and one day, I finally heard what I was saying to myself. Every time I made a mistake I said, “Kristen, you just can’t stand prosperity.”

What was my subconscious hearing…then believing?

When I learned to make positive confessions, my life began to change.

I can’t wait to be one of those writers who busts out 4000 words a day.

I still have room to grow, but I am more organized than I used to be. Every day I get better and better.

I know that persistence prevails when all else fails. Baby steps count.

The mind is a powerful thing, and we are wise to get our mind on our side. Now don’t misunderstand. We can’t think happy thoughts and that be enough. We also have to put in some sweat equity. But, we must be ever vigilant to guard our mental and spiritual state. We are not just physical creatures.

Hard work paired with negative thinking is counter-productive. Our will is pulling the opposite direction of our work. Our will and our work are most powerful when they pull in the same direction toward the same objective.

Our will and our work must pull the same direction for forward momentum.

We cannot let our feelings rule. We rule our feelings. Every day we are wise to say aloud that we are blessed, grateful, happy, joyful…even if we don’t feel it at the time. Our body and emotions will catch up with time and practice.

If we keep saying, I’m tired, I don’t feel well, I don’t have time,  I’ll never have time to write, what future are we deciding for ourselves?

In the end, these three simple confessions have made a HUGE difference in my life.

1. Name the real emotion. It is okay to be hurt, angry, disappointed, or frustrated. If we leave the real emotion untended it is putting a Band-Aid on a boil.

2. Name the real problem. We can’t make a plan or ask for help if we avoid the hard stuff. Everything is doable if broken into smaller, manageable bites. How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.

3. Claim a positive future. Yes, we must work hard. But we will get more mileage for our efforts if our will and our work are both on the same team.

What are some setbacks you guys have had? How did you tackle obstacles? What would be your advice? What still gives you trouble and why? What self-talk have you caught yourself saying, but hadn’t noticed before? Does your family or close network affect you negatively? What have you done to counter that negativity?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books

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91 Comments

Don’t Eat the Butt–Lies that Can Poison Our Writing Career #1

Today I am starting a new series that I am calling Don’t Eat the Butt. Why? Because typing “butt” makes me giggle. In all seriousness, I like to think. In fact I think a lot and probably far too much. I wonder about the first person who ate an oyster. Was it a dare? Someone lose a bet? What about mushrooms? There are 100,000 known species of mushrooms, yet only 2,000 are edible. How do we know this? Someone had to eat the bad shrooms then pass that knowledge down for posterity. But seriously, who volunteers for this kind of stuff?

But the most fascinating culinary assassin, in my POV, is the puffer fish. There is only ONE TINY PART of the puffer fish that is not deadly. Oh, and if you don’t know how to cut a puffer fish correctly, you can unwittingly unleash deadly poison into the non-poisonous part.

Herb: Hey, this puffer fish kind of tastes like chick–…*grabs throat and falls over*

Fred: Note to self. Don’t eat the butt.

This idea of the puffer fish made me start thinking about our careers as artists. There are a lot of common misperceptions that can leak poison into our dreams if we aren’t careful. Thus, this new series is designed to help you guys spot the toxic beliefs that can KILL a writing career. In short, Don’t Eat the Butt. Some of us have been there, done that and got the butt-tasting T-shirt. I am here to hand down what I have learned from being stupid enough to eat the literary puffer butt and survive. Watch, listen and LEARN. The smart writer learns from her mistakes, but the wise writer learns from the mistakes of others.

Without further ado…

Lie #1 I’m not a real writer until I have a finished manuscript, landed an agent, am traditionally published, am selling books, have spent my retirement funds earning an MFA in Creative Writing.

This is crap and don’t buy it. What yahoo decided that we aren’t real writers until we meet some silly outside standard of validation? On what plane of existence does this make ANY professional sense? We are writers the second we decide to take this career decision seriously. And screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. There is no try, only do. We don’t try to get out of a chair. We either stand or we sit.

Think of it this way. As writers we are entrepreneurs (refer to this post). Do entrepreneurs use the term aspiring? I am an aspiring restaurant owner. Oh, I am an aspiring landscaper. I am aspiring housekeeper.

NO!

If I want a house-cleaning business, the second I gather all of my cleaning supplies and a vacuum together in the back of my SUV and print off some business cards, I am a house-cleaning business. Even before my very first client. In fact, I cannot land my first client until I first call myself a business. Who is going to let me into their house wielding a toilet brush if I approach them with, “Hi, I am an aspiring housekeeper. I am still learning the best ways to get rid of soap scum, but maybe you can hire me even though I am not, per se a real housekeeper.“?

Again….no.

If we want to own a restaurant, the second we take out a small business loan, we are restaurant owners, even before we have served the first hot meal to our first customer.

The title is not something we earn it is who we are. Our title defines our level of commitment. No other entrepreneurial profession waits for success or outside validation before they feel comfortable using a professional title. A dog-walker doesn’t wait. Neither does a gardener, a contractor, a party planner, florist, cake decorator, or a carpet cleaner.

We are writers, which means we are artists and entertainers. We are in the service industry. Yet we treat being a writer as if we are a doctor or a lawyer and need some outside professional certification before we can hang up a shingle.

Guess what? Comedians are comedians the second they put together a skit and find the courage to stand up in front of a crowd and invite criticism. Now, he or she may not be a talented  or successful comedian, but that boils down to the quality of the content and the level of commitment to try again and again as long as it takes. Same with actors and artists and…yeah, WRITERS.

