Posts Tagged writing groups

Do You Have a Psychic Vampire Critique Partner?

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WHAT do you MEAN I am head-hopping? THAT is my VOICE. You are ruining my ART!
(Image via Carniphage Flikr Commons)

Several months ago, in my Enemies of the Art series, we discussed Psychic Vampires. Psychic Vampires are all around us, and likely, we will never be rid of them. PVs are most likely to show up at a number of critical junctures. They sense the energy shift, and since that energy is no longer all about them, they will fight tooth-and-nail to bring balance to The Force (of Manipulation).

While many of my posts are directed toward writers, most people have these same issues. If we don’t learn how to guard against and handle PVs, we will always be their victims. Psychic Vampires will always feel renewed and refreshed, namely because they just sucked the life out of their victims (us).

Psychic Vampires abound in the arts, and they’re also prevalent in many writing groups. They are vamps dressed in writer clothing. Often they are so self-absorbed they can’t even see the reality of what they are.

This is why confronting PVs is almost always fruitless and will simply lead to conflict that only further feeds them at our expense. Our best option is to be able to spot them, then ignore them or RUN.

Beware the Psychic Vampire Critique Partner

I wish I could give all of you a nice, easy website to find healthy, professional critique partners, but unfortunately those don’t exist. We will have to trust, then use trial and error, then set tough boundaries. Some CPs will make it, but likely most will not.

Why?

Too many writers get into this business for the wrong reasons. They really aren’t interested in the life of a professional and just enjoy “playing author.” Writing is for attention and ego-stroking. Their goals are about THEM and this means anyone on board with them will go the wrong direction.

They will keep steering the ship the wrong way…toward the rocks.

Some PVCPs are touchy, sensitive and unwilling to learn and grow. Mistakenly, they believe that their art is just genetically coded into their DNA and that any feedback is just trying to sabotage their “art.”

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What do you mean too many flashbacks? YOU ARE SO MEAAAANNNN!

If you have a critique partner who refuses to listen to honest feedback. If she is touchy and oversensitive? Move on. You won’t grow. You’ll spend too much time propping up an ego that can never get enough propping up. The PV will be a continual vortex of need and if you don’t jump ship while you can? Expect to crash on the rocks with them.

This writer won’t make it unless she changes, and if you’re enabling her to be a PVCP, why should she?

We Are Who We Hang Around

I cannot recommend attending writing conferences enough. Yes, even WANACon counts.  We are having another WANACon the first weekend of October and deliver top tier NYTBSA talent right to you AT HOME. Right now we are having a special, the ENTIRE conference and recordings for $119 (which will expire soon). Just like a writing conference only no travel and at YOUR convenience.

We can arrange a TSA feel-up, but they work for tips :D.

Anyway…

The reason we need to choose friends wisely and surround ourselves with professionals, is that these writers have invested cold hard cash into getting better. When we forge relationships with writers who are professional or stronger, we grow. Water will always find its level, so make sure you’re rising, not sinking. Habits are contagious. This is one of the reasons I cannot recommend joining an RWA chapter enough (even if you don’t write romance).

RWA is full of professionals who work their tails off and understand craft and the business. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the other. Refuse to be in a place that dulls your creative edges.

PVCPs Waste Valuable Time

I’ve been in critique relationships where the other person never learned to think for themselves. Why bother reading Story Engineering, The Writer’s Journey, Hooked,  Save the Cat or Plot & Structure when we can get Kristen to so all our thinking/plotting for us?

I recall two members of a critique group who attended every week with their crappy writing to be critiqued. Instead of learning, they just barfed down junk on a page and let the group “fix” it. Odd thing was, after over a year of enduring the world’s worst writing, nothing changed. When these individuals self-published? NONE of the writing had changed.

This ticked me off. How many hours had we dedicated to helping, when the writer had zero intention of listening? The critique wasn’t a place to grow; rather, it was a captive audience who had to listen to their dreadful “story” vomit.

Most of us are short on time. We often have day jobs, kids, chores, bills and we have to do social media and MOST IMPORTANTLY we need to be writing more books and better books. It’s easier to tread water if we aren’t dragging a PVCP anchor around our necks.

The PVCP Test

1. Is the writer touchy. Does she want every bit of feedback to be handed with a box of chocolates?

2. Does she attend regularly? Or does she always have an excuse of why she can’t be there—great-nephew’s birthday party, helping a friend’s garage sale, washing her hair?

3. Does the writer actually READ? Does she read fiction and LOVE storytelling? I’ve met writers who claimed they wanted to be NYTBSAs, but said things like, “Well, I just don’t like to/have time to read.” Reading is FUNDAMENTAL to what we do. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t listen to music. TIME WASTER.

4. Does the person give back? Critique partners should be partners. I’ve had writers who took and took for months. They wanted me to plot, then re-plot, then they had a new and BETTER idea they needed “help” plotting. Never once did it occur to them, that we hadn’t talked about my book in months.

5. Does this person ever grow? Or do they keep making the same newbie errors over and over? If they are? They aren’t listening, so move on. This is a PVCP. RUN.

What are your thoughts? Have you been the victim of a PVCP? What did you do? How did you handle it? What are your horror stories? How did you stake the PVCP? What might be some other ways to spot a PVCP? What might be some good resources for finding a good CP? I recommend trying WANATribe, join RWA or attend conferences. But, maybe you guys have some better suggestions!

BTW, Image number two courtesy of best movie ever Army of Darkness.

