Posts Tagged WANACon

Author Branding—Harnessing the Power of Digital Age Storms

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Ahhh, the new buzz word, BRAND. What exactly is an author brand? Great question. Branding has gone through a major transition over the past decade. The globe is more interconnected than ever in human history and this trend is increasing exponentially. We’ve seen the fall of major gatekeepers and a complete shift in consumer buying patterns, making discoverability a nightmare in The Digital Age.

Proper branding is one of THE most critical elements of author success. Brands that are outdated, boring, rigid, abandoned, fractured, negative or nonexistent are not only unhelpful, but they can spell disaster to our career and eating earning potential as artists. An author brand has to fit in the new paradigm. If we live in a world that’s changing hourly, our brands have to be able to bend and move and shift with changes.

Being a total history nerd, this makes me think of that definitive battle between the Spanish and the English when King Phillip II made an unsuccessful attempt to invade Elizbethan England. At the time, there were major tactical and technological shifts regarding the way that battles at sea were conducted.

The Spanish Armada was the shining example of traditional sea warfare—towering ships that were more like floating fortresses. The galleons rode high out of the water, making them slow, not very maneuverable and difficult to sail.

On the other hand, the English captains (in particular Francis Drake and John Hawkins) relied on a new form of “race ship”. “Lower in the water, with a long prow and much reduced fore and after castles, these sleek ships carried more sophisticated forms of rigging, enabling them to sail closer to the wind, making them faster and more maneuverable than the Spanish ships.” ~BritishBattles.Com

Long story short, the English ships could take advantage of the elements (high winds, rough seas) and were far more maneuverable. The Spanish fleet was too bulky, and, when battered by North Sea storms? Very expensive gold-plated splinters. Spain lost almost their entire fleet and this defeat of the Spanish Armada marked the rise of the English Empire.

Why do I give this story? Other than it is COOL?

Brands in The Digital Age are encountering the same tactical and technological changes. We are no longer part of the rigid, massive, virtually immobile TV-Industrial complex. We need to be innovative, creative and build a brand that can harness change instead of being splintered by change. Algorithms shift constantly. Social platforms come and go and change tactics. Trends shift. Tastes shift. We need to be able to use these changes to power momentum.

As you know, tonight is the beginning of WANACon (details below) but we always launch with PajamaCon, which is FREE. We are going to hang out in jammies, have fun and I am going to talk about what it means to create an author brand.

• What is an author brand?

• How has branding changed in The Digital Age?

• Outdated and ineffective branding approaches.

• How much time should we invest in branding?

• What are ways to keep a brand flexible?

• Practical ways to grow our author brand.

WANA is all about helping authors, so PajamaCon is our gift to you. I’ve done all the dumb stuff so you don’t have to. There are ways to brand that will make you cry and end up curled in the fetal position with a bottle of tequila. It’s much better to start building properly than to have to rip down to the foundation and start all over. Brands take time to build, so even if you’re just now working on that first book? BEGIN TODAY.

Yes, branding is critical, but a good book is as well. I can tell you as a long-time content editor that it can be VERY costly. This is why I have added in some killer prizes for attendees.

You, me, your book, bandages and suture-kits. Either I can help you fix a book that’s not working or plot one with you that WILL. So if your book is on life-support, DOA or you’re lost and can’t find your original idea? I can help. If your brand/blog makes you want to hurl yourself into a leaf-chipper (been there), here’s your chance to get one-on-one time with moi for some help.

CONTEST DETAILS

So, WANACon is here. PajamaCon is a gift  (CLICK HERE FOR INFO) and gives you a chance to make sure your computer is set up properly if you choose to join us for the conference. If not? Still a fun time and a chance to learn. SIGN UP for WANACon HERE. Also, AGENT PITCHES are available. You can SIGN UP HERE.

Since my goal is to see you guys succeed, I am offering three BIG prizes for WANACon Attendees. Grand Prize is The Book/Brand Combo. I will personally consult to either assist in plotting a new book or fixing one that doesn’t work. I will also consult you personally on your brand and give you a plan for SEO, content, everything. Book Prize is I work with you to plot or fix a book. Branding Prize is I personally consult you on your brand, teach you about SEO and lay out a plan.

EVERYONE who attends WANACon automatically gets ten entries. Encourage a friend to sign up and you earn 25 additional entries and the friend who signs up gets 15. Just make sure to tell us who referred you. WANA is committed to helping you realize your dream.

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19 Comments

Show Me the Money–What’s the Skinny on Author Earnings?

Via Flickr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Via Flickr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

My degree is in Political Science with an emphasis on Political Economy. To earn this degree, I had to study a lot of statistics *UGH* and to be blunt? I agree with Mark Twain, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” Surveys and statistics are a science: number of participants, number of questions, phrasing of the questions, nature of the sample group, geography, etc.

Yada, yada, yada.

But somewhere in the numbers is some truth, which is why I asked one of our WANA instructors, Jami Gold, to do this guest post for me (and yes, she will be presenting at WANACon).

Sure we love to write, but I assume all of us are asking the BIG questions: Is there MONEY in writing? How do we make a GOOD living as writers? Money seems to be the taboo and we don’t want to talk about it. Too gauche. But most of us would like to be paid for what we do, so time to dig into the uncomfortable stuff.

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

I’m going to add a caveat that will support what Jami is about to say. I want to approach this as respectfully as possible. But, if I hadn’t seen so much of these attitudes/behaviors, I wouldn’t bother mentioning them at all.

Many writers want to skip steps. It’s human nature to believe we are the exception. Been there, done that, myself. But? 99% of the time? We aren’t the exception at all. There are NO guarantees to any business, but there are some core principles that, when we ignore them? It’s a heck of a lot harder to succeed.

I travel to many, many conferences. I’ve written over 800 blogs and three books regarding blogging, social media, editing, covers, etc. and I’ve gotten to where I simply no longer argue. I’ve met writers who flat out refused to do social media, who refused to learn how to blog, who cut corners on cover design and interior design or who believed Aunt Lulu who taught English back in the 80s counted as an acceptable “editor.”

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

I’ve blogged since 2008 how important it is to have a platform, yet to this day, I get e-mails from writers who have a book coming out in a month and they want to know how to build a platform in time to promote *head desk*. I’ve argued with writers about using monikers, book spam, automation, outsourcing social media, force-adding people to Facebook groups, how hiring an SEO “gurus” will not improve sales, to keep writing and stop non-stop promoting ONE book, and on and on….and *sigh* on.

Every time I blog about three-act structure, POV or the importance of studying craft, there will always be commenters who point out exceptions and that they don’t want to be bound by “formulas.” I’ve painstakingly edited for writers who then turned around and ignored everything I recommended they change to improve the book (reader experience). Later, they had no idea why sales were dismal.

Hmmm, looks legit.