Many of you have invested thousands of dollars in computer equipment, conferences, workshops, books and reference materials. You’ve invested hundreds of hours of time writing, yet still refuse to use the title of writer. Would a caterer who’d spent thousands on a Viking stove and oven, fancy cooking tools and ingredients wait until she’d landed a huge wedding party to call herself a real caterer?

Why Writers Fear the Title

When we decide to use the professional title writer, it is a sign to others that we are no longer hobbyists. Others will expect a certain work ethic to go with our title. If someone uses the title “Landscaper” we generally expect this person owns some yard tools and that he actually mows yards more than once a month. I feel many writers fear using a professional title because we invite a new level of accountability. We fear failure and so we hedge with euphemisms like “aspiring author” so that we can goof off and write when the fancy strikes.

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work. ~Stephen King

Writers are professionals who treat their writing as if it is their first, second or even a third job. They have a solid work ethic and they know that they have to ante up and take the consequences for better or for worse. They are mature and no longer playing Literary Barbies with their characters.

Excellence begins with honesty.

We cannot ever be successful until we risk failure. And sure there are always going to be @ssclowns that will tell you that you are a poseur fake. But, when we rest our future on the validation of outsiders, we jeopardize genuine success. There is ALWAYS going to be a jerk to tell us we aren’t good enough.

There are people who believe I am not a real writer because I am not traditionally published. My answer? *shrugs* Can’t please everyone. Another example?

I have been working with Piper Bayard for almost two years. She has dedicated at least 30 hours a week to blogging, social media platform building and writing a novel. She finally got the green light to shop her finished 110,000 word manuscript. Yet, there are people who would claim she is not yet a “real writer” because she hasn’t landed an agent, landed a publishing deal, hit a best-seller list, gone yodeling while drunk on Jaegermeister.

Okay, Piper probably has done the yodeling thing.

Yet, here’s my point. Piper will tell you that the only reason she ever accomplished the successful blog, sound platform and AMAZING manuscript was that early on she made a decision to claim her professional title. She called herself a writer. From that point on her attitudes, habits and priorities changed to reflect the life of a professional.

So today, I shout, Don’t eat the butt! If we don’t take ourselves seriously, who will? Instead of nitpicking over who can call themselves writer or author let’s just refer to the Editor’s Mantra…Show, Don’t Tell. Actions speak louder than words or titles. So claim your title…then get to work ;).

And let other people quibble over who can call themselves what and when. We have books to write.

So what are your thoughts? Opinions? Fears? What keeps you from claiming the professional title?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

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135 Comments

Great Expectations

The Spawn & Johnny Pocket playing with Roo-Bee (old, grouchy cat–A.K.A. Dust-Ruffle Troll) under the door.

My father loved to spin yarns and tell jokes, and one of my favorite jokes of his was the one about the twins. One was a pessimist and the other was an optimist. As my father told it…

Scientists were conducting an experiment to study the difference between pessimists and optimists. So, they searched far and wide for parents with twins—-one an optimist and one a pessimist. Finally, they found a pair of boys, and, after all the waivers were signed, the experiment could begin. There were two rooms, both were waist-deep in horse manure. The scientists watched from behind the two-way mirror to see what would happen.

One boy (the pessimist) cried and moaned, “I just knew it. This stuff always happens to me. I should have known that something bad was going to happen. Why can’t I ever get a break?”

The other boy, though, was slogging happily around the room and laughing as he flung horse manure into the air, each time with a healthy giggle. Baffled, the scientists had to enter the room of the optimistic twin and ask, “What on earth are you so happy about? Don’t you realize you’re waist-deep in animal feces?”

The boy replied, “Are you kidding me? Why wouldn’t I be happy? With all this horse sh&$ there has GOT to be a pony in here somewhere!”

The last couple of months have been crazy. In October, as many of you know, my great aunt fell into a coma and passed away. Then, I have had more computer problems in the last two months than in the past ten years. I was just about getting caught up when I started suffering horrible pain in my elbows–apparently I have tennis elbow from writing. Then, I had the nice little dirt bike wreck and this past week? We were gone over the weekend and had a water leak.

Water seeped from the laundry room into my master closet soaking the carpet and ruining much of what was on the floor. I had to work in stinking mildewed carpet for almost all of Tuesday. While I was in cleaning up the water damage, the Spawn (my kiddo) infiltrated my office, hit a bunch of buttons on my computer and now my main work computer is currently crippled with a virus. But that’s not all. I awoke on Wednesday sick from working in the mildewed conditions and yesterday…no Internet. AT&T “forgot” that we had signed up for auto-debit. Yay.

But you know what?

I don’t believe it is any great test of character to be happy when everything is going our way. Anyone can do that. The real mark of a person is how he or she behaves when the world seems to be caving in. Can we be peaceful, calm, happy, and look for the good….no matter what?

We train our minds much like we train our bodies. We need to exercise them and discipline our habits. We have a choice how we react and a lot of this is influenced by our expectations. What are we expecting to happen? Are we looking for the good? Or looking for how we will be somehow wronged?

I know that I was born an optimist. I think that is why my father used to rib me with that joke. But, there was a span of about 15 years that I allowed other negative people to convince me that I was a fool, an idiot, an unrealistic Pollyanna. I started expecting the worst, and I wouldn’t allow myself to hope for anything, because if I didn’t expect good things then I couldn’t be disappointed. I became a grouch, a complainer and a seed of discontent…and no one wanted to be around me. My life was full of junk, and why wouldn’t it have been? I didn’t expect good things, so I couldn’t even see them when they sat right in front of my face.