I love hearing from you!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

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51 Comments

A New Approach to a Traditional Group–The Concept Critique

So a couple of weeks ago, we discussed critique groups then I saw something shiny and forgot to post the second part of the discussion. ::head desk:: Anyway, in Part One, I posited the question: Can a critique group do more harm than good? In my opinion? YES. Traditional critique groups can have severe limitations, and, if a writer doesn’t understand this and adjust accordingly, then she can do irreparable damage to her WIP and even her career. As a note before anyone gets huffy. Just because something is limited  does not mean it is bad. Critique groups, especially GOOD critique groups are worth their weight in gold. But just like my car has limitations–I cannot traverse lakes with it–critique groups are limited as well. Yet, when we understand the limitations, then we can adjust accordingly.

As a quick refresher, traditional critique groups:

Lack Proper Perspective

Since most traditional critique groups only hear/read a small section of pages at a time, there is no way they can tell if there are major plot problems in a manuscript. Many writers hit the slush pile because their plot has catastrophic flaws. Pretty prose does not a novel make.

Agents are overworked as it is. They can love our writing voice, but they don’t have the time to teach us our craft. As professionals, we should have the basics down when we query and it is rude and amateurish to expect an agent will fix everything for us. Not their job. They can fix some surface stuff, but not the deep structure flaws that cause many queries to land in the slush pile.

I have met countless writers who didn’t properly understand the antagonist or even narrative structure. They thought their WIP was ready to query because people in critique “loved their writing style.” Just because we have command of our native language doesn’t mean we have the skill set to write a 60-100,000 word novel.

Critique groups don’t have the perceptual distance to spot the big problems. So just understand this from the get-go and all is fine. But make sure your plot is critiqued before you query. Also, understand that the group is limited then take critique with a grain of salt. If someone says, “but this spot didn’t have enough action” and you know that those ten pages were part of a sequel and NOT a scene, then you know you don’t need to punch up the pace. Write good books, not 150 individual sections to keep people at critique happy.

Other Problems with Traditional Critique Groups

Traditional critique groups can get us in a habit of over-explaining.

Because the group can’t see the big picture, they can inject things like, “But how did Gertrude end up in Disney World with a flame thrower?” Well, of course they don’t understand why Gertrude is setting The Seven Dwarfs ablaze. They haven’t been at critique for three weeks, so they missed the part about a hell-mouth being located under Cinderella’s castle. Why do you think Disney got the land so cheap? And all these years you just thought it was because it was a swamp!

When people at critique say things like this, just hold your ground and give permission for some folks to be lost.

Traditional critique groups are notorious for the Book-By-Committee.

We have to stand strong here. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you must learn to stand your ground with suggestions. I have seen writers have a lovely writing voice literally hen-pecked out of them by people at critique. Just take critique for what it is and accept the good and ignore the bad.

Traditional critique groups can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

The world does not reward perfection. It rewards those who get things done. No one ever had a runaway success with half of the world’s perfect novel. Lean to be a finisher.

Traditional critique groups can give a false sense of security.

Again, pretty prose does not a novel make. Is voice important? YES! But voice alone is not a novel. We have to make sure our structure is not a disaster area, and this is where traditional critique groups run into trouble. But today, I will give you guys a way to work within the limitations.

How can I get solid critique of my plot?

Beta readers are good for critiquing at plot. If you can, find a pal who loves to read and ask for her to read your novel. She can tell you if your book was great, boring, confusing, or made her want to gouge out her own eyes. Just make sure you allow your beta reader permission to be honest, even when it hurts.

Beyond the Beta Reader

But beta readers, especially GOOD beta readers are hard to find. A MAJOR limitation to beta readers? We have to finish the book before we get critique.

In my opinion, life is short. Why waste it writing books with fatally flawed plots? This is why I started WWBC (my critique group). I didn’t want to waste months writing a book that had a flawed skeleton. I don’t like having revisions from hell. I prefer to dedicate my time to books that actually stand a chance of being published.

Introducing Concept Critique

If you can’t find a non-traditional critique group or a good beta reader, then just modify the content you bring to critique. This is part of what we do in my writing group WWBC. We employ what I call Concept Critique. We do things a bit differently, but I have modified our methods to work for you.

Instead of bringing the first fifteen pages of your novel, write a fifteen page synopsis based off what you did when you were plotting with the index cards (discussed in Part Eight of my Structure Series). Or, for those pantsers, go back and use cards to show the scenes of the WIP you’ve written. Every scene card had a one-sentence summary, so writing a synopsis now should be a piece of cake. Write your one-sentence log-line at the top so they can critique that too, and also so they can make sure your synopsis supports the log-line.

If we are finished with a novel and it is solid and ready for critique, we should be able to say what our entire book is about in ONE sentence. (If you need help learning how to do this, then check out the above link about log-lines).

We should also be able to clearly see scenes and sequels in our WIP. Detailing our finished WIP scene-by-scene for concept critique is a far better use of time than taking a year to get line-edit on a potentially flawed WIP.

Let your brilliant writer friends chime in on what they think of your story as a whole. Is it contrived? Is it convoluted? Boring? Does this synopsis sound like a book they are dying to read? Can they tell who the antagonist is? Is your antagonist a mustache-twirler or the stuff of greatness?

Once you have your novel as a whole critiqued, take it to the next step. The next week take Act One and write a fifteen page synopsis of what happens in Act One. Get critique. Clean it up. Then, take Act Two and Act Three and do the same. Write fifteen page synopses about what happens in each act. Then take it to the next step. Break your act into scenes and write a summary of what happens in each scene.

