Posts Tagged We Are Not alone

Caveat Venditor—Five Mistakes KILLING Self-Published Authors

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

All right, it’s about to be a brand new year and many of you are wanting to finally see your books published. ROCK ON! But, I am the friend who will tell you if there is toilet paper hanging out of your pants. Writing isn’t all glitter and unicorns and I want to warn you of the most common stumbling blocks, because I really DO want you to succeed.

When I began writing I was SO SURE agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost fourteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you.

Self-publishing is AWESOME, and it’s a better fit for certain personalities and even content (um, social media?), but we must be educated before we publish. In fact, my last book Rise of the Machines (cover above) is much more than a social media book. I dedicate a large portion of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work, because you need to make the best choice for YOU.

I want that decision to be an EDUCATED decision.

Moving on….

Mistake #1 Publishing Before We Are Ready

The problem with the ease of self-publishing is that it is, well, too easy. When we are new, frankly, most of us are too dumb to know what we don’t know. Just because we made As in English, does not automatically qualify us to write a work spanning 60,000-100,000 words. I cannot count how many writers I’ve met who refuse to read fiction, refuse to read craft books, and who only go to pitch agents when they attend conferences at the expense of attending the craft sessions.

Additionally, too many new writers I meet do not properly understand the antagonist. They don’t grasp three-act structure, and most don’t have any idea what I mean when I mention POV, Jungian archetypes, or the phrase, “scene and sequel.”

I see a lot of new writers who believe their story is the exception, that the rules make for “formulaic” writing. No, rules are there for a reason, and, if the writing is too formulaic, it has more to do with execution than the rules.

****And YES, we can and SHOULD break rules but that is another post. Every musician has to learn to play the instrument before reinventing music as we know it.*****

Three-act structure has been around since Aristotle, and there is a lot of evidence in neuroscience that suggests that three-act structure is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Thus, when we deviate too far from three-act structure, it confuses and frustrates readers.

Stories have clear beginnings, middles and ends. Without a clear story objective, it is impossible to generate dramatic tension, and what is left over is drama’s inbred cousin, melodrama. Yet, many writers start off writing a book without properly understanding the basic skeleton of story.

Heck, I didn’t and I deserved every rejection I got…

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Writing fiction is therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. Yes, characters should struggle with inner demons, but that does not a plot make. Struggling with weakness, inner demons, insecurity, addictions are all character arc, not plot arc. There should be a core story problem that we can articulate in ONE sentence. The plot arc should serve to drive the character arc. If the character does not grow and change she will fail, but it is the core story problem that drives this change.

No problem, no crucible.

Yes, we are artists, but we need to understand the fundamentals. I played clarinet for years, and yes it was an art. But this didn’t excuse me from having to learn to read music, the finger positions and proper embouchure (the way to position the mouth to play).

The better we are at the basics, the better we know the rules, the more we become true artists.

I’ve received contest winners whose first pages were filled with newbie errors. Yet, when I sent them my critique filled with pages of corrections, I would then receive a reply telling me that the book had already been self-published.

OUCH.

Sometimes there are reasons we are being rejected and we need to take a hard look and be honest. Self-publishing is suffering a stigma from too many writers publishing before they are ready. If you really want to self-publish, I am here to support you and cheer you all the way. Heck, I did it. Will probably do it again.

But remember, though the stigma IS fading we have to write better than the traditional authors.

Mistake #2 Jumping in Before Understanding the Business Side to the Business

I see a lot of writers rushing into self-publishing without properly preparing to be a small business, yet that is exactly what we are. When we self-publish, we take on new roles and we need to understand them. We need to be willing to fork out money for proper editing, cover design and formatting.

One of the benefits to traditional publishing is they take on all the risk and do the editing, proofing, etc. When we go it alone, we need to prepare for some expenses and do our research.

We can be told a million times to not judge a book by its cover, yet that is exactly what readers do. Additionally, we may need to look into becoming an LLC. We need to set up proper accounting procedures and withhold the correct amount of taxes, unemployment, state taxes and on and on.

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Mistake #3 Believing that, “If We Write it They Will Come”

There are a lot of writers who mistakenly believe that self-publishing is an easier and faster way to fame and success. Yeah, um no. And those magic beans are really just beans. Sorry.

Self-publishing is A LOT of work, especially if we are starting out this way. If you didn’t defect from traditional publishing and can’t slap New York Times Best-Selling in front of your name? Prepare for a ton of work.

Not only do we need to write good books, but we need to write prolifically. When we self-publish, we need a much larger platform because we don’t have New York in our corner. This is one of the reasons self-publishing isn’t for everyone. We need to look at how badly we want the dream, and then ask how many hours are we willing to work? What are we willing to sacrifice?

Image from the movie "Office Space"

Image from the movie “Office Space”

Mistake #4 Misusing FREE!

There are a lot of problems with giving books away for FREE! We shouldn’t be giving away our work unless it serves some kind of a strategic advantage. There are ways to effectively harness the power of FREE! but too few writers understand how to do this and they just end up giving away their art for no tangible gain. This goes with my above point of us needing to understand the business side of our business. When we do choose to give away stuff for FREE! it needs to serve longer-term business goals.

Mistake #5 Shopping One Book to DEATH

One of the BIGGEST problems I see with self-published writers is that they publish one book and then they focus every bit of energy on selling THAT book.

They fill up all the writing hashtags with link spam promoting their books. They keep futzing with the cover, the web site, the promotions. They do blog tours until they drop, and they do everything except what is going to help that book sell a ton of copies…write more books.

Here’s the thing. Self-publishing, in many ways, just allows us to accelerate the career path of the author. Even in traditional publishing, it usually takes about three books to gain traction. In traditional publishing, this takes three years because we are dealing with a publisher’s schedule.

In self-publishing, we can make our own schedule, but it still takes THREE BOOKS MINIMUM. I know there are exceptions, but most self-published successes hit at about book three. The ability to offer multiple titles is a huge advantage.

Just make sure they are good books ;).