Hmmm, looks legit.

can tell you that the authors who treat writing as a business and who seek education and mentoring are making a heck of a lot more than $1000 a year. I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed many writers who were willing to do all it took to make a good living writing and boy they are. Hugh Howey, Teresa Ragan, H.P. Mallory, and Saffina Deforges (three of these four I know personally and all fabulous). I have many more examples but this post is long enough.

I mention these author examples because these folks didn’t begin with a long traditional backlist or NYT Best-Selling Author in front of their names. In fact, Saffina used WANA methods to skyrocket from the bottom of the pile to selling 40,000 books in one month alone. She and her writing partner broke numerous records with their work.

So, I hope you guys will see that all of these writers are doing the very things Jami is about to discuss. Due to the nature of my job and what I see daily, I feel this is a far more accurate analysis.

Going to let Jami take it from here….

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

The publishing world has been abuzz with the results of the 2014 Digital Book World (DBW) and Writer’s Digest Author Survey. Headlines scream “Most authors make less than $1000 a year.”  Numbers taken out of context claim that 80% of the 9000+ respondents earn $1000 or less.

Eh. Yes and no.

Yes, the DBW/Writer’s Digest survey polled 9,210 or so writers. However, don’t let that big number impress you so much that you assume this survey data is uber-accurate. More than 65% of those respondents are “aspiring” and haven’t published anything yet.

The DBW/Writer’s Digest Survey Results

According to The Guardian, the remaining respondents broke down to “18% self-published, 8% traditionally-published and 6% saying they were pursuing hybrid careers.” Okay, so that leaves around 3000 respondents who have been published in some way, shape, or form.

But wait, a full 20% of both the self-published and the traditionally published respondents said they’ve made $0. Ditto with 5% of the hybrid authors. And yes, that means literally zero dollars, as the next income band goes from $1 to $999.

I find that result odd. Does that mean zero income from book sales? Or zero income after expenses?

I don’t know, but it does make me suspect the question wording and/or the respondent base was a bit hinky. Maybe those authors are planning on self-publishing, or maybe they have a traditionally published book that hasn’t been released yet. Or maybe the DBW/Writer’s Digest respondent base doesn’t reflect professional published authors.

Many have criticized the survey because it was run by Writer’s Digest, who’s been known to recommend vanity publishers to those interested in self-publishing. If the respondents were from the vanity publishing arena, then yes, I could see their income being zero (or negative).

Brenda Hiatt’s Survey Results

Anyone who has studied the industry knows that one book alone isn’t going to cut it. Professional authors, those that treat their writing as a career, focus on building a backlist. If we have 3-6 books out, it doesn’t take much income from each to break $1000.

A look at Brenda Hiatt’s amazing site “Show Me the Money” lists the advance, royalty rates, and earn out for various romance and YA traditional publishers. The vast majority of earn out amounts on her site are over $1000, so even if an author publishes only one book a year, they’d still beat that DBW figure. And Brenda’s gathered data from almost 2700 traditionally published titles.

Now, that’s not to say her respondents are rolling in the dough. The average advance or earn out probably works out to around $10K, with some as low as $200.

My point is that I don’t quite trust DBW’s results. But I’m not going to pay nearly $300 for the full report to analyze how the heck they came up with their numbers. The results strike me as “link bait” in their attempt to sell copies of their report.

Beverley Kendall’s Survey Results

We all know some self-published books are crap. I’ve seen them. I’ve talked to their authors. And they plain don’t care. They’re in it for the quick buck, or they believe they’re geniuses who don’t need editing.

That’s why I was far more interested in the results of Beverley Kendall’s survey of self-published/hybrid authors. Some self-publishers obtain professional-level editing and covers, and that group should be more comparable to traditionally published authors. Beverley asked the questions that really matter rather than lumping all self-published authors together.

She analyzed results from her 822 self-published respondents, and 65% of her respondents had no previous traditional or epublishing deals to improve their name recognition. Keep that in mind for these results. (And I highly recommend checking out her 29 page, free report of her analysis at the link above. Fantastic information!)

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of dfbphotos

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of dfbphotos


How Off-Base Is the DBW Survey?

First thing I note (page 4), 48.05% earned over $10,000 in 2013. Even with no traditional publishing name recognition, 46.04% of self-published-only authors earned over $10K. Hmm, that’s quite different from the 5% for self-published-only authors earning those numbers in the DBW report.

The second thing I note (page 10) is that backlist really matters. While 80% of respondents with 1-3 books for sale make $10K or less, that figure drops quickly with additional books. About 50% of respondents make more than $10K when they have 4-7 self-published books available, and 20% make more than $50K. At 12-20 books available, over 50% of respondents are making 50K or more, and 30% are over $100K.

How Much Does Professionalism Matter?

Now let’s look at those numbers for professional, self-published authors—that is, those who use a professional editor and cover artist (page 13). Of those who didn’t use a professional editor (Beverley’s definition: “with a publishing background”), 40.23% earned more than $10K. In contrast, of those who did use a professional editor, 50.82% earned more than $10K.

Similarly, of those who didn’t use a professional cover artist (her definition: “graphic artist or professional designer”), 39.21% earned more than 10K. In contrast, of those who did use a professional cover artist, 52.55% earned more than $10K.

In short, professionalism matters. And the percentage differences between professional editing and professional cover design aren’t much, so they both seem to be important. However, a professional cover has a slight edge over editing if you’re dealing with limited funds.

Image via Bill_Owen Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Bill_Owen Flickr Creative Commons


Is Beverley Kendall’s Survey the Anomaly?

Brenda Hiatt’s “Show Me the Money” page surveys self-published authors too. For 2012, her respondents averaged 10 titles each (that backlist mentioned above) and averaged $137K. The median, which discounts outliers better, was still $51K.

Those figures match Beverley’s 2013 results for authors with similarly large backlists. So I think it’s safe to say that for those authors who approach self-publishing as a career (build a backlist, use professional editors and cover artists, etc.), making more than $1K a year is the norm.

All that said, it’s also important to keep an eye on craft and not just think about backlist. In Beverley Kendall’s report, almost 40% of authors with 60+ self-published releases(!) make less than $10K because they’re skipping professional editing or book covers in their single-minded focus on release numbers.

Lessons Learned: How to Maximize Chances for Success

Beverley Kendall’s report is a gold mine for those on either path. Her results show what works for maximizing income, but many of the tips are also no-cost ways we can reach more readers:

  • Write a series
  • Make a series-related short story, novella, or the first novel free
  • Include excerpts of other stories, especially at the back of the freebie
  • Price novel-length books in the $2.99-$4.99 sweet spot
  • Build a backlist of quality stories
  • Don’t expect success overnight—think in years

On Beverley’s Facebook page, she shared a few more survey tidbits. This one is very enlightening on what it takes to make more money:

“Of authors who earned over $50,000 in 2013

95.93% have 4 or more books up for sale
93.91 % have been self-publishing for more than 1 (one) year.”