This way you are cleaning up your concept. You are going beyond the prose. Your fellow writers NOW can help you by brainstorming better ways to build your mousetrap. And, since they have an idea of the BIG picture, their advice will be a lot better. They might even be able to offer insight into how to fix the idea before you invest the next year writing a book that is doomed from day one because the original idea needed to be fortified before it could support 60-100,000 words. Or, if you have already written the novel, you will have a better idea how to tackle revisions.

Once you have solid critique on all these summaries, take off and write/revise that novel. Now it will be way easier because you know where you are going. Also, because your writer friends helped in the planning phase, they will be better trained to see flaws once they critique your final product. They will know why Gertrude is torching Cinderella’s castle.

Time to Get Real Honest…

I am going to warn you. This method will test your mettle. In traditional critique, we can hide behind our pretty prose. Concept Critique means laying our baby out there bare bones, warts and all. This will show us why we are really in a writing group. Is it because we really want to succeed at this writing thing? Or, are you like I used to be? I wrote really awesome prose and I got to hear every week how wonderful I was (even though the big picture was fatally flawed). I could believe the standard lies many of us tell ourselves when we are unpublished.

I just haven’t found the right agent.

Oh, it’s because my novel is a mix of genres.

New York just doesn’t publish any good writing anymore.

I hear vampires are hot and they are only taking vampire books.

Vampires are passe and they are only taking books with trained ferrets.

When I started WWBC I had to check my ego at the door. Now I couldn’t hide behind my glorious prose. If someone beat the hell out of my synopsis, there was nowhere to hide. I couldn’t use the Standard Issue Line of Writer Denial–-Well, they just haven’t read the rest of my novel. If they had, they wouldn’t say that.

If we really long to be successfully published, then we need to hear the truth. As I like to say, Excellence begins with honesty. If we are attending a group only to hear how every word we write is a golden nugget of joy, we aren’t going to grow.

What are some of the problems you’ve had with critique groups? How did you overcome them? Any suggestions? Opinions?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

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

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

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108 Comments

Beating the “Sugar” Addiction–Tightening the Writing

Sugar addiction is dangerous.

When I started writing fiction years ago, I didn’t know anything. There wasn’t an adverb, adjective, metaphor or simile I didn’t adore. The problem, however, is when we emphazise everything, we in effect emphasize nothing. My writing was bloated, and I had to learn to trim the fat. I had joined a writing group that, on more than one occasion, left me in tears vowing to go back to sales and forget this foolishiness of wanting to write.

But, once I could get my ego out of the way, I realized that yes, a handful of the critiquers were nasty human beings who would never say anything nice. Yet, that didn’t mean that I should ignore everything they had to say. When I finally calmed down, I was open to suggestions.

One of the strongest writers in our group regularly submitted pieces of what was called flash fiction. Flash fiction are short works of fiction. Some are 500 words or less, 300 words or less, 150, and even 100 words or less.

I figured if I had a strict word count limit, that might force me to go on an Atkin’s Diet for Writers. I would cut out all carbohydrates modifiers, in hopes I could break my addiction to them. I started writing flash fiction in hopes I could make my prose leaner and more powerful.

If you are like I once was, and you regularly indulge in sweet metaphors until your brain is euphoric from a sugary writing high, I recommend trying your hand at flash fiction. Sugar addictions are bad in eating as well as writing (and this parallel allowed me to use the Girl Scout image above–ROFL).

Since some of you guys on Twitter and FB expressed interest in my fiction, here is a flash fiction story I wrote in 2004, and it was my very first contest win. There was a picture of an old Chevy Bel Air as a writing prompt for a story that could be a max of 500 words.

Deep in the Heart

A thin finger of Texas highway shimmers with heat, and rows of cacti whir by in a blur of green. Wind snaps the ends of my grandmother’s hair across her cheek and her head turns toward the haze of plateaus along the horizon. Her scarf tries to tangle in a smile that has spread like a sunbeam across her eighty-year-old cheeks.

Sitting next to her, my heart flutters with happiness. I begin to believe that love, hate, fear, and wonder are passed from one generation to the next, floating along the same genetic tributaries as brown hair or green eyes.

When I was a year out of college, my grandmother, a product of the Great Depression, greeted me, and my 1956 Chevy Bel Air convertible, with a concerned scowl. I knew she worried about me. Truthfully, at the time, I worried about me. Though the car was a dream I’d carried to adulthood, I wondered if I would have the funds and the patience to restore the rusted, creaky disaster to her former glory.

My grandmother grew up desperately poor and, even now, her face is painted with shades of hardship that mark her generation as different. When I was little, she told me stories about the time she had to stay home from school six months because she had no shoes and how her older brother, now dead, carried her to and from church to protect her feet from angry barbs of West Texas goat heads. A lifetime later, long after the days of walls papered with old newsprint to keep out the cold, she still clips coupons and saves every spare cent . . . just in case.

I’d grown up watching old movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, my grandmother next to me, her lap dusted with popcorn from my greedy fingers. I would sit, enthralled by Marilyn Monroe’s beauty or Audrey Hepburn’s class and dream that one day, I too, would be glamorous. I recall how I’d glance to the lovely, patrician woman by my side and wonder if she felt the same.

Now an adult, I tilt my rear-view mirror to study her reflection. I watch her grin against the sun and marvel how joy has melted the disquiet from her face. We glide across the desert on white-wall tires, our hair wrapped in bright scarves that flutter and wave flirtatiously to the truckers behind us.