This is why it is critical to keep writing. Not only will writing more books make you a better writer, but once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase. Being able to offer multiple titles is how we make money at self-publishing. It also helps us maximize the whole FREE! tactic.

Even I am putting my nose to the grindstone to come out with more books in the next six months. I don’t tell you guys to do anything that, I myself, am unwilling to do. I have two books in a series already written, but I’ve made the decision not to give them to a publisher or publish myself until I have a minimum of THREE finished titles.

This is a profession, not a playpen.

Remember Why We Do This

Self-publishing is a wonderful alternative. Just because we self-publish doesn’t mean we cannot publish other ways, too. I’ve been saying this for a LONG time, but it bears repeating. I feel the author of the future will actually be a hybrid author, and I do believe that the ability to self-publish is challenging all of us to come up higher.

We are striving to be better writers, to be better entrepreneurs, to get better at organization and time-management and to write more books and better books. If we can learn from these mistakes and grow, then the future is ours for the taking.

A little humor from the fabulous David Kazzle

What have been some of your challenges with self-publishing? In what areas is it forcing you to grow? Have you had to outsource? What sacrifices have you made? Tell us your story!

I love hearing from you!

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. 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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83 Comments

Can Being Tired Make Us Better Writers?

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Image via Lauriesanders60 WANACommons

Last month I participated in NaNoWriMo even though it’s the holidays and, as many of you know, I am battling the last vestiges of Shingles which makes me tired, like down to the BONES tired. But, lest I go crazy, I had to write, because that’s what writers do. We aren’t happy unless we are writing something. 

I figured in the beginning I likely wouldn’t make the 50,000 word mark not only because of feeling puny, but I also have other writing that doesn’t count toward NaNo.

Yet, the interesting thing is, being tired can have benefits. If we wait until that celestial alignment when the kids aren’t sick, our pants fit, there isn’t a heap of laundry, the garage is clean, the junk mail sorted, and we feel energized? We won’t get a lot of writing done, so here is some food for thought next time you believe you’re too tired to write.

Embrace Being Tired

Okay, first I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we do need rest. We need breaks and days off. Shingles had taught me I am seriously HUMAN. It’s actually humbled me to be better at resting because I love what I do and this makes it easy to overdo.

I’m going to be writing a new NF in 2015, so I needed to REST my left brain and let RIGHT BRAIN have some time to play (ergo NaNo).

Your Body Will Lie to You

Beyond sickness and disasters, our bodies tend to be a bit lazy, and they like to lie. They tell us we need a day or two or twenty off, and the longer we’re away from the work, the easier it is to let things slip, to see a new shiny and start a newer, more exciting project. In this business, time is our enemy. Always remember this.

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Image via JulaiLimjl Flikr Creative Commons

It Will Never Be a “Perfect” Time

We want to wait until we’re rested, the kids are out of the house, until we have total quiet, a new computer, the list goes on. To do this job at a professional level, we have to learn to write no matter what. This is a profession, not a playpen. People often groan that NaNoWriMo is in November and there is all this shopping and cleaning and cooking.

Okay, well, I used to work in sales and they still expected my tail to be on the road selling industrial paper from Mexico to Missouri until that scrawny four days off for vaca. If I was sick? I knew when I came back, I had to bust tail to catch up. Family emergency? Okay, tend it, but then back to get your $#!& done.

Coffee was for closers.

Writing (for those who want to make a living at this) should apply the same rules as other professions. Granted, it’s a LOT harder because no boss is going to write us up or chew us out if we don’t write…and most of our family and friends secretly believe all we do is play with our imaginary friends and we don’t have a “real” job. We need A LOT more self-discipline than other jobs.

I write every day but Sunday with a preschooler whacking me 47 times with a NERF sword before breakfast, all the while Paw Patrol is blazing in the background. I’ve learned to un-see the dirty dishes, the laundry that needs folding, and the Christmas tree that was attacked by my cats in the middle of the night and needs triage.

Distractions=Death

The Spawn

The Spawn

Time is the Enemy

When writing anything (but especially fiction) taking time off can kill momentum. We need to go back, reread, familiarize ourselves with the story and characters (since we’ve slept since that last bit we wrote). This can lead to editing the beginning to death and stalls forward progress. We get bogged down in the first part of the book.

Take too much time? Likely, you’ll have to start all over.

I did. Yes, even NF authors are vulnerable to time. Back in 2011 I scored a premium NYC agent and over a year and a half later? The project was going nowhere. When I finally decided to self-publish my most current social media book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I spent more effort trying to retrofit work I’d done for my agent back in 2011 than I want to admit. Finally, I just scrapped the whole thing and started over. 150 pages of wasted work all because I didn’t keep writing.

My mistake. Won’t happen again.

Sometimes Being Tired Produces Better Writing

I know a lot of you work day jobs, are full-time caregivers, and you’re squeezing in writing when you can. GO YOU! You’re superheroes, and always remember that. Keep pressing.

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Yet, one mistake we make is we don’t tackle the novel when we’re tired. We believe our work will be better if we’ve rested.

This isn’t necessarily true.

Candy runs a workshop she calls Fast Draft. In Fast Draft, you write your novel in two weeks. It is one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever done, but it works. No editing, no going back, just keep going forward. By Day Three, I promise you’ll feel like you’ve been tossed in a bag of hammers and shaken.

BUT…

One of the biggest enemies of great fiction is Conscious Mind. Our internal editor lives there and won’t let us move forward until we get rid of “was clusters” or add more detail to that “jungle scene.” Conscious Mind will have you “being responsible” and browsing the Internet looking at South American plants instead of writing.

Conscious Mind is the Bigger Sibling Who Constantly Calls Little Sister (Subconscious Mind) Stupid and Tells Her to Shut Up

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Image via Life Mental health Flikr Creative Commons

Subconscious Mind is the primal mind. It sees things we don’t, makes connections Conscious Mind, also known as “The Thinking Brain”, misses. Thinking Brain is a bit of a Bossy Pants and likes to shove Subconscious Mind around, give it wedgies and promise that it can jump off the roof with an umbrella and float down.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time.