Remember those years I mentioned? Time and backlist, everyone, time and backlist. *smile*

On this post and this post, Beverley illuminates the value of series and freebies:

  • For authors over $50K:
    • 96.93% of their bestselling books were part of a series
    • 68% offered one or more books in the series as a freebie
  • For authors over $500K:
    • 100% of their bestselling books were part of a series
    • 88.24% offered one or more books in the series as a freebie
  • For authors between $0-$10K:
    • 25.60% have not written a series
    • 32.53% offered one or more books in their series free
    • 41.87% do not offer a freebie from their series

However, not every author should offer a freebie. This is where a long-term strategy comes into play. We can lose money and potential readers if we don’t have other stories available, as shown by this post:

“After downloading and reading a free digital book by an author, 88.54% of readers have gone on to purchase other books by that author.”

Only a few of her insights on how to maximize our chances for success apply more to authors willing to invest or write to the market:

  • Use professional-level editing and book covers
    • Beverley notes one reason why those from a traditional publishing background make more money: “22.69% MORE authors who were originally traditionally published had their books edited by someone with a publishing background than authors who had never been published before.”
  • Choose the “right” category/genre (note: this often involves chasing trends(*), so your mileage may vary)
    • * New Adult Romance: 43.48% earned more than $50K
    • Mystery/Thriller: 30.77% earned more than $50K
    • * Erotic Romance: 28.57% earned more than 50K
    • SciFi/Fantasy: 19.15% earned more than $50K
    • Non-fiction: 10.34% earned more than $50K

Finally, after I pestered her for more insights, Beverley did another analysis for what the statistics would be when an author did everything “right.” Of the 121 respondents who:

  • Have been self-publishing for more than 1 year
  • Wrote a series
  • Put one or more of their books free
  • Have 4 or more self-published books available
  • Price their work between $2.99-$7.99
  • Acquire professional editing and book covers

The stats revealed that 81.82% earn over $10K and 57.04% earn more than $50K. Click through to this link to see the full breakdown.

Beverley’s report is invaluable for showing what works. Lumping all self-published authors together (the serious and the non-serious) dilutes the lessons we can learn from those doing it with a plan for success. As Beverley said in her follow-up post:

“So does it matter really if 80% of self-published authors don’t make more than $1000 in a year if you intend to emulate the 20% who are doing it right and making a very comfortable living doing it?”

And now I’m burnt on numbers for a while, but I hope this has been educational and enlightening. *reassembles brain*

****

THANK YOU, Jami!

COOL CONTEST. So, WANACon is this coming weekend. PajamaCon is FREE (Thursday Evening) and gives you a chance to make sure your computer is set up properly if you choose to join us for the conference. If not? Still a fun time and a chance to learn. SIGN UP for WANACon HERE. Also, AGENT PITCHES are available. You can SIGN UP HERE.

Since my goal is to see you guys succeed, I am offering three BIG prizes for WANACon Attendees. Grand Prize is The Book/Brand Combo. I will personally consult to either assist in plotting a new book or fixing one that doesn’t work. I will also consult you personally on your brand and give you a plan for SEO, content, everything. Book Prize is I work with you to plot or fix a book. Branding Prize is I personally consult you on your brand, teach you about SEO and lay out a plan.

EVERYONE who attends automatically gets ten entries. Encourage a friend to sign up and you earn 25 additional entries and the friend who signs up gets 15. Just make sure to tell us who referred you. WANA is committed to helping you realize your dream.

Author Jami Gold

Author Jami Gold

After discovering a chemical compound that makes chocolate even more awesome, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in making her sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Find Jami at her blogTwitterFacebookPinterestLinkedIn, and Goodreads.

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167 Comments

Commitment is the Cure–From “Aspiring” Writer to Professional Author

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Tim Simpson.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Tim Simpson.

It’s been amazing and terrifying to watch the changes in our industry just over the past six years. For generations, there was only a handful of items a writer needed to do. Write a book. Query. Get an agent. Land a deal. Hopefully continue writing more books. Though this was far simpler, there was a horrific failure rate and most writers never saw their works in print.

In The Digital Age, we live in an exciting time. E-books have offered new life to many works that were simply a bad investment in the paper-based world (novellas, epic fantasy, poetry). Yet, with new opportunity comes new responsibilities.

We must understand the business side of our business. And, as someone who teaches at many conferences, I know that until recently it has been rare to find an in-person conference that offers training outside the old paradigm.

I’ve been to conferences with all NY agents, only a class or two on social media, nothing about formatting or indie or book covers. This leaves a majority of writers ill-prepared for anything other than a traditional path (but this IS improving).

Yet, as we watch the trends, we are seeing that even authors who traditionally publish are still pursuing other paths as well to 1) increase income harnessing the power of combined sales and 2) maintain fan excitement 3) broaden/strengthen the platform.

Screen Shot 2012-03-26 at 8.14.34 AM

As it stands, NY is limited to putting out a book, maybe two per year. Also, bookstores only have so much shelf space (which is negotiated by an agent/sales team). Due to the new mega-bookstore model, stores like B&N make more money off items other than books. Go into any B&N and the entire front of the store is filled with Nooks and Nook accessories (instead of books).

Additionally, they only can offer discounts by stocking only so many books and for a short period of time. This means authors with backlists generally will only have the most recent title for sale, unless they happen to be one of the big names (J.K. Rowling).

Writing now has merged art with entrepreneurship. We are essentially beginning a business (even if we choose traditional). Any successful business has a business plan. Also, we must invest in ourselves and our dream. There are a number of hard truths.

Regular People BELIEVE Writing is EASY

The average person out there has no concept of how hard it is to write a book. They think we sit and play with imaginary friends all day, which we do, but making those friends cooperate can be nothing short of a nightmare. Readers only see the final product. They only see what took months or years to complete. There is also this mistaken notion that because we have command of our native tongue, that writing a book/novel is only a matter of sitting down and writing.

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

Yes, butt-in-chair can be the greatest challenge, but developing dimensional characters takes profound understanding of human nature and psychology. Then we have to create realistic and interesting dialogue. Add in enough description and detail to build the world without boring the reader. We have to maintain tension on every page, know how to balance scenes and sequels, understand narrative structure and on and on and on.

But, it is this misguided perception that writing is easy that can derail us.

Forget What Other People Think

Often we are afraid to take risks because we fear failure. Yet, any true success is birthed from risk. We can’t think about what other people think or 1) we’ll quit 2) we’ll slack off 3) we’ll listen to bad advice.

Screen Shot 2012-03-28 at 11.56.15 AM

Everyone has an opinion. One way humans show love is by offering “advice.” This is fine, but we have to mature enough and grab hold of what we want so tightly that we can allow other people the right to be wrong.

When I started writing, my family didn’t talk to me for two years. I even had a church elder laugh and tell me essentially that I had a better chance of being abducted by terrorists than being successful as a writer. Other family members felt I should go to law school. For a time, I listened. I even took the LSAT and gained entrance to law school.