Eventually, I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I started being very careful about my thought life. Our mind doesn’t have to be a garbage dump. We are in control of our thoughts, and we don’t need to dwell on every thought that drifts into our brains. Focus on good things, and it is amazing how quickly the tough times will fly by.

Yes, the view from the mountain’s summit is breathtaking, but nothing grows there. The most growth happens in the valleys. Film is developed in the dark and so is character. When hurt, pain, loss, disappointment, frustration come our way we have a choice in how we view the situation. All of us have rough spots, and those setbacks, hurts and trials are the spiritual sandpaper that will shape us into a more excellent version of ourselves.

I know that life is about seasons. There are seasons of joy  and abundance and it seems that everything is going my way. In turn, that isn’t all of life. Gotta have the bitter, or the sweet isn’t as sweet. And, if I have to endure the bitter, I choose to do it with a smile, with great expectation of the better Kristen those trials will make me.

With all this horse sh*& there has GOT to be a pony in here somewhere :D!

What do you guys think? What are your opinions? Thoughts? Ideas? I love hearing from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

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74 Comments

Is Your Novel a Spineless Weakling?

Now that NaNoWriMo is behind us, it is time to take a hard look at the 50,000 or so words we wrote. Is it really a story? Or is it 50,000 worth of organic goo that we can maybe perhaps grow into a story? Maybe some of you didn’t participate in National Novel Writing Month, but you are working on a novel. Maybe you have finished a novel and can’t understand why you’re getting rejection after rejection. Perhaps you desire to write a novel, but have no clue where to even begin? Where do professional authors get all their ideas?

All in due time…

Three years ago, I left my home critique group even though I had been president for three years. Why? My home critique group placed too much importance on reading pages. My opinion? Beautiful prose does not a novel make. Is prose important? Absolutely. But it isn’t the most important. We can have prose so lovely it makes the angels weep, yet not have a story. Sort of like, I could have the flawless skin of a twenty-year-old super model, but if I don’t have a skeleton? I’m dead meat. Same with prose and novel structure. Novel structure makes up the internal support structure, and prose fills it all in and connects everything and makes it look pretty.

I broke away and, with help from a few close friends, created a new kind of critique group that we named Warrior Writer Boot Camp in honor of our favorite mentor NYT Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. When creating WWBC, I wanted to create something with the capacity to look at stories as a whole and judge the “big picture.” The first lesson all writers receive upon entering my critique group has to do with the antagonist (the spinal column of your story) and that’s what we are going to talk about today.

Why is the antagonist so important? No antagonist and no story. I think most craft books make a critical error. They assume us noobs know more than we do. Most new writers don’t understand the antagonist the way they need to. We have some hazy basics from high school or college English and then we try to go pro. Then it takes years of trial, error, rejection and therapy to see any success. Um, yeah. Bad plan. The antagonist is critical, and is often one of the most troublesome concepts to master. No worries. I am here to help.

What happens when we don’t have an antagonist?

I teach at many writing conferences and see all the nervous writers, eyes dilated and skin pasty with panic. They are waiting for their agent pitch session and it takes every bit of courage they have to not throw up in their shoes. Ask them what their stories are about and 99% of the time I get fifteen minutes of convoluted world-building and a character cast that would rival Ben Hur.

Why?

The writer generally didn’t understand the antagonist when she wrote the book. So, since there wasn’t a clear-cut antagonist with an overall plot problem, what we have left is a bunch of literary Bond-o (extraneous characters, world-building, extra sub-plots and gimmicky twist endings).

This is one of the reasons many writers find it easier to do brain surgery on themselves with a spatula than to write the novel synopsis or the query letter. They can’t boil down the plot into one sentence because the plot is so complicated even they barely understand it.  Been there, done that and got the T-shirt, myself.

When helping writers plot, I often suggest that they write their ending first. Many look at me like I just asked them to reverse the earth’s orbit around the sun. Why? They don’t have a clear story problem to be solved. Yet, when we look at it, what is any story’s ending? The solution to the problem created by the antagonist. That is the climax.

All of this angst with pitches and queries and synopses can be traced back to one single problem. There is no antagonist or there is a weak or unclear antagonist. How does this happen? I feel there is a huge logical fallacy to blame.

For those of you who have slept since high school, a logical fallacy is an argument that mistakenly seeks to establish a causal connection when dissimilar objects or events are compared as if the same.

In English?

All apples are fruits. An orange is a fruit therefore all oranges are apples.

What does this have to do with today’s topic?

Most writers mistakenly believe this:

All villains are antagonists, therefore all antagonists are villains.

Uh…no.

The antagonist seems to be a real sticky wicket, especially for new writers. Hey, I’ve been there. It is easy to see how there could be confusion. Villains make no bones about the mischief and mayhem they seek to create. Nobody doubted who the bad guy was in The Dark Knight. Joker will live on in infamy as one of the greatest arch-villains in movie history. Yet, villains are only one kind of antagonist. So if the antagonist isn’t merely a villain, who is he?

The antagonist is merely whoever drives the conflict.

All stories are the antagonist’s story. Why? Because without the antagonist, there is no problem. The protagonist’s happy joy-joy life would go on as normal. If there is no problem, then there is no need for our protagonist to rise to the occasion. The antagonist represents this dire change that must be set right by the end of the book. Great fiction actually uses many antagonists. Let’s take a look.