The best way to get your Subconscious Mind to help you is to wear the bigger, bossier sibling out. This allows the Little Guy an opportunity to help you make magic without the bigger sibling butting in.

Conscious Mind is the Inner Editor, the Inner Critic, the Nit-Picker, whereas the Subconscious Mind (the Limbic and “primitive” brain) is the one who sees value in finger painting and advantages of glitter.

Subconscious Mind will thrust you deeper into the story. Subconscious Mind is like a toddler who jumps head-first off the couch. No fear. There will be greater emotion and the writing often is more visceral. Subconscious Mind plants Seeds of Awesomeness that you will see flower into something more amazing that you believed you were capable of.

But that won’t happen unless Conscious Mind is exhausted and too tired to argue and bully it’s littler sibling.

So if you’re struggling with the WIP, you might just be a little “too rested.” This isn’t to say we don’t take care of ourselves, but total immersion and pressing on even when we’re worn out and would trade everything we own for a nap does have major advantages.

It’s also why I didn’t kill myself to make the 50,000 words for NaNo, but am still plugging. If I take too much time away from the novel, I KNOW I can cause myself more grief than I care to deal with.

Have you ever done a fast draft? Did it help? Do you write even when you’re tired? What has that shown you? What are your thoughts? Questions? War stories?

I love hearing from you!

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. 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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83 Comments

Test Your Holiday Style—Tiffany Crystal or Pre-Paid Bail Money?

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Thanksgiving has whizzed past and Christmas looms ahead. If you’re anything like me, you make this super stupid promise to yourself roughly December 24th that you will buy gifts throughout the year, so you aren’t pressed and stressed and ready to stand on a roof with a shotgun holding the entire dish of rum balls hostage…and ALL the rum. No, this year will be different. I will be PREPARED.

*clutches sides laughing*

Yeah….

Sort of reminds me of finals back in college. Next time I am going to read all my chapters AHEAD of time.

Christmas is a magical time of year, but all of us handle the season differently. So what is your Holiday Style? Here’s a helpful little quiz:

1) When cleaning before the holidays, you:

a) Might give the mantel a light dusting just so you don’t look like a show-off. The gleam from your spotless fixtures could cause retinal damage. Eloise is a rank amateur next to you.

b) Make a plan to go room by room and whip your house into shape. Once this baby is clean, you KNOW it will stay that way for good. In fact, you’ve vowed to stab your husband in the face if he leaves his towel on the bathroom floor, and have threatened your children with a tell-all e-mail to Santa if they don’t put their clean clothes away properly.

c) Get a little excited because you haven’t seen your floors, counters or pretty much any of your home’s flat surfaces since the party last New Years. In fact, you are pretty sure the Christmas tree is still up under one of the piles of laundry and unopened mail. Hey, why take down decorations you know you will need every year?

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Yes, this is um…ME *hangs head*

2) When it comes to holiday shopping, you:

a) Are already finished. You made a long, detailed list last January and have spent the year buying the perfect gift for all your loved ones. All that’s left is to enjoy the season while those ill-prepared dopes fight over the last Holiday Barbie.

b) Wait until Black Friday. Technically, you start three days before Black Friday. What better way to use all that camping equipment you got last year for Christmas, than to stake out the front of Apple, Ikea or Best Buy?

c) Dig through your closet for all the unopened crappy gifts you got at the office Secret Santa party last year and then re-gift them to your distant relatives. Sure, Aunt Edna doesn’t know who Justin Bieber is, but who wouldn’t want a singing toothbrush?

Well, other than you, of course.

Kill it with FIRE.

Tomorrow, I will do the wrapping….

3) When it comes to gifts, you:

a) Spare no expense. The holiday season is a season of generosity. All your gifts are thoughtful, beautiful, lavish, and better than everyone else’s.

b) Believe it’s the thought that counts, and most people will think you are cheap if they see the Clearance sticker on their present, which is why you LOVE black Sharpies. They can be counted on to fully black out the $4.99 on the bottom of that seashell vase from Anthropologie. Hey, we don’t have to pay retail to still give an awesome gift. You just make sure the gift recipient can see part of the original price of $89 so they feel like you “shelled” out a lot of cash.

c)  Make one trip. Dollar General has everything you need for Christmas gifts. What could be a better Christmas gift than cans of Lite Vienna Sausages (Now Made with REAL Meat!) or Low-Sodium Spam?

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4) When it comes to holiday memories, you:

a) Love capturing every moment on video, then editing the clips to music using your MacBook Pro. Then, of course you order prints from SnapFish so you can scrapbook together all the holiday magic. You have the cutest little snowman stickers that will add the perfect touch to the family newsletter you send out early morning December 26th.

b) Have them all in a big box that you will organize one day…once you locate the box.

c) Just get drunk on Jack and Coke then watch Jerry Springer reruns. The effect is pretty much the same.

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5) Of all the Christmas carols, you:

a) Know Handel’s Messiah is your all-time favorite, and you know all the words. Why wouldn’t you? You sing in the choir every year.

b) Can’t get enough Silver and Gold, sung by Burl Ives. It reminds you of being a kid and waiting all year to see Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

c) Think Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer is the funniest carol EVER, next to the Three Kings who tried to smoke a rubber cigar. In fact, you can’t even sing Deck the Walls with the correct lyrics.

6) As far as wrapping Christmas presents, you:

a) Use the tips you saved out of Martha Stewart Magazine. You bought the heavy duty paper and lavish bows last year at the Container Store After Christmas Sale and expensive ornaments 85% off at the Dillard’s After Christmas Sale. All your gifts look so beautiful, they might as well be considered Christmas decorations. No one ever wants to open your gifts until they’ve taken a picture of the wrapping.

b) Thought you were saving money when you bought the wrapping paper from Wal Mart. Of course, you didn’t foresee that it was as thin as rice-paper on a crash diet. After tearing the corners on every box you wrapped, you had to wrap everything AGAIN. This means ten gifts took 42 rolls of paper. You lost the tape, only to later find it stuck to your butt. The dog ate all the ribbon and is now pooping tinsel, and your husband has found it HYSTERICAL to put tape on all the cat’s paws instead of helping.