Our final destination is a quaint South Texas town known for strange green lights and artistic flair— Marfa. We’ll stay at a family-owned hotel, and I’ll make jokes about being abducted by aliens. At night, I will drive us out of town and park beneath a sparkling canopy of stars in hopes the famous Marfa Lights might come out and grace us with an appearance. Like college girlfriends, rather than grandmother and grandchild, we’ll lean against the massive hood of the car that made it possible for both of us, at least for a moment, to be glamorous.

***

The coolest part about this story is that, aside from the car and the trip to Marfa, everything is true. This was my very first contest win and my first piece of published fiction. I gave my grandmother a copy of the book with this story printed in it. She started crying when she read it.

Anyway, do you guys suffer from a writing “sugar” addiction? Have any tips, tools or suggestions?

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

Last Week’s Winner–Gloria Oliver

Please send 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Month of July’s Winner–Leo Godin

Please send your 3750 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org

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

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

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

Now an adult, I tilt my rear-view mirror to study her reflection. I watch her grin against the sun and marvel how joy has melted the disquiet from her face. We glide across the desert on white-wall tires our hair wrapped in silk scarves that flutter and wave flirtatiously to the truckers behind us.

Our final destination is a quaint South Texas town known for strange green lights and artistic flair— Marfa. We’ll stay at a family-owned hotel, and I’ll make jokes about being abducted by aliens. At night, I will drive us out of town and park beneath a sparkling canopy of stars in hopes the famous Marfa Lights might come out and grace us with an appearance. Like college girlfriends, rather than grandmother and grandchild, we’ll lean against the massive hood of the car that made it possible for both of us, at least for a moment, to be glamorous.

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43 Comments

What Are the Odds…Really? Taking a Hard Look at Success

 

 

What are the odds….really?

I didn’t even consider becoming a writer until 1999 after my father passed away suddenly. Funny how death can make us take a hard look at life, right? Anyway, I recall feeling soooo overwhelmed. I mean my odds of even getting published were about as good as winning the lottery. And the odds of becoming a best-selling author? Well, mathematically speaking, I had a slightly greater chance of being mauled by a black bear and polar bear on the same day.

It was all I could do not to give up before I began.

But, after almost 12 years doing this “writer thing,” I have a new perspective. Often it feels like we are the victims of fate, at the mercy of the universe, when actually it is pretty shocking how much of our own destiny we control. The good news is that if we can get in a habit of making good choices, it is staggering how certain habits can tip the odds of success in our favor.

Time to take a REAL look at our odds of success. Just so you know, this is highly unscientific, but I still think it will paint a pretty accurate picture. I will show you a bit of my own journey. It has been statistically demonstrated that only 5% of any population is capable of sustained change. Thus, with that in mind…

When we start out wanting to write, we are up against presumably millions of other people who want the same dream. We very literally have better odds of being elected to Congress than hitting the NY Times best-selling list. But I think that statement is biased and doesn’t take into account the choices we make.

As I just said, in the beginning, we are up against presumably millions of others who desire to write. Yes, millions. It is estimated that over ¾ of Americans say that they would one day like to write a book. That’s a LOT of people. Ah, but how many do? How many decide to look beyond that day job? How many dare to take that next step?

Statistically? 5%

So only 5% of the millions of people who desire to write will ever even take the notion seriously. This brings us to the hundreds of thousands. But of the hundreds of thousands, how many who start writing a book will actually FINISH a book? How many will be able to take their dream seriously enough to lay boundaries for friends and family and hold themselves to a self-imposed deadline?

Statistically? 5%

Okay, well now we are down to the tens of thousands. Looking a bit better. But, finishing a book isn’t all that is required. We have to be able to write a book that is publishable and meets industry standards. When I first started writing, I thought that everyone who attended a writing critique group would be published. I mean they were saying they wanted to be best-selling authors.

But did they? Or, were they more in love with the idea of being a best-selling author than actually doing whatever it took to succeed? I would love to say that I was a doer and not a talker, but I don’t want to get hit by lightning. There were a number of years that I grew very comfortable with being in a writing group as a writer…but not necessarily a professional writer. I was still querying the same book that had been rejected time and time and time again.  I wrote when I felt inspired and didn’t approach my craft like a professional. I was, at best, a hobbyist and, at worst, hopelessly delusional.

I didn’t need craft books *snort* I knew how to write. Geesh!

I was a member of two writing groups, and had grown very fond of this “writer life.” We hung out at I-Hop and drank lots of coffee. We’d all chat about what we’d do with our millions once we were bigger than Dan Brown. We talked about new ideas for books that never seemed to get written. Or if we ever did sit to write one of these ideas, we would get about 30,000 words in and then hit a wall.

Hmmm…and I thought that idea had so much promise.

Yet, after four years hearing the same talk from the same people shopping the same novels, I had a rude awakening. Maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. Maybe being a copy writer and technical writer and editor didn’t automatically make me a novel-writing genius. Maybe I needed to take this dream of being a best-selling writer a tad more seriously and not rely on bluster, BS and glitter. Maybe I needed to read craft books and scrape up enough money to go to a conference.

So, of the tens of thousands of writers who write a novel, how many read craft books and get serious enough to attend conferences?

You guys are good….5%

And of those who attend a conference, who are asked to send in page requests, how many follow through?

Likely, 5%

How many will land an agent right away?

5%

And of all of those authors rejected, how many writers, determined to impress, are willing to GUT their novel and wage wholesale slaughter on entire villages of Little Darlings? How many are willing to put that first novel in a drawer, learn from the experience and move forward with a new book…which they FINISH?