Different types of antagonists:

The Core Antagonist—The Big Boss Troublemaker

All stories MUST have a core antagonist, what I like to call the Big Boss Troublemaker. The BBT has a plan that disrupts the hero’s ordinary life and that plan is the overall story problem. Big Boss Troublemakers need to be corporeal. Antagonists are tremendously complex, and thus, in my opinion, the most interesting. Even if the overall antagonist is disease, nature, war, weather, the antagonist will almost always be represented by a proxy. Humans tend to be concrete thinkers, so tangible antagonists generally work best.  In fact, I’ll wager that many stories that seem to have non-corporeal BBTs actually do. Let’s take a quick look.

Weather

The Perfect Storm—The antagonist is not the storm. Rather it is the captain who, out of greed and pride, makes the decision to endanger the crew to save the haul of fish…and everyone dies, which is probably why we should avoid weather/nature as an antagonist.

In fairness, how many best-selling books involve a hero pitted against bad weather chapter after chapter? We can’t control the weather so how can we conquer it? Can’t make heroes with bad weather. Well, maybe someone can, but my advice is to steer clear.

Disease

Steel Magnolias—In the movie Steel Magnolias the BBT is death and disease. Who is the main antagonist? Daughter Shelby. Shelby has life-threatening diabetes. Had Shelby decided to adopt, there would be no story. It is Shelby’s decision to get pregnant despite the risks that creates the story problem for the mother (Protagonist) M’Lynn.

See, corporeal.

Society

In the movie Footloose, who is the BBT? Religious fundamentalism that forbids dancing. Who is the main antagonist? The town preacher who is out to get the city boy (protagonist) who wants to hold a school dance. The preacher represents the BBT—religious fundamentalism that forbids dancing.

Protagonist against Herself

Oh, but my protagonist is her own worst enemy. Yeah, no. Therapy is not fiction. Need an outside BBT.

In the movie 28 Days, Sandra Bullock’s character Gwen Cummings is an alcoholic. Alcoholics do not generally believe they have a problem. Most do not wake up one day and say. “Wow, I really drink too much. I need to quit.” There will be an outside force that creates the problem and drives the change. In this case, Gwen gets a DUI. The judge orders her to court mandated rehab. Who is the BBT? Alcoholism. Who is the antagonist? The judge. If he hadn’t sentenced Gwen to rehab, she would still be drinking. If Gwen fails, then this same judge will send her to prison (stakes). If Gwen finally sobers up, she will defeat the BBT, Alcoholism. But, she must face-off against the judge’s challenge first and prove she can sober up.

Every story needs a Big Boss Troublemaker. If your BBT isn’t corporeal, then your story will need a corporeal proxy as shown in the examples. Existentialism doesn’t make for great fiction. Navel-gazing is therapy, not fiction.

Employing Scene Antagonists

Once you have a clear Big Boss Troublemaker and a story problem, then you can begin plotting. Ah, but how do we ramp up the tension? We use scene antagonists. Every scene must have a clear goal for our protagonist…and he can rarely if ever succeed until the end. There must be obstacles and very often those obstacles will be other characters that your protagonist calls “friend.”

Think of your favorite cop shows. I love Law and Order Criminal Intent. The detectives are after the murderer (BBT), but the Commissioner just called and they’re chief has his panties in a twist. How many times have you seen a police chief kick a detective off a case because of the political heat? Is the police chief a villain? No, but he is an antagonist because his wants stand in direct opposition from what the protagonist wants…finding the bad guy and brining him to justice. This creates dramatic tension. Will our detectives risk career suicide and find the killer? Conflict now comes at the audience from two fronts—long-range (BBT) and close-range (scene antagonist).

After you write your first draft, I highly recommend looking at every scene. Write what the goal of the scene is on an index card. Who stood in the way? Allies should rarely, if ever agree. If they need to escape an island, the hero will want to take a boat and an ally will insist they take a plane. Some of the best conflict for your story will actually come from your protagonist and his gaggle of allies.

The Pixar movie Finding Nemo is an excellent movie to study this. Watch Marlin and Dori. Dori provides far more conflict to the overall story than Darla the Fish-Killer. Darla (BBT) merely creates the overall problem and sets the stakes and the ticking clock. Darla the Fish-Killer is the BBT because if she’d wanted a puppy for her birthday, there would be no reason to find Nemo. He’d still be safe at home. Yet, aside from a couple of short scenes, we never really see Darla. Lovable ally Dori is the heart of most of the conflict.

Marlin wants to give up when the one clue to finding Nemo drops into a trench.

Dori wants to Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming and go after the clue.

Marlin wants to avoid the whale.

Dori calls out to it.

Marlin wants to give up.

Dori won’t let him.

Antagonists are at the core of all great stories, whether those stories are for children or adults. The bigger the antagonist, the bigger the problem and the greater the stakes. Failure must be catastrophic for the protagonist, or he can’t rise to ever be a hero. Some great books I recommend are Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches by Jessica Morrell, and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.  I also highly recommend taking one of New York Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer’s on-line worskhops. They are $30. Aside from these resources, watch a lot of movies and pay attention to who creates problems and how they do it. Take notes. Study. Learn. That’s the great part of being a writer. Stories are our business, so watching movies counts as work.

So what are your thoughts? Comments? Questions? Feel better or do you need a paper bag (just put your head between your knees and breathe :D).

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique is Carolyn Neeper. Please send your 1250 word Word document to my assistant Gigi at gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

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53 Comments

Learning to #EpicFail….with Style

Yes, the picture above is me, right before I learned how to ride a dirt bike this past Thanksgiving weekend (We will use the very loose definition of “learned” for this blog’s purposes). Anyway, that is the cool picture, by the way. Sadly, it was probably the only time I looked cool for the rest of the day.