But, I remember standing there with my acceptance letter and I had to make a choice. Did I really want to be a lawyer? NO.

Thing is, other people can give advice, and often they do this from genuine care and concern, but remember…

Only YOU will pay the price.

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

When we allow others to talk us into “real jobs”, they won’t be the ones who die a slow death every day. They won’t be the ones who throw up every day on the way to work (been there). They won’t be the one with a broken heart, an empty life and a mental spiral of what-ifs that keep them awake at night.

Commitment is the Cure

Lately, we have been talking about WANACon, which is coming up next weekend and today is the last day to use the code Valentine for $15 off. It’s an affordable way to learn from top industry experts, learn about ALL kinds of publishing—self-pub, indie, traditional—social media, branding, craft, platform-building and all for a reasonable price and from HOME. New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling Author Shirley Jump will be the keynote and agent pitch sessions are available. We have over 20 presentations from top professionals.

WANACon is largely volunteer because I was living of Ramen my first conference. Even though it was local, it still cost me over $300 and a lot of driving. I wanted to offer something for those who might be on a budget or have time or geographic challenges.

Yet, here’s the thing. Do I want you to come to WANACon? Yes, we have a lot of fun and it will spoil you. Regular conferences are costly and a physical beating (especially for introverts). Most conferences also will charge extra for recordings and we provide them for free because we want you to succeed.

BUT, I don’t care if you go to WANACon or some other conference. Just go to a conference. Commit. Attend/ join RWA (Romance Writers of America) even if you don’t write romance. Surround yourself with what you want to be. Connect and learn from professionals.

Publishing can feel a little like THIS...

Publishing can feel a little like THIS…

I want to encourage you to take true professional steps that transition a dream into a reality. Invest in your domain name (the NAME that will be on your books). Commit to building a platform or blogging. Platforms capable of driving sales can’t be bought or POOF out of the ether. They take time and some money.

NY will not represent an author with no platform. Most agencies will google an author and if they can’t find us? Game over. Come back when we have a platform. If we go indie or self-pub? We’re dead without a platform.

The publishing world of today offers a much better chance for success, but we have to be educated and have a plan of action. We need to invest in that dream. I can’t tell you the difference my first conference made in how I viewed my career choice and even myself.

Perception is REALITY

The world thinks most writers are just wannabes typing away at a Starbucks. Why? Because a lot of us do that. I did. In the beginning, I didn’t take myself seriously. Why would others? But, when we commit and invest, this is when we change and others often do, too.

Image via Tumblr

Image via Tumblr

If you met someone who claimed to be an artist, but they simply carried around a notebook and drew cool pictures, we’d think one thing. But, what if we talked to them and realized they had a web site with their work, that they’d worked an extra job to train with professional artists?

Someone who sings in the shower or in the church choir is one thing. But what about the person who gives up every extra hobby to take voice lessons and record their songs? Or a chef who creates beautiful dishes for people at home, but then later takes out a loan to start a catering business?

Our level of commitment is a reflection of our passion and our genuine desire to do this thing for real. 

This is February. Most of us are struggling with the New Year’s Resolutions. We all do. But whether you attend a conference a professional workshop, take classes, begin building your platform, make that shift. Otherwise, our “dream” will remain an intangible. Sacrificing time and money, risking failure, ignoring naysayers, these are the things that separate the “aspiring writer” from the “pre-published author.”

Regardless of what you write, which path you choose, which conference you attend, we support you 1000%. It’s why WANA works so hard to offer you all the tools for success: classes, conferences, WANACommons (for blog images you can use worry-free), WANATribe (social network for writers), #MyWANA and Facebook’s WANA group. We want you to have education, encouragement, resources, and a support network. The rest is in the doing ;).

As a gift, we have a free recording of Gabriela Pereira’s “How To Get the Most Out of a Writing Conference.” Use this for WANACon or any conference of your choosing. You can sign up for WANACon HERE and use the code Valentine for $15 off.

What are your thoughts? Have you been bombarded with naysayers and dream stealers? Is it hard to believe that your writing is a “real job”? I know I still struggle with that, too. What are your biggest challenges, fears? What are some of your successes? Share and inspire us!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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)

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71 Comments

Setbacks, Success, Excuses, Oh MY! The Truth About Publishing & Myths About Muses

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

Much of any kind of success is related to attitude. We can’t control the weather, the future of publishing, the global economic conditions, but we can control our attitude. To be successful at anything, there are a few core principles we should embrace and work on every day. These are muscles of character.

We have peace, joy, patience, self-discipline. Those things are already inside of us. However, we must choose to work on them and do our part to strengthen these “character muscles” to enjoy their benefits.

Ignore Happiness and Strive for Joy

I don’t care for the word “happy” or “happiness” because it’s tethered to other words like “happening” and “happenstance.” Happiness is one of those things that’s easy dictated by what is happening. Joy, however, is a constant and something we can choose.

If you’ve been writing any length of time, you know there can be some dark times. Negative people, poor results, rejection, failure, setbacks, etc. I’ve written works so complicated I needed a team of sherpas to find my original idea (and my own butt).

It’s easy to be miserable when life or our art isn’t cooperating. It’s hard to choose to remain peaceful and continue pressing with a positive attitude. Yet, the more we exercise peace, joy and self-discipline, the stronger they become, and *sigh* resistance is what makes them grow. Resistance can be a good thing if we remember to keep it in a positive perspective.

Okay, this book turned out to be a mess, but can I fix it? Can I learn from it?

Original image via Wikimedia Commons, Nuclear Weapons Test Romeo

Original image via Wikimedia Commons, Nuclear Weapons Test Romeo

Keep going. This is why it’s always so crucial to keep moving. If we stand too long and fixate on things we can’t control, we can become paralyzed and end up doing nothing at all.

Feelings Lie

I’ve talked about this before, but many lessons bear repeating. Feelings are great. They are useful, but they are liars and self-centered. Feelings can be affected by weather, hormones, stress, a washing machine that’s broken down (TWO TIMES NOW), lack of sleep, allergies, and on and on. If we wait until we feel like doing something, we’re setting ourselves up to live life strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

As writers, we like to talk about “being visited by our muse” but the tough reality is the muse is about as reliable as a Russian compact car. Sure, enjoy it when she comes and hangs out, but the muse is flaky and prone to see something shiny and disappear for days or weeks. “Science” shows that one way to catch our muse is to ignore her. Muses are related to cats and few things make the muse want to shower love like when we sit at a keyboard working without her.

Just ignore the glitter she leaves in your keyboard.

Life Doesn’t Stop for Dreams

Discernment is another area all of us should seek to grow. It’s easy to go to extremes. I’m guilty. I work until I am half-dead, then need a week to recover. That is just dumb. Hey, I’m getting better. The truly tough part about discernment is it’s related to maturity, meaning we can only gain either by making a LOT of mistakes and doing a lot of things wrong. We learn to be balanced by getting a taste of being unbalanced.