You make a note to buy big bottle of Maker’s Mark for next year’s wrapping.

c) The gifts you bought came pre-wrapped. It’s called a Dollar Store bag. DUH. You love the environment, so why cut down more trees when THIS Christmas wrapping paper can later be used to pick up the tinsely dog poop?

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7) When it comes to dressing for holiday parties you:

a) Buy smashing outfit ahead of time so you have time to find the perfect accessories and shoes to match. Then you make sure to get an appointment with a hairdresser and makeup artist in October before the slots fill. Why trust those holiday pictures to anyone but a professional?

b) Buy an outfit ahead of time, but completely forget about shoes and earrings…and eating less. You bought the dress even though it was too small, because it was supposed to make you be “good” this year and not overeat. Ah, but that was until the dog started pooping tape and Christmas ribbon and you leveled the fudge like a Biblical plague (Baby Jesus would have been duly impressed).

So Christmas Eve you find yourself wandering the mall searching for the last pair of Spanks in the free world. Speaking of tinsel, you can’t help but wonder what the tinsel-strength of spandex is. In your mind, you imagine a Catastrophic Spanx Failure that takes out three innocent bystanders.

And is it considered an act of domestic terrorism if you survive?

c) Just wear yoga pants and a maternity top for the extra “give.”

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8) As far as decorating for the holidays, you:

a) Hire professionals. Can’t be Yard of the Month without a little help. Your Christmas lights can be seen from space. The folks at NASA and the Soviet Space Station are your biggest fans.

b) Were going to avoid it altogether until it became evident that you were the ONLY house on the block without lights, and now you have been shamed into putting out some last-minute effort. Of course, everything was sold out, so you were forced to decorate with the Halloween lights.

Orange works, right? Hell, just put Santa hats on all the skulls. Make it a Goth Christmas.

c) Just plug them in. You left them up all year :D.

9) When it comes to your children and Santa, you:

a) Bake cookies for Santa with the kids, and Christmas Eve you take the little ones out into the yard and spread some “Reindeer Food.” Your husband dresses in a Santa costume and you “sneak” some iPhone footage of Santa at work in your living room to show the kids the next morning. Childhood is a magical time and you want to fuel your children’s imaginations.

b) Take them to Cabela’s. Free photos with Santa, fishing gear is 50% off, and they FINALLY have your ammo in stock.

c) Let your neighbor take your kids to Cabela’s. You still have to find the Christmas tree…after you level up on Halo 6.

10) When your kids question how Santa can make it to all the boys’ and girls’ houses in all the world in one night, you:

a) Tell them that Santa is the spirit of generosity and love, and that spirits have powers we mortals cannot comprehend.

b) Point the pizza kiosk in the mall and yell, “I’m buying!”

c) Inform your kids that Santa has been cloned, and reference the Star Wars Clone Wars.

11) When sending out holiday cards, you:

a) Buy cards for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukah, and just general holiday cards and then send them to the appropriate recipients.

b) Buy generic reindeer cards, then write it “Happy Holi-Chrisma-Kwanzaa-kuh.” Your friends all know you’re weird anyway. Frankly, they are all shocked you got the cards sent at all.

c) Holiday Cards? *laughs hysterically until can’t breathe*

12) When someone gives you a dreadful gift, you:

a) Know they meant well, so you make sure they see you wearing that horrendous purple mohair vest at the church bake sale. You would never want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

b) Send a nice thank you note then return the gift for something you prefer.

c) Stockpile the crappy gifts away for next year, so you don’t have to do as much Christmas shopping. Hey, waste not want not.

Tally Your Scores!!!

Amazing Alice/Awesome Alan

If you answered mostly As, you get an A+++++ in Christmas. You, Amazing Alice/Alan, are the star of the show with the prettiest EVERTYHING, the one who has everything in order and who pulls out all the stops…which is probably why most of us secretly hate you and want to stab YOU in the face.

Normal Nancy/Typical Ted

If you answered mostly Bs, relax. You’re normal. While you probably could try a little harder, why bother? Amazing Alice and Awesome Alan are going to outdo you anyway.

Slacker Sarah/Lazy Larry

Hey, life is too short to be organized. There are video games to play.

I hate to say it but I am almost an even mix of Normal Nancy and Slacker Sarah. Every year I promise to try harder. ONE DAY I will be an Amazing Alice…yeah, no. My brother and sister-in-law are Amazing Alice and Awesome Alan so they enable my underachieving. Even why I TRY to make my Christmas packages look all awesome and professionally wrapped…they just look more like a roll of wrapping paper and Scotch tape had a drunken one-night-stand.

Sigh.

What is the worst Christmas gift you’ve ever gotten? My Aunt Iris once bought me a bright purple sweater that was so small, I think it was made for a Barbie, a child or a circus midget…then loudly commented on how fat I’d gotten when I couldn’t “try it on.”

So what about you guys?

I love hearing from you!

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. 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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32 Comments

WHY Are We Writers? Understanding the Why Behind the Buy

 

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Now that NaNoWrMo is finished, congratulations to those who WON. I only made it to a little over 34,000 words *sad face*, but I did it with Shingles so I am grading myself on a curve :P . As a writer, being delusional is totally acceptable. I’m actually not too far from finishing the novel, so I’m happy I tried.

Anyway….

For those who might be tempted to go back and edit? I recommend stepping AWAY. Work on something different or the odds of you seeing the problems aren’t too great.

Which is why we are shifting gears here on the blog and we’re going to talk about branding and social media. Oh, the cries of despair! Hey, I am here. No worries *hands paper bag*.

Here’s the thing. Nobody has to do social media. I won’t force you. The only writers who need to create a brand and do social media are writers who want to sell books.

Simple :D .

A New Perspective

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

I think it was in roughly 2004 when I was fiddling around on Friendster and Gather that I saw the potential ahead. For generations, novelists had a DISMAL success rate. Why?

Unlike NF authors of the time, we had NO practical way to build a platform before the books were released. We also had a nightmare of a time keeping fan fires burning between books because NYC was tooled (and mostly still is) to produce about a book a year.