5%

And of the writers good enough to get an agent, how many of them get dead-serious about building a large social media platform?

Again? Probably 5%.

And of those writers who are published or agented and doing social media, how many of them are effectively branding their names so their name alone will become a bankable asset?

5%

Thus, when we really put this dream under some scrutiny, it is shocking to see all the different legs we control.

We control:

Taking the Decision Seriously

Writing the Book

Finishing the Book

Learning the Craft

Networking

Following Through

Not Giving Up in the Face of Rejection

Doing Everything in Our Power to Lay a Foundation for a Successful Career

I am not saying that finishing a book is easy. I’m not even saying that getting an agent or being published is a piece of cake. I know, first-hand that becoming a best-selling author is one of the hardest things you could ever attempt. Sometimes I think law school or climbing Everest in flip-flops and a mini-skirt might have been the easy way out. None of this is easy.

It is a lot of hard work and sacrifice, which is exactly why most people will never be genuine competition. When we start out and see all the millions of other writers I think we are in danger of giving up or getting overwhelmed. Actually, if we focus on the decisions we control, our odds improve drastically.

Same with blogging. You guys know I am a huge fan of writers having a blog. Out of everyone who desires to start a blog, only 5% will. And of those, how many will continue blogging more than a few weeks? How many will post every week for years? How many will be self-disciplined enough to post multiple times a week no matter what? How many will have content that is tooled to excite readers and also keep the writer/blogger enthusiastic, too? How many writer-bloggers will write in ways that create a community and build a brand? I teach how to do all of this and more in my new book,  Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer, but how many people will buy this book and put every step to blog success in place and be able to sustain long-term? See, the competition isn’t nearly as steep if we look at how much of our future success is in our control.

I want everyone reading this to feel encouraged. Yes, your family thinks you have better odds of being the next Queen of England than being a successful novelist. Hey, at this point, maybe you even believe it, too. But the odds are actually better than we might believe when we really take an honest look.

This job is like one giant funnel. Toss in a few million people with a dream and only a handful will shake out at the end. Is it because fortune smiled on them? A few, yes. But, for most, the harder they worked, the “luckier” they got. They stuck it out and made the tough choices.

In the Sahara there is a particularly long stretch of desert that is completely flat. There are no distinguishing landmarks and it is very easy to get lost. To combat the problem, the French Foreign Legion placed large black oil drums every mile so that travelers could find their way across this massive expanse of wasteland one oil drum at a time.

 

Are we there yet?

Want to be a successful author?

Take it one oil drum at a time.

What are some oil drums you now see ahead? Does your journey to author success seem easier now? What makes you feel overwhelmed? What inspires you?

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

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

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

Important Announcements

I will announce the winners on Monday. 

Make sure you join our LOVE REVOLUTION over on Twitter by following and participating in the #MyWANA Twibe. Read this post to understand how this #MyWANA will totally transform your life and your author platform.

Together Everyone Achieves More!!!! SUPPORT THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF AMERICA! Spread the word and save a life. Sigma Force saves puppies and kittens, too. Ahhhh.

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

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88 Comments

Writing Conferences–Beware of Crossing Deer

(Photo courtesy of johnlund.com)

This weekend I am teaching social media at the DFW Writer’s Workshop Conference at the American Airlines Center. I have to say that I have attended quite a few conferences, and the DFW folk have been the best, hands down. If you aren’t going to this year’s, sign up early for next year. You won’t regret it. They offer an amazing variety of classes, taught by some of the best talent in the industry.

I mean, I am teaching there, right?

Ouch. I got a cramp patting myself on the back.

It is so interesting looking back now at my first conference. A lot has changed. I am a published and best-selling NF author as opposed to a hopeful wanna-be fiction writer. I am a speaker, not an attendee. Life never turns out the way we plan, does it?

It’s like being out of college and looking back at that time of trial and testing and thinking…I am so much smarter now (Or, thank God I am not still THAT stupid. It’s a close tie which).

Like social media, I did most things wrong in the beginning. Yes, even when it came to conferences. I have no idea why you guys listen to me, sometimes. Maybe you just follow out of morbid fascination of what dumb thing I might do next. Hey, whatever works. I’m not picky :D.

My first conference was back in February of 2008. I was an overachiever and got Swine Flu a year before it swept the world. For most of February I had 103 fever and wanted to die…then burn my own ashes (again) because I was pretty sure I was so sick that even my cremated remains would have body ache. I nearly didn’t make it to the conference (which was DFW by the way).

I was so sure that 2008 would the year I got an agent. All I needed was an agent and then my life would be on Easy Street. My biggest concern was what to do if the agents started fighting over me. How would I choose which one to go with? Would it make future cocktail parties in NY awkward?

Yes…I was a wee delusional.

And, to make it worse, I should have known better, but I didn’t. I had been on the editing side and had many, many acknowledgements in published books from grateful authors who would not have been published without my help. I felt pretty confident. I knew my stuff. I find it funny how I had been in “the publishing industry” for so long, yet was still pretty clueless. I think I was like the computer programmer who believed he could kick ass in software sales. I knew so much, but in my pride and relative isolation, was unable to see how much more I had yet to learn.

So that Friday night, the agent-author social went really well. I was charming and fun and managed to make it through the entire night without tucking my dress in my pantyhose. I think that was the last thing to go right for the next 24 hours.

First, for those who do not know, I have a zillion food allergies. I might even be allergic to myself. I would live in a giant bubble, but I can’t get cable. So keep this in mind. 

Hey, can somebody order me a pizza? Please? Anyone?