If we aren’t failing, then we aren’t doing anything interesting.

And, at this rate, my life is truly FASCINATING :D.

Life goes on even when we write. Kids get sick, spouses lose jobs, taxes have to be paid, and on an on and on. There is only one right time to begin writing. NOW. Even if it’s just a little bit. It’s good for us to at least start. “Starting” helps us develop intuition and know when feelings are just messing with us.

As an example, I worked out almost every day through my pregnancy with The Spawn. And I will preface this with telling you that I was not a disciplined person AT ALL at the time. I did most things when I was in the “mood.” So I made myself a promise when I got pregnant that I would go to the gym and walk five minutes on the treadmill. If, after five minutes, I still felt miserable, it was okay to quit.

In ten months of being pregnant, I only quit a handful of times. Most of the time, the getting going was enough to burn away the “feelings” and then I felt BETTER for having set foot in the gym.

Writing can be the same. Just vow to write a few words or read so many chapters of a critical book (craft, research, fiction, etc.). Baby steps are steps and they add up and, over time, develop the character of a professional.

I know when I was new I loooooved excuses. I still make them, though not as often. The night before last, we had yet another ice storm. And yes, the Yankees all laugh, but I don’t own any warm clothes. You can’t buy them here. Texans are unaccustomed to cold and don’t think of things the same way as people used to wintery weather.

Anyway, it was time for bed and I went to let Pippa out for one last bathroom break. I knew the lower steps had iced, but because of the shadows and icy fog, I was unaware the top of the porch had iced as well. When I turned to let her inside, both feet flew out from under me in cartoonish fashion and I landed, quite literally on my head. Thankfully this is the toughest part of my body.

Actual image of Kristen's Guardian Angel

Actual image of Kristen’s Guardian Angel

Anyway, the point of this is I have learned (to be more careful in ice). But yesterday I rested. I couldn’t move my head and felt like I’d been beaten. But there was a time I would have just kept on going like some idiotic Energizer Bunny. There was also a time, I would have taken a hard bump on the noggin and then taken off two weeks because my neck hurt. Whiiiineee.

It’s that whole discernment thing.

Diagram of Kristen's Epic Stupidity

Diagram of Kristen’s Epic Stupidity

Yes, today I’m sore. My neck and back are stiff, but life continues. The house needed to be cleaned and the blog needed to be written and I still have work to do. And I am certain my future will have all kinds of challenges (so will yours), but the point is that, if we wait for a challenge-free-life to begin writing or to continue writing, we’ll be writing from the afterlife.

You could also be writing from the afterlife if you are dumb enough not to look for ICE.

But the lesson here is people who’ve been hit in the head make better bloggers…

Wait, that wasn’t my point. Well, I’ve forgotten it. The key thing to remember is the largest part of winning is simply showing up. We will always find excuses. Excuses are easy, but costly. Choose to focus on what we can control. Choose to have joy. Choose to be peaceful despite the storms, because storms will always be there. Step a foot out. Getting started is often most of the battle.

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle with making excuses? Hey, we are human, we all do. What ways do you help keep yourself accountable? Do you make excuses because your tendency is to put others ahead of yourself? Are you afraid of failure or even success? Do you beat yourself up over baby steps and forget that they DO count?

Make sure to check the announcements below, because WANA has put together some seriously cool FREE stuff to help you in your writing journey.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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, AGENTS & FREE STUFF:

Thinking about attending #WANACon or already signed up?

TONIGHT check out a FREE presentation by one of WANACon’s presenters, Gabriela Pereira, on: “How to Get the Most Out of A Conference.”

- To join the presentation, go to WANA International’s site at 8PM Eastern (New York) time / 5pm Pacific (Seattle) time.
– On the right sidebar, select “WANACon Open House – Feb 12, 2014″ from the drop-down box under “Conference Hall A”.
– Enter your name and the password “welcome”, and then click “Join.”

Click here to ADD THIS EVENT to your Google calendar.

The Open House starts one hour earlier if you want to work out tech gremlins, check out the classroom, or visit with others.

Join us at WANACon (THE global virtual writing conference) on February 21 & 22, use promo code “Valentine” for $15 off the registration fee this week. Three agents covering almost every fiction category are also taking pitches in private, virtual, webcam & audio-capable meeting rooms.

And if you sign up, REMEMBER to enter the Rafflecopter this week for your chance to win a refund of your conference registration fee!

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66 Comments

Journey from Aspiring Dreamer to Hardened Professional Author

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

One of the goals of this blog has always been to prepare new writers and develop professionals. In order to do this, I blog on any number of topics, ranging from social media to search engines, craft to family. Some posts are just to give you a laugh because Lord knows we always need more of those. Writers are human beings, and, if we focus only on one aspect of our growth, we can become unbalanced or even deformed.

When it comes to developing/ growing from that wide-eyed dreamer with a gift for words and transforming into a pro who can withstand the unrelenting crucible of this business, balance is vital. Why? I can tell you from experience that when we reach the mountain’s “summit”, the view is breathtaking…until we see the next mountain, the taller mountain. Oh, and to reach the top of that taller mountain, it means…

Another trip through the valley. *head desk*

Just Do It

I despise the term “aspiring writer.” We don’t “aspire” to get out of the chair. Either we sit or we stand. We choose and no one can make that decision but us. I prefer the term “pre-published” writer, because this makes us accountable and shifts our thinking. To continue the metaphor of mountain-climbing, there is a transition every climber goes through…from looking at pictures of people on top of Mt. Everest to making the decision to DO IT.

This person might be at the gym training, lifting weights, doing cardio, perhaps even learning to climb on walls and developing the strength, endurance and flexibility to climb a mountain. Training is key.

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

We can’t just buy a bunch of fancy gear and show up in Nepal unless we really want to DIE. Climbing a mountain is a lot like successfully publishing. There are no shortcuts. We can’t pay guides to do what we must do ourselves. Yes, sherpas are key, but they can’t make the climb for us. They are there to assist.

But we still must make the initial decision to go for it.

Then we train.

If We’re Comfortable We Aren’t Growing

I have never climbed a mountain, but I did live my teens and twenties like a Mountain Dew commercial (and feel that every time the weather changes). I used to rock climb and go bouldering. Bouldering is particularly terrifying because boulders are BIG and they are ROUND. Round is particularly terrifying because to comes with BLIND SPOTS.

Bouldering is used to hone skills for bigger climbs. It develops strength, callouses, flexibility, and teaches that sometimes we have to reach for what we can’t see.

The going up the boulder is scary enough, but the coming down? THAT’S when it gets truly terrifying. Look down? That’s when you see how far you could really fall, and since bouldering is done without ropes? Ouch. And though it might sound cliche…don’t look down. Another interesting part of bouldering is one must reach hands and feet into the unseen and trust you can grab hold.