That was fine back in the 90s. We weren’t a society who could walk around shopping on our phones. We weren’t addicted to apps and gaga over downloadable content. By 2007, purchasing had changed and we needed to respect that to remain relevant.

Social media and the Internet fundamentally altered our culture. It’s a cake that can’t be unbaked. This means it’s our responsibility to change as well.

The Golden Circle

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve actually used Apple as an example since my first book years ago, because they’re a perfect illustration of what we’re talking about. One of the many reasons that Apple Inc. surpassed others in multiple industries is they understood the difference between innovation and novelty.

Innovation is long-lasting. Novelty is short-term. Rather than beginning at the outside of the circle, the WHAT, Apple began with the WHY.

Sure, a Mac had a great processor and was immune to most viruses and megabyte, tera-byte, whatever-byte….but look how COOL I look at Starbucks with my white laptop. I support innovation, creativity. I challenge the status quo…and I LOOK COOL.

Rather than relying on gimmicks and short-term novelty, Apple created a culture. A culture that was loyal and didn’t need a bunch of free stuff and was willing to cough up retail price.

Conversely…

Most of us remember the earlier days of cell phones. This one TAKES PICTURES. Oooh, this one is FLAT. The cell phones got so small it was simply ludicrous. Why? Because novelty is pretty easy to copy and maybe even “improve” upon.” Novelty is fleeting and rarely cements relationships.

One of the reasons Apple demolished the music industry was Apple appreciated the changes in the consumer climate. Tower Records was still scope-locked on creating and selling LPs. The problem was that music originally was something enjoyed at home…until the Walkman, then later portable CD players, MP3s, etc.

Music became portable.

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Consumers wanted to be able to go anywhere and enjoy their favorite songs, thus Apple spring-boarded off other technologies like the MP3 and made music personal. “A thousand songs in your pocket.” Personal, intimate, and simple. Apple invented the song industry. At first it was with the iPod, but then Apple merged music with our PHONES

Instead of blasting us with features we didn’t understand, Apple focused on WHY, not WHAT. Why carry an iPod and a cell phone when ONE is better than two?

What Does This Have to Do With Social Media?

One of the reasons I got into the whole social media business, was that it was clear that the consumer environment was fundamentally shifting. Yet too many companies were relying on tactics that either wouldn’t work, or wouldn’t work long-term. Any gains were (and still are) short-term.

Worse, the old methods are stressful for both the seller and the buyer.

To this DAY, I have to talk writers off a ledge when I mention social media.

My background is in sales, and I’ve witnessed this phenomenon time and again. Sure, lower the price. You’ll never be able to raise it. Give away free stuff, promotional stuff, t-shirts, free thumb-drives, pens, on and on and eventually? People are addicted to how much stuff they can get for nothing. There is zero loyalty.

This means one marketing tactic (algorithm) will work great…for a while. Then everyone starts using the same approach and it fizzles. This leaves the seller (author) with a panic attack and a migraine and less time to write more books.

Not only can the quasi-science of 90s-style marketing fail to cultivate loyalty, it can create something worse. Apathy. Beyond apathy, outdated marketing can poison a brand.

These tactics can create resentment, even hatred.

Just get 12 tweets in your feed about a free book and tell me you don’t see red.

Over the many years I have been doing social media, I have seen the same guerrilla tactics retooled and Bond-Oed. Marketing companies selling Facebook followers, Twitter followers, advertising, e-mail lists, promising reviews, etc. etc. And make no mistake, I’m not saying this stuff might not work. I’ve seen it work. Eh, kind of.

But what is the effect of years of making short-term decisions?

Which is WHY W.A.N.A. (We Are Not Alone) Began with WHY

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Why do people buy books? Why do regular people believe they don’t like reading? Why does traditional marketing not sell more books (and never has)? Why is spam SO ineffective?

Why do so many writers give up? Fail to finish? Why are they overwhelmed?

Once I began with the WHY, I could move to the WHAT and then the HOW.

And I am going to tread carefully here, because W.A.N.A.’s success has never been about me. Without YOU, it’s just me talking to myself (which I already do far more than is healthy :D ). But I saw so many writers running from the single greatest tool for success (a strong platform) out of fear, and this defined my WHY.

WE ARE NOT ALONE.

YOU are not alone.

I don’t build platforms or tweet for people or build fan pages. I don’t blog for people and have no services to sell that will find followers or score reviews. Never have. Never will. Yes, writers of The Digital Age need a strong brand/platform, but no one ever said you had to do it by yourself.

So today we are going to start with something SIMPLE.

WHY are you writing? What is your WHY? If it is to make money? Find another job or change the WHY. People are very sensitive these days and can smell manipulation a mile away…and it gives them digital HIVES.

So if our only goal on social media to hawk a book? Formula to fail.

We will start with my WHYs to make it clearer. This is VERY redacted for the sake of time. But our WHY is our foundation and it’s worthy of considering and even articulating. It’s our mission statement.

WHY do I write social media books and blog?

Because when I started as a writer I was VERY alone. I struggled because of poor or even totally false information. I had no system of emotional support to be there during countless rejections. I HATED being alone and never wanted others to feel abandoned and hopeless.

I also saw the “current” way of doing social media (roughly 2008) was short-term. I sought to INNOVATE the notion of how we did social media and REINVENT the idea of a brand. It was less about exposure and all about community and relationships. We’d learn to be deeper, not cheaper.

I blog because I love the community, serving, and if you guys don’t want to buy my book? Most of the information you need is free and in my archives, because my WHY is SERVICE.

***Though the book is a lot faster and I am not AT ALL opposed to you buying one :) .

WHY do I write fiction?

I love to tell stories and entertain. I like to escape, to enjoy another world, and want to use my gift with words to do the same for others. Take them on an adventure. Maybe I can even help them learn a little about themselves along the way.

So let’s talk about YOU. Why do YOU want to be a writer? Why did you choose vampires instead of werewolves? Why erotica? Romance over thrillers? Mystery over YA? Why children’s books? And why does this matter to your readers? Why should it? ;)

It’s there. We all have to dig deep for the good stuff and I would LOVE to hear your whys. You guys always inspire me, so DANCE CUTE LITTLE MONKE—-, um share your thoughts :D .