The Friday social goes well, but that night I get no sleep. None. I was too excited. I was going to be an agented author by this time the next night. My future was so bright, I was sure it had caused permanent retinal damage.

The next morning I peeled myself out of bed and drove to Grapevine. I looked stunning in my new suit, but I was so fried that I forget to grab the food I had pre-packed. I arrived at the conference half-starving already and it wasn’t even 8:00 a.m. That entire morning, I barely paid attention to any of the craft classes because 1) I was exhausted 2) I was starving and 3) I had my agent pitch right after lunch….which I could smell and it was making me half-mad.

I dodged out of a class early to talk to the caterer and asked if he had anything that was gluten and dairy free. He said “Yes.” The angels started singing. YES! I could get something to eat. I grabbed my meal and began wolfing it down prison-style, knife at the ready to stab any of the kitchen staff who might decide to take my plate before I had eaten the garnish and the Sweet & Low packets (fiber).

I finished eating before the other writers were even let out of class. I was feeling great. The writers filed in. I started socializing to take my mind of the pitch that I knew would change my life.

Candy Havens stepped up to do her keynote and…

My heart rate suddenly kicked up to 160 beats and felt like I was having a heart attack. I felt dizzy and my fingers and feet went totally numb, along with part of my face. I struggled to stay conscious as I watched Candy’s speech. I couldn’t get up and interrupt her, but I was terrified that I was going to pass out right there. My peripheral vision was soon gone. Black. And I could tell I was inches from blacking out. Clearly I got into something I was allergic to. I chugged every glass of water at the table trying to dilute whatever foul element I ingested.

I hung on Candy’s every word…waiting for the last one. The second people start clapping I dove out of the banquet hall and stumbled to the bathroom. I was in bad shape. A couple of the speakers happened to be in there and apparently it was clear to them that something was definitely wrong with me. They wanted to take me to a hospital.

NO! I had come too far. I could do this.

I still had an hour until my pitch session…the 15 minutes that would change my life forever…although I did grant permission to call an ambulance if I passed out.

During that hour, I drank another gallon of water and the symptoms, blessedly, started to subside. About a half hour after I staggered into the restroom, another woman stumbled into the bathroom with a screaming migraine. Apparently the caterer forgot to mention the liberal amounts of monosodium glutamate in the broth used to cook the rice. We were both in pretty bad shape.

So I missed another craft class trying to be at least coherent for the agent pitch. I got into the room and my beautiful suit is all rumpled and my hair is flat on one side (from leaning on a chair trying not to die).  I am also pretty certain I only had makeup on one eye.

I sit down and begin to talk, but have no idea what point I am trying to make….and I have to pee. Like BAD. Like 12 seconds after I sit down I am now aware of the 6 gallons of water I drank. So now I am wiggling and trying to think, but all I can picture are waterfalls and sprinkler systems and babbling brooks and speaking of babbling, what the hell was my book about anyway?

It was a disaster.

 Actual photo of Kristen Lamb at first agent pitch session.

But, an hour after the pitch session, I felt better and I finally got to do what conferences are all about. I made loads of friends and connections, and took some great classes to improve my skills. I learned so much at that conference and met some of the most AMAZING people who are my friends even to this day.

I look back and wonder if I would have just lightened up and gone for the conference for the right reasons, would I have had my near-death experience? I was so keyed up that I made one dumb decision after another, which was probably fueled by stress and sleep deprivation.

I gave myself Deer in the Headlight Syndrome. You know what happens the deer caught in the headlights? They get creamed, flattened, squished.

Okay, I made my point. RELAX! ENJOY your conference experience. It separates the wanna-bes from the professionals. Conferences are the best, and they are the greatest investment you will ever make in your writing career, but NOT because of that 15 minute pitch session.

The pitch session is not a career make-or-break situation. Seriously, agents (I have heard whispers of rumors coming from the caves) are HUMAN. More importantly they are humans with the sole job of finding writers to represent. They are not the enemy. Also, the only person with the power to make or break our career is….US. Agents do not hold that power. If we write excellent stuff, agents will want to represent it. Period. 

 Line of writers waiting outside agent pitch-sessions.

Also, we can talk to agents outside the pitch session. I don’t recommend sliding your query letter under the stall, and try not to ambush them outside the Ladies Room door, but here is a little understood secret. Agents go to conferences to network and to…. Are you ready for this? FIND CLIENTS.

We can talk to them. In fact, agents expect writers will talk to them. To think otherwise is like thinking it would be rude to offer a designer a fabric swatch at a trade show. Agents go to writing confernces to meet writers and, hopefully, out of aaaallllll the hopefuls, find someone with content that they believe they can sell.

We are in control of our careers, which means that yes, agents are important, but connections and classes trump agents any day of the week. The more connections we have, the more doors of opportunity will come our way. The more we listen to others and learn from them, the faster we grow and mature into the type of writer an agent is dying to represent.

In the end, after all of my suffering, did I get an agent? No. I got a form letter with the wrong name on it. But, it was probably one of the most valuable experiences of my career, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Top 5 Tips

1. Go to all the craft classes you can. Trust me, no matter how good you think you are, you aren’t even close to how great you COULD be. Go to more than just agent panels and “How to Land an Agent” classes. Take this opportunity to grow into a better you.

2. Talk to all the agents. Not necessarily to pitch your book, but just to be nice. You might see them at another conference and they will recognize you. Now you are forming a relationship. This also helps you see they are really blood-sucking werewolves human.