It started out well enough, but get too many Type-A family members together and, well….yeah. Not pretty. I should learn not to bait to 12-year-old smack talk. Sigh. I took up the challenge that, despite being almost 40 and possessing no discernible motorcycle skills, I could learn how to ride a dirt bike. It had always been on my bucket list, so why not?

I tend to be a pretty fast learner, and, at least in the beginning, I seemed to be a natural. Ah, but here is where the problem can start. Apparently, there are two critical curves that should always run parallel–The Skill Curve and Confidence Curve. When the Confidence Curve outpaces the Skill Curve? You get this….

I was zooming along on the flat, nicely packed dirt having a good time. Ah, but then the thought sneaked, snuck, snooked—whatever—into my brain that I needed a bigger challenge. I wanted to try out some hills. It didn’t help that my 12 year old nephew was zooming circles around me.

You dang whipper-snipper! I’ll show you!

Sometimes I wish I had a Delorean so I could go back in time and slap some sense into Younger Kristen. What were you thinking? Getting in the Not-Smart-Zone. Seriously???? Why would you remotely think that is a good idea?

Photo courtesy of Fanboy.com

As you can probably guess, my motor cross experience was an #epicfail. I was looking good, so onlookers say (Ever notice they call them “onlookers” when referencing something stupid/tragic?).  Then I hit a rock and it was a$$ over elbows. I slightly sprained both ankles, bruised the dickens out of my shoulder, and took about five layers of hide off my right forearm…

…and then I got right back on.

This is what a life of failure has taught me. We try, we fail, we try again and do things differently, and sometimes even better. The faster we learn to have a healthier relationship with failure, the faster we will meet with success. Frankly, if we aren’t failing, then we aren’t doing anything interesting. So if failure is part of the successful person’s life, why not learn to fail with style?

Many of us spend years trying to avoid failing. I sure know I did. Many of us are so terrified that we will look foolish or stupid that we can be paralyzed. We allow fear to steal the best experiences and the best memories. How? If we fear failure, we never try. We fail by default.

Failure isn’t to be feared at all. In fact, failure is awesome. Failure makes us better. It makes us smarter. Failure will teach us more than success ever will.

For instance, I now know that if I ever get back on a dirt bike, hills are not my thing. I’ve learned to slow down, to not let my ego take over driving, because Kristen’s ego looks a lot like Mayhem.

Allstate Insurance provided actual photo of Kristen Lamb’s ego.

Yes, I admit there are times I would like to go back in time and right the wrongs, use some Space-Time-White-Out to make my life perfect. Yet, when I think about it a little harder, when I can press past the need to wince when I look at my short-comings, I see my failures a little differently. My failures make me more interesting. My funniest memories and most poignant lessons were all birthed by my failures. My failures shortened my learning curve. Failing made me humble. Failures made me teachable. Failures make me relatable.

Failure gets easier the more we fail. Sort of like those boxers who have someone throw a 12 pound medicine ball at their abdominals to toughen them to take a punch. What if, instead, they babied their bodies? They never hit their abs or bruised them. They would be toast. The best way to get good at failing is to try a lot of stuff and fail…and then fail some more.

Back to my dirt biking fiasco experience. I know years ago, my ego would have been far too bruised to fish my dirt bike off the side of the hill and try again. I would have felt sorry for myself, mortified and embarrassed. I would have nursed my stinging wounds and babied my tender ankles in the safe warm house…and I would have missed out on a lot of fun.

See, the other cool lesson about failing, and failing a lot, it we get better discernment. We are able to tell the difference between a mortal wound and something that stings like hell, but we can walk it off and be fine if we just get back on that horse (metaphorical dirt bike) and ride. We learn to pay better attention and not let the Confidence Curve surpass the Skill Curve. And, if we do?

Walk it off.

We also get better at discerning what activities are worth our time and talent. Dirt biking? Yeah….tried it, but don’t really see it in my future. I got back on, rode around for another hour and then was able to part ways with no unfinished business….no “what ifs?”.

Life is much the same way. My opinion? We should love as if we will never be hurt, give as if we can never lose, and try as if we can only win. Many of you following this blog are writers. Keep writing. Sure, the first novel might be awful, but keep moving. Let it go. You wiped out. Walk it off. I failed at #nanowrimo. After a month, I only had 33,000 words. What did I learn? That I have room to grow. I have 33,000 more words than when I started. Failing is part of living, so get back on and write again and again and THAT is how best-selling novels are made. And, if failure is part of being a successful author, then why not #EpicFail with style ;)?

So what are your #EpicFails? What has failure taught you? Are you still afraid of failing? Why? Share! I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

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52 Comments

Maximizing Our Social Media Impact–Having the “Right” Friends

Yes this is really me with Sandra Brown (before the restraining order kicked in :P). And I look like a ghost who’s haunting her. Cell phone cameras. Ptth!

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been talking about the unique nature of marketing books and the equally unique challenges this can present to writers…who need to market yet still need time to write great books. I can always tell when there has been a major conference, namely because the Twitterverse comes alive with writers (usually the agented ones) in a total panic trying to barter a kidney for anyone who can find them a cloning machine. What has happened?

They likely attended a social media class, or worse…their publisher did.

The inherent problem in this is that much of the social media being taught (even at writers’ conferences) not only won’t sell books, but it is a formula for a writer to end up with a nervous breakdown. I have made it my life’s work to create a social media approach that is not only more effective than my competitors’ approaches, but my methods are designed to harnesses the creativity of an author and also leave time to write.

Last week we talked about getting sticky, and why you need to run out at the very first opportunity and buy Malcom Gladwell’s Book The Tipping Point after you get a copy of my book, of course :D.