Same with writing. We will have to reach into the unseen or remain stuck. We have to let go of one place to make it to the next and there are no guarantees, which is why it is important to…

Have a Network of Support

I’m sure there are lone writers out there who eat nails for breakfast and spit them out as mega-best-selling novels, but they’re rare. These guys remind me of free-soloing climbers. These climbers scale huge rock faces using strength and body position to stay on the rock without the use of ropes.

I did this once…and slid a good fifty feet down a rock face, bruising, cutting and scraping every exposed area of my body. In my opinion, there are two types of free-soloers…Grand Champion and Stuff on a Rock. After getting a taste of being Stuff on a Rock? Ropes were AWESOME from that point on. Ego wasn’t worth it.

Same in writing. It’s one of the reasons I created the WANA community on Facebook and #MyWANA on Twitter and even WANATribe (a social network for writers and creative professionals). We need help. We need ropes other writers to be there when we are scraped and bruised and even when we fall. Because if we don’t fall, then we really aren’t trying that hard.

If we have a system of support, then falls can be setbacks instead of catastrophes. Writing has historically been a lonely and solitary profession because of the nature of our world. Now? We can choose. Other writers can anchor us, be there to lift us.

We can return the favor. We can also learn from writers who’ve scaled this mountain before. We don’t have to reinvent a new path. The top of the mountain remains pretty much the same. No one cares how we get there, so long as we get there.

Does anyone question the team with the group shot on the top of K-2? Do they say, “Well, you slid at least twenty times and nearly fell into an ice cave. Oh and then there was that delay because of weather. And you had to have a team of sherpas to help you. Your summit doesn’t count.” No. Either we finish the book or we don’t. Whether it took ten revisions, or a hundred, no one cares.

All they care about is, did we summit FINISH?

The Air Gets Thinner The Higher We Climb

Sure the view is breathtaking, but nothing grows at the top of the mountain. No one can live there. The air is too thin, the terrain too unstable, the weather too brutal, and there’s no food at the top of the mountain.

Each work is it’s own climb. Maybe it’s a short story (boulder) to train for bigger things. But I feel many of us (and I was guilty, too) believe that we can live on the summit, that the summit means we have made it and it will somehow be easier. This is a lie. When you land an agent, it’s the beginning of a new mountain. When we finish a book or even make a best-seller list, it only makes way for a new mountain. No one stays at the top of a best-seller list indefinitely.

We can’t live there.

The summit of any endeavor should be savored and rejoiced, but it comes with the acceptance that now we have to climb back into the valley because the valley is for the living and the growing ;).

What are your thoughts? Have you ever metaphorically slid down a cliff on your face? What did you learn? Are you grateful for new challenges or overwhelmed?

***For some guidance and training regarding mountain climbing becoming successfully published, feel free to check the announcements below.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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, AGENTS & FREE STUFF:

Thinking about attending #WANACon or already signed up?

On Wednesday, check out a FREE presentation by one of WANACon’s presenters, Gabriela Pereira, on: “How to Get the Most Out of A Conference.”

- To join the presentation, go to WANA International’s site at 8PM Eastern (New York) time / 5pm Pacific (Seattle) time.
– On the right sidebar, select “WANACon Open House – Feb 12, 2014″ from the drop-down box under “Conference Hall A”.
– Enter your name and the password “welcome”, and then click “Join.”

Click here to ADD THIS EVENT to your Google calendar.

The Open House starts one hour earlier if you want to work out tech gremlins, check out the classroom, or visit with others.

Join us at WANACon (THE global virtual writing conference) on February 21 & 22, use promo code “Valentine” for $15 off the registration fee this week. Three agents covering almost every fiction category are also taking pitches in private, virtual, webcam & audio-capable meeting rooms.

And if you sign up, REMEMBER to enter the Rafflecopter this week for your chance to win a refund of your conference registration fee!

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44 Comments

How to Write a Great Author Blog AND Avoid Huge Ships

Image courtesy of Jenny Kaczorowski WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Jenny Kaczorowski WANA Commons

Blogging is THE most resilient form of social media and one of the best tools to build an author platform. Why? Readers read blogs. Perfect snare for readers. We also own our blogs, whereas content posted on Facebook and Twitter (and other social sites) is no longer exclusively ours, meaning these sites could rearrange the digital furniture and take our posts/archives with them.

If Twitter flitters and FB implodes, blogs will remain. Blogs will continue to grow over time, and search engines LOVE them. Blogs have been going strong since the 90s. Blogging also makes us better, faster, cleaner writers and they can be harvested later for books (I.e. to use as promotion).

Whenever I teach writers about blogging, my first challenge is to talk them off the ledge from panic. What do I TALK about? I have no IDEAAAAASSSS!

*breathes into paper bag*

And I truly understand this panic, because a lot of social media experts advise writers to blog in a way that is very left-brain.

Write about writing.

Write about the industry.

Write about your process.

Write about your research.

Write about your books.

Write essays.

Write about getting an agent.

Conduct interviews.

Do book reviews.

Talk to your characters. NOOOOOO! (*hint* Anyone who knows the characters already bought the book. To anyone else? Seriously creepy.)

Yet, here’s the thing, writers (especially fiction writers) are CREATIVE people. We are storytellers. When we blog merely on information, we engage the left side of the brain (analytical), but our fiction engages the RIGHT side of the brain (emotional). Blogs need to do this, too.

Why are we trying to build a following/fan base for a right-brain product with a left-brain TOOL?

Craft, the industry, our process, our research are our tools for our art, but they ARE NOT our art. Readers, or potential readers ARE NOT interested in the tools of our trade, rather they want to see how we USE those tools. Regular people (readers) are interested in the art, which is merely the unique “set of eyes” that permits writers to see what others can’t (but secretly wish they could).

EVERY product marketed uses the right side of the brain, from razor blades to duct tape. Madison Avenue wants us to see Michelin tires and think safety. They want cheap body wash to give us an “organic experience”, or why else pay an attractive actress to go all When Harry Met Sally with soap and a loofah on prime-time TV?

If virtually EVERY product sold uses emotion, then why do we think we are going to get traction pumping out a constant stream of information?

Writers are not, per se, experts at teaching craft or discussing changes in the industry (and regular people could care less about Random-Penguin). We are artists. A writer’s expertise is looking at the world in a unique way mere mortals can’t. THAT is what readers (fans) gravitate to. They rely on us to focus in on something they would have walked right past and make that unexceptional object or event magical.

Writers look at ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Want to be a great writer? Pay attention, REAL attention to the world around you and get good at seeing/and selling with artist eyes. Great blogging uses the world as your muse…just like your fiction ;).

Even the genius marketers KNOW we are ignoring ads more than ever. We scream past commercials or wait to watch our favorite shows when we can get them on Netflix. To combat this, they know they no longer can just offer lots of stuff CHEAP; they have to entertain. Make us WANT to watch and even share by using?

STORY.

I’ll illustrate with this super-fun commercial from Samsung.