3. Pitch to more that one agent. You can talk to agents other than the one assigned in your pitch. The pitch session just guarantees us a particular agent’s undivided attention. It doesn’t mean that the other agents will take out a restraining order on you if you say “hi” and ask to give your elevator pitch.

4. Have FUN! Conferences aren’t cheap. Squeeze every bit if fun out of every little moment. Get your money’s worth.

5. Go out of your way to form memories. This is like high school or college. We can either have a blast in our “learning years” and take lots of pictures and have lots of fun…or we can rush through it and fail to enjoy our “writing youth” because we are to busy wanting to be “writing grown-ups.”

So what are some of your conference experiences? Good or bad? Some of my closest friends are people I met at conferences. Do you have any advice? Tips? Pointers? Want to recommend a conference? Want me to come speak at a conference in your area? Put it in the comments. I love hearing from you.

And, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

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37 Comments

Twitter Tuesday #6

Welcome to the sixth installment of Twitter Tuesday. In the spirit of Twitter, this blog will be short and sweet and to the point. The tips offered here are all based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. If our goal is to build an author platform in the thousands to tens of thousands, then we will have to approach Twitter differently than a faceless corporation or even the regular person who does not possess a goal of becoming a brand. This blog will help you rule the Twitterverse without devolving into a spam bot.

This Week’s Fail Whale–The Clueless Tweep

We all do dumb things on Twitter. They key is not making a habit out of doing dumb things. Sometimes, especially when it comes to social media, we forget that normal social rules still apply. People still want to be in a conversation, so we need to be mindful that we are listening as well as talking.

Social media is one of those odd places where stalking is permitted and even encouraged…so long as we are polite and don’t cross certain implied boundaries.

For instance, I am sure we can follow @JustinTimberlake, but asking him in a public tweet to listen to our new song is being impolite.

That might seem like a no-brainer, but I see this happen quite a lot in the writing world. If we want someone to read our manuscript, edit a story, read our query letter, there is nothing wrong with asking. We just need to do so via a private message. Either DM or, if the other person isn’t following us and we can’t DM, go to their profile and find their web address and an e-mail and ask them that way. In private. Where they can feel free to ignore us or politely say no. Or where they can feel free to say yes without 6000 other hopeful writers pulling the same stunt.

There is nothing wrong with asking. I am in the process of collecting blurbs for my upcoming books. I made a list of all my favorite authors and public figures and sent each of them a personal e-mail. I didn’t expect a reply, but as Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

I did NOT, however, publicly tweet:

@JamesRollins Hey, would you read my book?

@GuyKawasaki I am a huge fan. Would you blurb my book about blogging?

@JamesScottBell Would you be my critique partner?

@SusanWiggs I can’t get an agent. Could you introduce me to yours?

Some of these “favors” are just bad form no matter what. But, we do sometimes have to take risks. That’s okay. Just do so in private and the good news is that if you unwittingly screw up and committ a social taboo…you didn’t do it in front of the entire world :D.

 

Twitter Tip–Learn to Poach

When we start out on social media it is a huge bummer being alone. I’ve been there. How do we find friends? There are a lot of ways, but in my opinion, the best way to find quality tweeps is to poach them. Find people you know and like on Twitter, then follow who is following them or who they are following. Chances are, they are your kind of peeps.

On Twitter, most people will follow you if you follow them. It is courtesy. Unless you are a bot, most people are generally real social and happy to include you.

I always brag that I am friends with the best people on Twitter (because it is true :D). If you are new, befriend me, then I advise you poach my friends. They rock. Follow me. Watch who I RT, who I chat with…and friend them. So long as you are polite and contribute, no one will mind.

Poaching comes in handy when building a platform. You can befriend people who like your genre. Trust me, if you write horror, poaching @CliveBarker ‘s peeps is probably a step in the right direction. You are taking the first step to being friends with the very sort of people who like what YOU like…being scared stiff.

Tweet ya later!

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26 Comments

The Doctor is in the House–Novel Diagnostics

 

Many of you have vowed to take your craft more seriously this year, which means more conferences and many, many more queries. For those of you who have submitted before, every wonder how an agent can ask for the first 20 pages and still reject our book? Did you ever wonder if the agents really read these pages? How can they know our book isn’t something they want to represent with so little to go on? I mean, if they would just continue to page 103 they would see that the princess uncovers a whole underground movement of garden gnomes with interdimensional capabilitites, and they wouldn’t be able to put it down. Right?

Wrong.

Back in the day before I wrote full time, I paid my dues doing a lot of editing. I have edited countless manuscripts, and today I am going to let you see the first 20 pages through the eyes of an agent or editor. Novel Diagnostics 101. The doctor is in the house.

I mean no disrespect in what I am about to say. I am not against self-publishing and that is a whole other subject entirely. But, what I will say is that there are too many authors who dismiss why agents are rejecting them and run off to self-publish instead of fixing why their manuscript was rejected. Agents know that a writer only has a few pages to hook a reader. That’s the first thing. But agents also know that the first 20 pages are a fairly accurate reflection of the entire book.

Years ago, when I used to edit, I never cared for being called a book doctor. I rarely ever edited an entire book. I guess one could say I was more of a novel diagnostician. Why? Doctors fix the problems and diagnosticians just figure out what the problems ARE. Thus, what I want to help you guys understand is why beginnings are so imporant.