Gladwell’s book affirms much of what I have been teaching for years about social media.

I am not happy writing blogs or a book that simply tells you guys what to do. Here is a checklist and have fun. That approach is only minimally helpful. I want you guys to understand WHY you are or aren’t doing certain things. This way, if Twitter blows up and G+ devours Facebook, you won’t have to wait for me, your social media expert to tell you what to do next. You will be empowered to think for yourselves and adjust accordingly in ways that will keep your platform intact and expanding.

I want you guys powerful, not paralyzed.

Anyway, back to our marketing…

We all need to strive for what I call The Sticky Author Triumvirate. It doesn’t matter if our message reaches a hundred million people. If our message doesn’t translate into action, it is wasted time. Stickiness makes the difference and we need to be Sticky Authors, Sticky with Social Media, and Write Sticky Books. If we master one but not the other two, we will do well. If we master 2 out of 3? Even better. But the real key to success is mastery of all three.

This is one of the reasons it is so critical to write great books. Great books, by nature are sticky, but alone, they are not enough. Now that everyone can be published, relying on a great book alone is playing craps with our career. We have ALWAYS been in control of writing great books and we had a 93% failure rate to show for it (per BEA statistics). Now in the Digital Age, we finally can get sticky on ALL sides so there is NO getting rid of us. We are gonna be triple-sided duct-tape (yes, I invented a new duct tape dimension—we will be STICKY DEFINED).

Ah….but here is where the panic set in last week.

What???? *twitching eye* I need hobbies and friends outside of writers? How do I get one of those? Are they on eBay?

Yes, we need all the friends we can get, but don’t get lured in by sites promising to get you a bazillion followers/”friends.” Also, more is not actually, well, more. Just because someone has 22,000 people following them on Twitter doesn’t mean this person is effective. In fact, in my experience, this kind of person is generally less effective because the network is not comprised of the right kind of people.

Quality trumps quantity. Not all connections have the same weight. So the cool news today is that you don’t have to go make a bazillion friends. You just need a handful of the “right” friends. It’s the old adage, It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know. That is truer now than ever in human history.

Who are the right kinds of friends? There are three kinds of people that can make the difference between life and death for our message (book, idea, fashion trend, product, etc.) especially in the Digital Age, and we will talk about them more in a moment.

One of the reasons that the traditional blast out an automated message on social media approach doesn’t work is that it separates the writer from the social media experience. To get connected to the right people, we need to be present so we can pay attention.

Say I am new to Twitter. My name is Suzy Newgirl and I have 10 followers and at least half of them are bots. The other five are members of my writing group and they are in the same situation. Our networks are almost insignificant.

For example, even though the very first fax machine cost $2000, it was pretty much worthless. Why? Who was the owner going to fax? There were no other fax machines. The machine only began to grow in value as more people bought fax machines capable of recieving, repackaging and then resending messages.

Same with a social media network. A person with 5 followers doesn’t yet have a lot of value to her network. How can Suzy Newgirl increase the value of her network? She needs to connect to one of three kinds of people (per Gladwell):

A Connector

A Maven

A Salesman

These three people have ALWAYS been responsible for word of mouth epidemics; we just didn’t have the unprecedented access to meeting them that we now have. The awesome part about social media is it is like a giant honey trap for these types of people. The Connector, the Maven, and the Salesman are generally intensely social people and they are drawn to social sites like a mosquito to a bug light.

ZZZZZZZAPPPP! Ouch!

If we pay attention on social media long enough, it is almost a guarantee we will meet these sorts of people. And, if we can fold them into our network, we significantly increase the odds our message will become an epidemic . Suzy Newgirl might only have ten people in her network, but if her Friend Number 11 is one of these three types of people? She just took her social power to an entirely new level.

Now I hope you are seeing where numbers lie when it comes to social media. There are publishers giving their writers a hard time because, Author Such and Such has 30,000 followers. Why don’t you? You need to get on Twitter and follow more people!

This is part of what is making writers lose their hair.

But the numbers alone are not enough. If we have thousands of Suzy Newgirls in our network, then that is akin to being able to fax 1000 other broken fax machines. They might be able to receive messages, but the message dies there.

This is part of the working smarter, not harder. We don’t need to make ten thousand friends to reach ten thousand people. I actually have the potential to reach 10,000 people with just four friends (psst…they hang out on #MyWANA a lot cuz they are social butterflies). So, today’s tip is that we need to actually spend time on social media. Not a lot of time, but meaningful time. Pay attention. Who is active? Who is social? These are the people that make the best friends to have in life and on-line.

If we disappear off Facebook for days and weeks or only tweet when we need something, we miss out on meeting these generous and wonderful people that can make the critical difference in our careers. We don’t need to take our career to the next level…we just need to meet the person who knows the person who gives us the opportunity.

A quick example. I am not particularly a fan of Facebook. I like it, but it isn’t fast enough for my ADD nature. Yet, I still post regularly on Facebook. Three times a day I scroll down the News Feed and look for at least TWO people I can congratulate, encourage, make smile, repost, SOMETHING. At the end of the day it isn’t a lot of time invested. BUT, an enthusiastic romance writer DeeDee Scott happens to be a Maven.

DeeDee not only is highly connected, she has this intense desire to serve and help..and she totally DIGS Facebook. I had reposted stuff for her and been social simply to serve and be kind. Thus, early in 2011, when a friend of hers asked for suggestions to speak on a panel at the Romantic Times Conference in Los Angeles, she immediately recommended me…even though we had only chit-chatted on FB.