I LOVE hearing from you!

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. 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Point of View—What IS It? How to Find the Perfect Voice for YOUR Story

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Monday, we talked about the Three Acts of a Writer’s Journey. The first hint we might be tipping into The Apprentice Phase is we hear the word P.O.V. and panic. What is THAT? Prisoners of Vietnam? Pets of Vegans? Pals of Viagra?

We ALL know writing a novel is FAR from easy. We just make it look that way ;) .

Today, I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for successful publication.

Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for a career in commercial fiction. Same with college.

The single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. and often this is why agents and people like me only need a page or two to know the manuscript/writer isn’t ready to publish.

This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, formal education classes aren’t neccessarily there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (A.K.A. Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess (hope) all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?

Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Satan’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, we have to know what P.O.V. is if we hope to use it to our advantage.

P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.? What are their inherent weaknesses and strengths? For the record, this is HIGHLY redacted for the sake of time.

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

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There are three disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I Remember When camp and the Come Along with Me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to mix the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit of First-Person? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

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Um…YES.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut.

Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting:

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist. In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V might not be the best fit. The scene might be more powerful if told from someone watching this protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

Ah, but there are also inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

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Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.”

Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Epic battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist.

To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob used an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose would remain remain nice and smooth and the fictive dream could stay in tact.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to tangle together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I’ve edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

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Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

In First-Person—Come Along with Me stories can easily turn into I Remember When stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)—Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) —“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.

In Omniscient—“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

EXAMPLES:

Suzanne Collins brilliantly employs First-Person in the Come Along with Me fashion in her Hunger Games Trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Collins is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending even though y’all have had like, TWENTY YEARS to read it.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in The Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would recommend Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: Joe Ledger Series.  I HIGHLY recommend Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Both these authors mixed third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to add your thoughts, expound, ask questions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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76 Comments

Writing Spies: Five Dos and Don’ts

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 10.49.02 AM

Piper is back to guest post once more. I’m scrambling to catch up after being flattened from travel/work. Le sigh. Also have to get my NaNo tools together. Coffee, candy, energy drinks, stun gun, duct tape. So enjoy your Halloween. It’s kind of like New Year’s Eve of the Writing World. Party hard and have your fun because tomorrow….

Anyway, if you happen to be working on an action or thriller or some book involving those of the intelligence community, this post will help tremendously. Great writers ALWAYS do their homework. No one cares about our glorious prose if we goof something that five minutes on Google would have answered. But for the stuff maybe Google CAN’T answer? We have Bayard and Holmes…

By Piper Bayard

Spy thrillers are a staple of genre fiction, and a good “Bond” never goes out of style. However, a bad “Bond” can have those in the know throwing your book out the window of an Aston Martin faster than you can shake your martini. My name is Bayard. Piper Bayard. And my best friend and writing partner, Jay Holmes, is a 40-year veteran covert operative. I’m here today to help you write books that stay inside the sports cars.

Sean Connery and his Aston Martin Image from Goldfinger Many books have been thrown from this car.

Sean Connery and his Aston Martin
Image from Goldfinger
Many books have been thrown from this car.

 1. DON’T let your covert operative announce her identity, or that she is a covert operative.

Cover operatives are . . . wait for it . . . covert. Unlike James Bond, covert operatives don’t reveal their identities, and especially not while on missions. Even decades after they are out of deep cover, they keep their work to themselves. That’s because when they are revealed, former assets and current loved ones alike can become targets.

That also means that, when a celebrity author shows up in an “I’m a Spook” T-shirt flaunting a “covert” career, it’s a dead giveaway that though she may have done some great and necessary work with an intelligence agency, she has never been a covert operative in the field. Covert operatives must forever keep a Chinese wall around their true identities.

2. DON’T call your spooks “spies.”

Yeah, I know. Then what’s with the title of this article? I hadn’t gotten to tell you that “spies” are actually “spooks” yet. I didn’t want to confuse you on that point before you got this far.

Holmes and his ilk are “spooks,” not spies. As Holmes says, “Spying is seamy. It’s what the Russians do.”

Spooks refer to each other lightheartedly as “spooks.” That’s also what military personnel call them when military and intelligence operations overlap. For example, if an intelligence team is working in a secured area of a ship, the crew refers to them as “the spooks.”

There is no official Dictionary of Spook Terminology, but the proper terms for spooks are “intelligence operatives” and “intelligence agents.” By habit, “operative” is used by CIA personnel when they are talking among themselves or reviewing an operation, and “agent” refers to someone – usually a foreigner – who is collecting information in a foreign country. Intelligence personnel are the “operatives” who are managing the foreign “agents.”

Note the spook putting on his seatbelt Not Holmes Image from CanstockPhoto

Note the spook putting on his seatbelt
Not Holmes
Image from CanstockPhoto

3. DO put on your spook’s seatbelt.

Car chases happen, but they don’t happen without seat belts. Every now and then, a spook might have to drive the wrong way up a one-way street or wheel down the Spanish Steps. *cough, cough, Holmes, cough, cough* But when he does, he wears his seatbelt. Religiously. “Because you can’t finish the mission if you’re dead.”

4. DON’T let your spook duck into a doorway to spy on her target.

That’s a good way for a real spook to get dead.

One of the first things spooks must learn about following people is to not be followed themselves. It’s common for bad guys to have their own people tailing them to pick up any newcomers, so spooks can’t only focus on who’s in front of them. They have to be acutely aware of who is behind them, too. If they duck into doorways and peek around the edges, they are making it obvious to anyone behind them that they are watching someone.

That means that if a spook wants to watch someone from a doorway, she has to take her eyes off the target, go all the way inside a building, and only turn around once she’s out of sight of the street. Then she can come back out and stop in the doorway under some other pretense than watching someone. It also gives her the chance to handle the bad guy’s trailing entourage.