The best written examples of this technique (that I’ve witnessed) are some of the people who leave reviews on Amazon. There are reviews that go viral simply because a reviewer had some fun. They took the time to elevate the ordinary to the extraordinary…and people LOVE reading what they have to say because they are FABULOUS storytellers.

We don’t all need to be comedians to write great blogs, but maybe these can give you a good laugh and perhaps open your minds to what a blog of The Digital Age really is.

I selected entries from the banana-slicer review at Amazon, the Big Pen For Her reviews, and the Amazon reviews of Captain Trimmer’s  book “How to Avoid Huge Ships.” All of these are just page after page of gasping-for-air-clutching-one’s-sides-delight. I think I may have found my kindred spirits here.

But watch how they take items so vanilla and unmemorable and turn it into something you can’t wait to share…by using the power of story.

TheMightyBahamutSee all my reviews

This review is from: Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer (Kitchen)

All my life I have been wondering how to make a banana into small bite sized pieces.I spent my childhood in a basement practicing on smaller fruits like grapes before graduating to plums and even small peaches.

My parents became concerned when household fruits would turn up missing, and the day they found me hiding in the bushes enthralled with my dissection of a large apple, they decided I had a problem.

As I reached adulthood my need to slice open fruits was becoming unbearable. I would gaze longingly at bananas in the store, wondering how best to slice open their delicate flesh so I may feel their moist sticky insides. I made my first clumsy attempt around age 25.

When no one was looking I snatched a small banana from its companions, and brought it to my basement. It was a disaster, my knife-work just left a smashed and uneven mess, so I buried it in the woods lest anyone stumble upon my grizzly handiwork.

Finally I found the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer. I used it on the next unattended banana I saw, and discovered I could now cut up and dispose of an entire banana in one swift movement! I can do it in mere seconds, or slowly lower the slicer, prolonging the ecstasy I feel seeing the bananas flesh torn open.

Thank you Hutzler 751, because of you my basement walls are lined with the peels of hundreds of bananas, and I am currently working on a mask made from the peels of all my victims sewn together.

1,445 of 1,556 people found the following review helpful

5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! You’re tellin’ me…., September 8, 2012

By DMS – See all my reviews

This review is from: BIC Cristal For Her Ball Pen, 1.0mm, Black, 16ct (MSLP16-Blk) (Office Product)

This here is a wonderful invention. Now my wife can stop stealin’ all my man pens that I leave all over the house. I sure don’t understand it bein’ a man and all, but shoo-ooot, it sure is nice that she finally found herself a pen that’s all her own.

Now don’t get me wrong fellas. If you are really in a pinch, y’all can use one o’ these bad boys to write somethin’ down. Just don’t be surprised if your paper smells a little purtier and feels a little softer than you’re used to. That part ain’t all that bad really…

UPDATE:

I’ve actually found that I really enjoy writing letters with these pens while I’m sitting at my weather beaten desk donning my Three Wolf Moon t-shirt and a pair of zebra print Zubaz pants, and sipping a nice cup of chamomile and honey. Not sure what that means…

Should I be concerned?

UPDATE:

I’ve started digging into the wife’s Bronte sisters collection. Taking notes with these pens on what I’m reading just feels, I dunno…right. I gotta say, I’m finally starting to understand why the wife likes reading these things so much.

UPDATE:

You know, it just ain’t right how women have been treated throughout history. I mean, I’m starting to realize that we men just don’t really understand a lot of what a woman goes through on this earth and how she struggles to love and care and give and give and give until she can’t give no more. But I feel like I’m starting to get it, you know?

UPDATE:

I’ve gotta be kinder to the wife. You know, listen to her. Just listen. Instead of tryin’ to fix everything and give her answers to her problems while she’s talkin’. That’s not what she needs. She needs a man to listen. She’s not looking for answers, just somebody to empathize with her and tell her she’s alright.

UPDATE:

Got into work today and all I had was a sharpie. I feel so lost…
Kinda like… Like I was missing a part of myself you know?

UPDATE:

Got home tonight and washed and folded all the laundry just ’cause. You know, this HGTV thing ain’t half bad. I could watch this stuff all night. Why in the world am I payin’ for the premium sports package…

UPDATE:

Decided to take the day off this morning and just get the kids up and breakfasted and out the door. Let her sleep, she never gets to do that…

UPDATE:

Some of the fellas from work came over today, just to see how I was doin’. They tried like gangbusters to get me to watch The Expendables with them. I eventually asked them to leave. Which they did. I gave them each a pen on the way out and thanked them sincerely for their concern.

UPDATE:

Me and the fellas who came over yesterday have decided to have a massive sell off of all our action movies and pool our money and resources to remodel one another’s kitchens. All except Drew. Which is funny because he was the only one who refused to take a pen from me. We’re going to go over to his house later as a group and see if we can persuade him to take the pen. I just know if he writes something down with it he’ll begin to see why this matters so much to us. I don’t really know what’s come over me, but I feel wonderful. We all do. And I’m sure Drew will feel wonderful too once he is assimilated.

UPDATE: PLEASE READ:

I had a moment of clarity today. It’s a TRAP! Forget everything I’ve said – Well except for that part about bein’ a better listener and bein’ nicer to the wife and all that. That’s still true. But there’s somethin’ else goin’ on here… Somethin’ deeper. Like my mind is bein’ taken over er somethin’. I happened upon an old episode of Buck Rogers on the internet today, that’s what broke me out of this…this trance or whatever you want to call it. I have no idea how long it will be before I fall back into it. They know that I know now… They’re coming for me… There’s something in the plastic. Some kind of serum that… Someone’s at the door – Get those pens out of your house before it’s too bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

UPDATE:NEVERMINDS, I AM FINE THANK YOU:

Please excuse last post. I had bout with the deliriousness. Continue to use pen. Perfectly safe. Continue to share with all friends of the male type. Go sports team!

How to Avoid Huge Ships Book Review

508 of 537 people found the following review helpful
This book is invaluable!

By Roger on August 21, 2013

Format: Paperback

When on my jet ski in the Chesapeake bay this summer I was confronted by a huge ship moving up the channel. You can imagine my horror when I realized I had only 1 hour and 45 minutes or so before the lumbering behemoth was sure to pass through my area. With no place to hide and only a water jet propelled small craft beneath me for transport, I quickly withdrew my Kindle Fire from the storage compartment beneath my seat and preceded to read the book How To Avoid Huge Ships. One hour later and with only 45 minutes to spare, I implemented the expert advice provided by the author and turned my jet ski in the opposite direction of the huge ship to avoid certain disaster.

And frankly, these reviews make me want to buy stuff. I actually just BOUGHT the Hutzler banana slicer even though I am allergic to bananas. Why? Because, I know when I’m having a bad day, I will be able to retrieve my slicer from my kitchen drawer and get a really good laugh. I am so grateful for these armchair artists, and honored to share their writing here. I hope you will go give them the 5 star reviews they deserve…and maybe buy some Bic Pens for Her to spice up your marriage, too!