That opportunity was a massive turning point in my career. I went to LA, ended up quoted in the LA Times, met a bunch of NY Times and LA Times best-selling authors, and my career literally leapt to  a totally new level that, on my own, I would never have had access to….without the help of a Maven.

We will talk more about those in another blog. So, what do you take away from this? Be kind. Be social. Be vested. Part of the reason DeeDee recommended me was because I was one of the only social media experts who wasn’t a spammer. I’d actually talked to her and acted authentically (this is being Sticky). She remembered that, so when the opportunity presented itself, DeeDee knew just who to recommend…and I cannot thank her enough.

Any social media expert that sells you a bill of goods about how this or that program can tweet for you or post for you really isn’t doing you a favor. That is busy work that looks good on the surface. It’s activity with no productivity.

In the coming weeks, I am going to talk more about these three kinds of message-bearers—the Connector, the Maven and the Salesman. How can you find them? Befriend them? (And NOT in a spammy self-serving way). This is also one of the reasons it pays to be kind to everyone. Kindness is always the best policy.

Again, this is one of those things that’s simple…but not exactly easy. Yet, at the end of the day, this method will help you make the most out of your time on social media. Instead of being a hamster in a wheel tweeting into the abyss and “hoping” something sticks, you will be able to increase your odds that something will not only stick…but will set fire ;).

So what are some of the challenges you face when it comes to social media? Any tips, suggestions, advice. Hey, I love hearing from you guys and learning from you.

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of September I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: GRAND PRIZE WILL BE PICKED THIS MONTH. I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced at the end of September) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

Mash Up of Awesomeness

Eleven Deadly Sins of On-Line Promotion for Writers –YES!!! *claps hands*

Great resource for those interested in writing for children.

Who has the right to say you suck? by the brilliant and hilarious Tawna Fenske. BUY HER BOOK, Making Waves.

How a Perfectionist Learned to Bear her Warts by the wonderful Jody Hedlund. She is guest-posting for one of my all-time favorite people, Katie Ganshert. If you want great Christian Romance and can afford to lose a day glued to your couch turning pages, then buy Jody’s new book The Doctor’s Lady.

25 Things You Should Know About Queries, Synopses and Treatments by the genius Chuck Wendig. BUY ALL HIS BOOKS AND LISTEN TO HIM. He is not only insanely funny, but his advice is some of THE BEST in the industry.

What Can Writers Learn from Spam? by Jami Gold

Therese Walsh has an awesome post over on Writer Unboxed (subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already). Internal and External Inspirations

Has Rejection Turned You Into Someone You’re Not? by Jane Friedman (This is another critical blog to follow to keep your fingers on the pulse of our industry)

There are so MANY more wonderful blogs, but I have run out of time. I will make it up next week!

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65 Comments

Self-Publishing–The “American Idol” of the Publishing World

Happy Friday! Well, it’s a holiday weekend, so I figured we’d have some fun. I posted this argument at the beginning of the year and it generated a lot of cool discussion. There have been a lot of changes in publishing, so I figured it would be entertaining to revisit the debate. About what?

Self-publishing.

After two #1 best-selling books (published through a small, yet awesome indie press) I feel I can safely offer my opinion, then you guys can add $2.50 to my advice and get a venti coffee from Starbucks.

In my opinion, self-publishing is the American Idol of the publishing world. Thousands and thousands of hopefuls and a small handful of real chart-topping talent–talent that, in the traditional format, might never have been discovered. That’s the upside. The downside? There are no gatekeepers to keep the talentless hacks from assaulting the unsuspecting public with their “art.”

In the beginning, American Idol caught a lot of flack. There was a genuine concern about removing traditional gatekeepers from the music industry and–GASP–leaving it to the fans. Um, who did they think bought the records?

But I digress…

There was a genuine worry that American Idol could devolve into a popularity contest and that real talent might get overlooked due to a stampeding hoard of tone-deaf fans. I mean,the insanity! Let the FANS vote for their favorite artist? What’s next? Democracy?

I might be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think the guy in fat guy in spandex with the pink boa who sounds like a cat got caught in a screen door has yet to make it past the first round of eliminations. And maybe some less-than-talented people make it past the initial auditions, but, overall, I would have to say that the general music-loving public has, so far, picked some amazing artists.

Back to self-publishing. If we are willing to gut through the initial American Idol stand in line for three days, then we get our shot. What is the literary equivalent? If we are willing to fork out the cash, time, or effort to self-publish, we get our shot to be heard. Period. That is all self-publishing is. After that, it boils down to the story and prior preparation. The readers will judge the talent.

In American Idol, you have the raging hacks, the undiscovered diamonds…and then everyone in between. Same with self-publishing.

The Deluded Divas

American Idol is flypaper for people with far more ego than talent. They believe they have a “natural gift,” which is code for, “I’m too talented (self-deluded) to take singing lessons or be bothered by things like voice classes or learning to read music.”

They belt off some bad Whitney Houston song in a voice that makes every dog in a 10 mile radius start bleeding from the ears. And, when one of the judges suggests voice coaching, they go nuts, flouncing out to their entourage (closest loser friends) waiting outside the door.

“Because all their friends say they have a great voice, and that Simon just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Yeah. You’ll show him…or not.

Writing has the same Deluded Divas. Critique groups always have at least one. This is the guy who reads every week–EVERY WEEK–no matter what. Why? Because short of taking hostages, this is the only way anyone is going to listen to his novel.