 

Rosa Klebb -- Room service gone bad. Image from From Russia with Love

Rosa Klebb — Room service gone bad.
Image from From Russia with Love

5. DON’T let your spook order room service.

How many times has Bond ordered room service? And how has that worked out for him? You’d think he would have learned after Rosa Klebb’s stunt in From Russia with Love that this is a seriously bad idea. Even the spooks in the otherwise realistic movie Act of Valor ordered take out and paid the price.

This isn’t only because of the opportunity for an enemy to poison them, it’s also because it’s generally bad juju for spooks to invite strangers into their space when they are on missions. In fact, Holmes won’t even have a pizza delivered to his house. The only food he actually enjoys is his own, his wife’s, or mine if it includes chocolate, and only then if he is eating at home or at the home of a trusted friend.

These are only a few of the most common blunders that Holmes and I see in movies and books. If you’d like to learn more about writing spooks, keep an eye out for Truth & Fiction posts at Bayard & Holmes.

Do you have any questions? I will answer some here in the Comments section and some on posts over at Bayard & Holmes.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Don’t miss The Spy Bride Blogger Challenge and Giveaway!

Click HERE for details.

We have some wonderful prizes for readers to celebrate the release of our debut novella, THE SPY BRIDE, in the RISKY BRIDES Bestsellers’ Collection. Sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Newsletter and be automatically entered to win a Secret Decoder Ring, a stash of Ghirardelli chocolate, or a bottle of sparkling wine from Mumm Napa vineyard.

Bayard & Holmes Newsletter Link–Click Here to Enter

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Boxed Set final Cover

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Bayard & Holmes Official PhotoPiper Bayard is a bestselling author and a recovering attorney. Her spy thriller writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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NaNoWriMo, Gone Girl & Confessions of a Recovering Jerk

Image via the motion picture "Gone Girl"

Image via the motion picture “Gone Girl”

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is days away. I’m loading up on fiction to feed my brain and imagination. I listened to the unabridged version of Gone Girl. Why? Because I kept hearing the same thing over and over for almost a YEAR.

These people are just SO horrible and yet? You can’t stop yourself.

Regular people. READERS told me this. NOT other writers.

***Bizarrely, I have found there can often be a BIG difference between what we loathe and what readers LOVE, which is why we must continue to write for readers, not other writers.

The READERS were right. And regardless of one’s opinion about the book, I will say it was masterful in that we could see the best and the worst of ourselves reflected back through the characters. The control, self-righteousness, cowardice, love, disappointment, manipulation, etc. (Btw, no spoiler alerts in this post).

Some people love candy-coated fiction. I love the dark stuff. The go-for-the-guts writing that puts the worst of us on display. Because if it isn’t out? We can’t change what we can’t see.

Meet, Kristen Lamb…The JERK

I’m one of the most blessed people on the planet. Truly. I’m not a millionaire and may never be, but I’m infinitely rich. I wouldn’t trade the wonderful people I know personally and on-line for anything. This is a tough post to write because it’s vulnerable.

I have a confession. I am a Recovered (Recovering?) Jerk. It would be nice to lie to you and tell you I never have my moments, but I do. Thankfully, they are far rarer than they used to be. Today, I’d like to talk about some of my Jerk Reformation. It could be a BOOK…okay a SERIES of books, but we’ll touch on the highlights.

And I realize all of you are kind and sweet and don’t need this for you, but maybe it can help with someone you know ;) . Or maybe make your NaNoWriMo characters a bit richer. People loooove reading about screwed up people.

It’s like my fascination with horror movies. When I have a REALLY BAD KICK YOU IN THE TEETH DAY? Nothing perks me up like a good scary movie.

Why?

Because at least I am not (to my knowledge) possessed by demons….

Same with reading. Well, yeah, I’m totally screwed up, but not THAT screwed up.

Perfectionism

I used to be highly critical of everyone and everything, including myself. The last part was likely what others never saw. I led those around me to believe they never measured up, but the truth was, I never measured up. I came from a highly dysfunctional and chaotic home. I knew nothing of peace. I only knew love control. Granted, in my mind I was helping. Yet, I’ve learned over the years that people need acceptance more than “help.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.46.35 AM

I was a fraud.

On the outside my clothes were perfect, my hair perfect, my house perfect, but truth was? I was falling apart. I felt that showing any weakness was bad, that it made me a failure. This made me prideful and afraid to ask for help. Others didn’t see I needed help because, “Well, Kristen is ‘perfect'” *rolls eyes* Granted, others probably sensed I was a mess so my “perfect” facade simply generated more resentment.

People aren’t fond of phonies. Imagine that?

Life popped me on the snoot and opened my eyes to my character (or lack thereof); my poor attitude, my judgmental ways and my impossible (and stupid) standards. I couldn’t give away what I didn’t have. I had no grace for myself, so how could I give that to others?

I was white-knuckled-terrified of failure, of not knowing ALL the answers or being *gasp* WRONG. Every quiet moment was a deafening montage in my mind of how I sucked, how I’d screwed up, how I should’ve could’ve would’ve….

BLURGH!

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

I refused to cry, to let others know I was a mess. I bottled it up—the fear, the disappointment, the feelings of inadequacy.

What I’ve come to understand is that failure is the tuition we pay for success. Failure is vital. Failure is an event, not a state of being. Failure is to be celebrated, because it means we’re being brave. We’re trying. We’re daring to do something remarkable. As I began to give myself permission to fall on my face and laugh it off, I realized I needed to do that with others.

We don’t need critics who point out we fell and draw a diagram of our stupidity and how “they would have done it better.” Likely they wouldn’t have done it any better and even if they did? Who cares? What we need is a hand helping us up, patting us on the back and then high-fiving us for daring to TRY.

Pride

An ugly stepchild of perfectionism is pride. As I mentioned earlier I was prideful. I knew better, did it better and life was all a competition because 2nd place was the first loser.

Dumb, dumb, dumbditty-dumb-dumb.

Yes, I know. I had something to prove but was too foolish to realize there is nothing in life TO PROVE. Good people don’t judge us by our resume or our lists of accomplishments or rows of trophies. GOOD people won’t remember our designer handbag, our perfect house, our fancy car. They will remember and respond to how we made them feel when they were in our company. 