***NOTE: I give a detailed blueprint how to create an author blog in Rise of the Machines–Human Writers in a Digital World.  Create a blog you enjoy and that reflects your unique style and voice. I will also be teaching blogging classes at WANACon, the virtual conference you can enjoy from HOME and all recordings are included with admission (sign up HERE).***

What are your thoughts? Opinions? What is the best item you’ve ever seen reviewed? Do you think this might be a good way to practice those blogging muscles? Go write these kinds of reviews. Hey, it helps the product AND gives us practice. Something to noodle over at least :D.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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)

January’s WINNER is Elizabeth Kaiser. Thanks for your comments, support and re-blogs. Please send a 5000 word WORD document, a 250 word WORD synopsis or query letter (your choice which of the three) to kristen at wana intl dot com. Congratulations!

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89 Comments

The Devil’s In The Details II–Keep Research from Taking Over

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 4.54.49 PM

All right, we’ll do Research Part Duh, um Deux. Last time we talked about how research can take a book to the next level and I also vented about my personal bugaboos when it comes to guns. But here’s the thing, our target audience is likely to have bugaboos as well.

If we write military books, we want military people to like them. But, if we fail to research even basic stuff, we can turn them off. Same with thrillers, historical and even SCI-FI, etc.

Part of the reason for Star Trek’s success was that Roddenberry refused for ST technology to be made up willy-nilly. All technology and “science” had to be based around and grounded in some salient scientific theory….so you can thank Star Trek for automatic doors, cell phones, iPads, and science is still working on hot green women. Apparently there are only so many writers engineers can marry.

KIDDING! …I love you, Shawn. No I am not painting myself green…again.

But this is why my last post was called The DEVIL is in the Details. It’s a devil for sure. We want to have enough good detail that we don’t look like whackadoodles who just threw something together, but at the same time? People are there for a STORY, not Wikipedia.

As an example, I recently watched the Jack Reacher movie. Fun time. Now, there is NO WAY Reacher could have done some things (like the car chase scenes *rolls eyes*), BUT there were details that showed me Lee Child DID do his homework (preserving night-vision and I won’t spoil it). With a nice balance of great detail that was correct I could forgive and enjoy events that were highly improbable and simply enjoy the story for the brain candy it was.

So, some things to remember…

If We Wanted Reality We’d Watch the News

People DO look to fiction for escape. Our characters aren’t human, but need to be humanized. They do all the glorious things we’d do if we didn’t have laundry, a broken lawnmower and a day job, but we still need to be able to relate. Feel free to make your charters larger than life. THAT is what stories are for. Research just adds elements that can ground the reader and act as a counterpoint to all the surreality of the fiction.

Fiction Based on Reality Can Be Stronger

If we look to some of the greats, we see they based their “worlds” on reality. Tess Gerritson does this beautifully in her thrillers. If we look to some of the legends like Michael Crichton, we see WHY those stories had appeal. Dinosaurs remade from DNA captured by a primordial mosquito trapped in amber? Sentient nanites? Time travel through parallel multiverses? All ludicrous….yet plausible.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Andrea Laurel

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Andrea Laurel

We don’t need to always be accurate, but we can be plausible.

Detail Relates to Voice

Readers all have different preferences, which is great because writers all have different styles. Some readers (me) LOVE details. It’s one of the reasons I was a huge fan of Crichton and still love Dean Koontz. I adore detail expertly blended into the prose. Other readers? They hate it. They love bare bones and don’t care that they can read an entire book and never really know what the protagonist looks like. That gives me a twitch.

But this is why I hammer this point, “The world rewards finishers, not perfection.” We can finish a book, we cannot, however, make it perfect. Go to even the mega-authors and we will see one-star reviews. We can’t please everyone. Some people love quippy dialogue, others will hate it. Some love details, others want us to move forward or slow down or turn right.

Readers can be like driving with my mother in the back seat.

Some readers want blissfully unrealistic mind-candy. Others want complete plausibility. We see this in movies. My brother loooves uber-realistic gritty movies and doesn’t mind if everyone DIES at the end. These movies my brother adores make me want to drink heavily.

Everyone has different tastes, so what flavor are you offering?

Reality is Boring

Remember, people read for an escape. The characters and story are why they’re there. If they wanted pure facts, they could go read the FBI website or The NY Times. Thus, when I encourage research, it isn’t to bog your story down with being “real,” rather it’s so you can add elements that heighten “reality.”

If your character is in a prolonged gun battle, have him bring extra magazines or resort to taking weapons off bad guys. He can still be all Jason Statham, but just this tiny element of not having a “magic gun with limitless bullets” can help satisfy the picky reader.

One of my favorite examples is from the movie Safe House. Antagonist fires a gun next to rookie protagonist’s head to make a point. Protagonist then bleeds from the ear (likely a ruptured eardrum) and his hearing is severely impaired the next couple of scenes. But, he quickly recovers (which is very unlikely in reality), but it was a great detail that helped ground us, yet allowed all that followed which was highly “unrealistic” to feel more plausible. It’s an illusion, but an artfully crafted one (in my POV).

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Remember Belief is ALREADY Suspended

I have to remind myself of this CONSTANTLY. Resist the urge to explain. The second a reader picks up any book, reality is already suspended. All we have to do is to maintain the illusion. Facts, research, details, can enhance the illusion or shatter it. We don’t have to explain String Theory to use wormholes or give the precise instructions of how one actually makes a bomb (in fact the latter might be quite irresponsible). But a handful of the right information does help.

One of my favorite movies is The Avengers. Talk about the opposite of reality. But we accept The Hulk was created via an accident with gamma radiation, that Thor is a being from another part of a multiverse, that Captain America is the product of genetic tinkering and that Iron Man is the future of robotic technology. This is the “reality-unreality” part that allows us to watch NYC be leveled and not think about when FEMA will arrive.

Thus, when we choose to use any detail or research, make sure it enhances the story. You really don’t have to explain everything. We accept vampires, parallel universes and Warp 10. Just roll with it and know that details add magic when used “properly.” And I type “properly” because again, detail is often related to voice. 

Yet, I will say, as someone who’s edited countless works (over the course of 14 years) and who also happens to be a factophile (yes, I just made that up), that world-building, detail, description can be DIVAS. Details have to be managed, told they are pretty and maybe even be given flowers once in a while because they LOVE to upstage the story and characters.

Our job is to manage them and help them do their job, not stage a story coup.

What are your thoughts? Do you love a lot of intricate detail? Hate it? Do you love reading books where you learn about something completely new? Do you have any tricks, suggestions, tactics or observations about how to keep details balanced? What are your preferences?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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)

Winner will be announced on the next blog.

Announcement: WANACon still has some seats available, but they are filling up FAST. Enjoy a conference from home. All the talent, recordings included, and cootie-free (except your own kids). We have classes on craft, business, publishing, self-publishing, agents, editors, you name it. Sign up HERE. Perfect Valentines gift with ZERO calories :).

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

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