Rather than learning the craft, this type of writer frequently talks non-stop about the junk NY is putting out there, so he is going to just bust past all the gatekeepers who don’t know a real best-seller when they see one. That and he gets 100% royalty rate that he can reinvest into producing the crappy film based off his crappy book…which he is also writing and producing with his cousin who’s attending film school at the local junior college. Things like correct punctuation, consistent POV and Aristotelian structure interfere too much with his “art.”

Yeah.

The Undiscovered Diamond

What is the whole point of shows like American Idol? Finding real talent. The vocalist who might not have ever been noticed if she’d gone the traditional route to landing a record deal. 

The Susan Boyle. The Fantasia. THAT one, the one with the voice of an angel.

If you have watched more than a handful of episodes of American Idol, then you have likely seen this happen. The shy kid with the guitar who starts singing and you just know this kid is going to go all the way…and you rooted for him when he was a nobody.

Same in self-published writing. But, like the shy kid with the guitar? This chart-topping (best-selling) writer is equally rare….like most undiscovered diamonds. Duh. If they were as common as brown puppies, they wouldn’t be diamonds.

It is not a regular thing for a self-published author to suddenly shoot up the best-seller lists. Not saying it won’t happen, but it sure doesn’t happen as frequently as the Deluded Divas would like to believe.

Even when traditionally published, a writer’s odds of hitting the NY Times best-seller list is about the same as being hit by lightning. As the market stands, the odds of our self-published book with no prior platform hitting the NYT best-seller list is about the same is being hit by lightning and mauled by a polar bear and brown bear at the same time. Not saying it can’t happen, but, um…yeah.

Good books with no platform stand a slim chance. Bad books? Well, no amount of social media can help a bad book.

Everyone In Between

Between the Deluded Divas and the Undiscovered Diamonds, there rests everyone else. Maybe they are new, need more time to grow, develop, learn, train, mature. On American Idol, I have seen vocalists audition, and it was clear to see they had the makings of a great singer…but they needed more time, a mentor, a coach.

I have also seen many writers who fall into this category. Are they bad writers? No. Are they green? Maybe in need of refining? Yes.

Do all of us have the talent to make be the next Cormac McCarthy? No. But there are a lot of successful authors out there who do very well, even if they aren’t a household name. They sell enough books to live comfortably and do what they love every day. For many of us, that would be enough. Would we like to be the next Stephen King or Nora Roberts? Sure. But we wouldn’t consider our lives as failures if we simply could sell enough books to write full-time.

Some of us might even make it through all three tiers.

I know I began as a Deluded Diva. I thought my first novel was perfect and that those agents didn’t know what they were talking about. Part of me is thankful that self-publishing was not as accessible back then. This book I though was perfect is the same book I joke about being banned by the Geneva Convention as torture.

I’ll tell you where the bomb is, just not another chapter of that booook!

I was new and unskilled and had more ego than sense. After the gatekeepers popped me on the snoot a few times, I started realizing maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. I joined a critique group, took a job as a line-editor, and read every craft book I could find.

Right now, I’m idling in the Everyone In Between, hoping I am that Undiscovered Diamond. But you know what? Maybe I’m not. Maybe I am a nice opal or an emerald. Maybe I am a diamond. Time and hard work will tell.

So what about self-publishing? Basically, it boils down to Deluded Divas, Undiscovered Diamonds…and then Everyone In Between. Self-publishing is our audition. It’s our shot to show the reader what we’ve got.

Maybe you are a deluded hack who should be banned from accessing Microsoft Word. That will become clear eventually when you sell 10 copies of your novel and one is to your dog, who ran in front of a car the next day after he “bought” your book. If your writing sucks, it will become painfully clear in the sales numbers soon enough. Live and learn. Keep writing.

We should always be writing the next book. We should never stop and never ever bank our future on one book. That’s a bad business plan.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Maybe sales figures will be enough to sober you up and help you understand that your craft needs work. Write, write again. It ain’t over until we give up. You might have to work extra hard to clean up your reputation, but that’s why there are gatekeepers in traditional publishing. They are there to warn us that our vampire-mystery-chik-lit-historical-memoir is not a winner. Agents and editors aren’t out to get us…really. They are there to help keep us from making fools of ourselves.

If our book makes people claw out their own eyes is not so great…

The kinda good news is there are so many self-published books that, if the first book we upload is a stinker, it’s pretty unlikely so many people will notice that we must change our names and go live in a cave. This isn’t to offer permission to put out garbage, but I do feel writers have a bit more leeway here than they did even three years ago. If the book flops, just move on. Shake it off and learn and do better next time.

Write more books and keep growing. Once your writing is strong enough to really start selling, you will probably have the skills to go back and fix the problems in the earlier books. Then, you will have more books for sale for fans. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Just like the participants of American Idol. They DO have the option to check their egos at the door, go get voice lessons and try again.

If our book is actually a gem…

Agents and editors aren’t God. Maybe you have an excellent book that is professional and not riddled with typos. Maybe you are the Susan Boyle or Fantasia or LeeDeWyze…the Undiscovered Diamond. Maybe you aren’t yet a diamond, but are clearly one in the making. Again, the sales figures don’t lie. Building a solid platform ahead of time will help make this clearer sooner.

Likely, you are like the rest of us who are Everyone In Between and hoping to one day be discovered. Any way you go, best of luck and I hope my blogs help you reach your dreams faster than you dreamed possible.

So what do you guys think? Are you a fan of self-publishing or do you think it is a sign of the coming apocalypse? And the angel opened the fifth seal, and out of the cup of wrath poured many bad vampire books to torment the unfaithful. Are you in between? Undecided? I love hearing from you.

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of September I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: GRAND PRIZE WILL BE PICKED THIS MONTH. I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced at the end of September) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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