I worked a job for years that I loathed because the pay was good and the title “impressive.” But, I longed to write. Oh, but writing meant I might have to shop at Walmart or thrift stores instead of fancy boutiques. I might have to drive an old car and clip coupons. THE HORROR! What would others THINK?

Probably nothing, LOL.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.49.52 AMThe funny thing was all those people who were my friends when I could pick up the tab or take them shopping vanished when the money ran out. I learned the hard way that real friends aren’t for sale ;) . In the past few years? I have family members who’ve vanished. Family I believed LOVED me.

They did…until I outlived my usefulness.

Pride created other problems. Because I was too afraid to admit I wasn’t the All-Knowing-Oracle-Perfect-At-All-Things, I was an unteachable @$$. This left me to relying on luck and resenting others who were successful. Tearing others down to make myself feel better.

Oh, sure, SHE’S a successful writer. If I had a more supportive family, a better computer, a magic pad of FLOWER POST-ITS I could be there too. WHAAAAAHH!

Stupid, I know.

But when I let down my guard and began to admit that perhaps-maybe-kinda-sorta that I didn’t precisely-specifically-exactly KNOW EVERYTHING I began to grow. I could take advice and even *gasp* criticism. I could separate my work from ME. Mentors, critique partners, etc. were pointing out problems in a story or a situation, not ME. Wow! Who knew?

These were baby steps to learning that my work could be flawed and I’d live and even improve. The next step? I could be flawed in my character, behavior, or attitudes and would live to tell the tale! I might even…improve.

Whoud’a thunk?

Boundaries, Anger, Forgiveness

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

For a long time I suffered with an anger problem. I’d love to lie to you guys and tell you I’m perfect and totally cured but I hear thunder rumbling outside and don’t want to push my luck :D . When I grew to a point that I could accept increasing layers of critique/criticism with my writing, I was more open to others pointing out my personal flaws.

*shivers*

I was a people-pleaser and said yes to everything. Then I’d get overloaded, stressed, angry and lash out. I’m still working on not overextending. Shingles will show you painfully your own limitations.

I love to help. I DO. If I meet you at a conference and hug you and tell you that you will change the world and that I BELIEVE IN YOU or that I really DO care about you? It isn’t an act at all.

An energy drain, yes. But optimism as a superpower? I’ll roll with that.

Ugly truth? I used to say all the same things I do now, only I said them solely so you would “like” me. Not because I believed in you. I didn’t believe in me. How could I believe in you, too?

Optimism is a great character trait, but it needs balance. One of the reasons I’d lash out in anger is I was realllllly bad at putting down boundaries, communicating them and sticking to them in a loving way. I’d back up and back up and back up and say, “Oh, it’s okay” when it wasn’t.

Then BOOM!

Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.

What I’ve learned is that boundaries are part of all healthy relationships. I heard this metaphor and love it. Your life, MY life is like a beautiful garden (which likely needs a lot of weeding but that’s another post). Frequently we buy into the lie that fences are bad. People should be free to come in and out of our lives. This is true, which is why all good fences have a GATE. You will NEED this gate more than ever when you decide to become a writer. You might need RAZOR WIRE on that gate for NaNo.

Writing isn’t a hobby or a fun cute thing we do. It is WORK. HARD FREAKING WORK and others will not respect that unless we draw a line.

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

Forgiveness

Everything we’ve discussed so far might be useful for you on a personal level. Maybe you aren’t as messed up as I was (am?). Chances are though, if you’re a writer, fiction is cheaper than therapy. The interesting thing about Gone Girl is it viscerally showed me how we could root for utterly unlikeable people.

Self-awareness.

The difference between a selfish, insecure jerk who is a horrible person versus a pure sociopath is that, eventually, the terrible-no-good-awful person realizes they are a terrible-no-good-awful-person. Maybe they try to change. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they do the right thing. Maybe they don’t. But the linchpin difference is their eyes are opened to the reality of who they truly are.

The same applied to ME. The perfectionism, pride, back-biting, resentment, jealousy, anger, false pretenses were fuel that kept me in the destructive cycle of being a jerk. Unlike some fictional characters, I chose to change.

My disaster of a life showed me that I needed to learn to love others where they are. Love myself where I am. Perfection is a lie. Pride is a poison. I had to forgive myself if I ever hoped to forgive others.

We Are All Works in Progress

We all have good days, bad days and days we wish we could erase completely. Most people are not sitting up all night thinking of ways to make others miserable (Some do, so don’t let them through that gate until they knock it off). We screw up and always will.

But the good news is we can learn, grow and become better (so can our characters). We can discipline ourselves to look for the good in ourselves and others, because it takes no great talent to be critical. And the beautiful thing is when we learn to give ourselves permission to be imperfect, we get better at extending that grace to others. As we become more dimensional, so does our writing.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

If we only want to be around “perfect” people, life will get really lonely. Also, good fence-building is a skill that takes time.

I love this blog and adore all of you. Honestly. I love how you guys talk about your struggles and lift one another up. I’m inspired by your generosity, your honesty, your newness, your authenticity, your brokenness, your flaws, your weakness, your strengths and all of it makes me better every day. I might still be a jerk without you :D .

What are your thoughts? Shocked I am a Recovering Jerk? Hey, we jerks need friends too. Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you find yourself holding others to super high standards because you do it to yourself? Are you afraid of being you? Afraid if people knew your house was loaded with laundry they might not like you?

Do you deal with family who tramples through your heart and home? Are you learning about how to put up good fences too? Are you afraid if you cry you might never stop? Are you a Recovering Jerk too? What did you learn?

Are you afraid to write the awful character? Do you find yourself candy-coating? And share your thoughts on Gone Girl, just try not to spoil it for those who might want to still read it. I could write a BOOK about my opinions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

September’s Winner: Taylor Grace. Please send your 20 pages (10,000 word WORD doc to kristen at wan a intl dot com). You an also choose to instead send a one page query or synopsis. Congratulations!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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