I generally can “diagnose” every bad habit and writer weakness in ten pages or less. I never need more than 50 pages (and neither do agents and other editors). Why? Well, think of it this way. Does your doctor need to crack open your chest to know you have a bum ticker? No. He pays attention to symptoms to diagnose the larger problem. He takes your blood pressure and asks standardized questions. If he gets enough of the same kind of answer, he can tell you likely have a heart problem. Most of the time, the tests and EKGs are merely to gain more detail, but generally to confirm most of what the doc already knows.

The first pages of our novel are frequently the same. So let’s explore some common problems with beginnings and look to the problems that they can foreshadow in the rest of the work.

Info-Dump

The beginning of the novel starts the reader off with lengthy history or world-building. The author pores on and on about details of a city or civilization all to “set up” the story.

In my experience, this is often the hallmark of a writer who is weak when it comes to characters. How can I tell? He begins with his strength…lots of intricate details about a painstakingly crafted world. Although not set in stone, generally, if the author dumps a huge chunk of information at the start of the book, then he is likely to use this tactic throughout.

This type of beginning tells me that author is not yet strong enough to blend information into the narrative in a way that it doesn’t disrupt the story. The narrative then becomes like riding in a car with someone who relies on hitting the brakes to modulate speed. The story likely will just get flowing…and then the writer will stop to give an information dump.

Also, readers like to read fiction for stories. They read the encyclopedia for information.

Book Starts Right in the Middle of the Action

The beginning of the novel starts us off with the protagonist (we think) hanging over a shark tank and surrounded by ninjas. There are world-shattering stakes and we are only on page 2.

This shows me that the writer could be weak in a number of areas. First, she may not be clear what the overall story problem is, so she is beginning with a “gimmick” to hook the reader in that she is unsure the overall story problem will. Secondly, this alerts me that the writer is weak in her understanding of scene and sequel novel structure.

Scenes are structured: Goal-> conflict -> disaster

So when a writer begins her book with Biff hanging over a shark tank surrounded by ninjas, two major steps in a scene have been skipped. Also, if you go back to an earlier blog from back in the fall, normal world serves an important function. Thus when a writer totally skips some fairly vital parts and thrusts us straight into disaster, I already know the author will likely rely on melodrama from this point on. Why? Because that was how she began her book.

Book Begins with Internalization

Fiction is driven by conflict. Period. Writing might be therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. When a writer begins with a character thinking and internalizing that is another huge warning flag of a number of problems.

Do you need internalization in a novel? Yes! But it has its place. Most internalization will be part of what is known as the sequel. Sequels transpire as a direct reaction to a scene. When a writer begins the novel with the sequel, that is a huge warning that, again, the writer is weak when it comes to structure. There is a definite purpose for reflection, but kicking off the action is not one of them.

Also, beginning with the protagonist “thinking” is very self-indulgent. Why do I as the reader care about this person’s feelings or thoughts about anything? I don’t know this character. The only people who listen attentively to the thoughts, feelings, and disappointments of total strangers are shrinks, and they are being paid well to do so.

Now, give us (your readers) time to know your character and become interested in her, and then we will care. But, starting right out of the gate with a character waxing rhapsodic is like having some stranger in the checkout line start telling you about her nasty divorce. It’s just weird.

Also, like people who tell you about their abusive alcoholic father the first 30 seconds after you’ve met them, they likely will keep this trend of rudely dumping too much personal information. When the protagonist begins with all this thinking and more thinking…and more thinking, it is probably a bad sign for the future. Just sayin’.

Book Begins with a Flashback

Yeah…flashbacks are a whole other blog, but lets’ just say that most of the time they are not necessary. We do not need to know why a certain character did this or that or why a bad guy went bad. Again, that’s for therapy. Did we really need to know why Hannibal Lecter started eating people for Silence of the Lambs to be an AWESOME book AND movie? Now I know that there was a later explication of this….but it was an entirely different story (and one that really didn’t do well, I might mention). We didn’t stop the hunt for Wild Bill to go on and on about how Hannibal’s family was slaughtered in the war and the bad guys ate his sister…and it worked!

Flashbacks often alert me that the writer needs time to grow. She hasn’t yet developed the skill to blend background details with the current conflict in a way that supports the story. I’ll give you a great example. Watch the J.J. Abrams Star Trek. We find out exactly how Dr. Leonard McCoy gets his nickname, Bones…one line. “Wife got the whole planet in the divorce. All I got left is my bones.” The audience didn’t have to have a flashback to get that McCoy’s divorce was really bad. That is a great example of a writer seamlessly blending character back story.

Flashbacks, used too often, give the reader the feel of being trapped with a sixteen-year-old learning to drive a stick-shift. Just get going forward, then the car (story) dies and rolls backward.

There are two really great books I highly recommend if you want to work on your beginnings (and even learn to fix the problems that bad beginnings foreshadow). Hooked by Les Edgerton and Scene and Sequel by Jack Bickham.

Many authors are being rejected by the first 20 pages, and because most agents are overworked, they don’t have time to explain to each and every rejected author what they saw. Thus, too many writers are reworking and reworking their beginning and not really seeing that their weak beginning is a symptom of larger issues.

It is the pounding headache and dizziness that spells out “heart condition.” We can take all the asprin we want for the headache, but it won’t fix what is really wrong. Hopefully, though, today I gave you some helpful insight into what an editor (or an agent) really sees so you can roll up your sleeves and get to what’s truly going on.

What are some novels you guys can think of that had amazing beginnings? What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz, Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell are some of my favorites. I know that I had to put down Next by Michael Crichton because it just went on and on without addressing a core problem. I was a hundred pages in and had no idea what the book was truly about, and had been introduced to so many characters, I had no clue who I was supposed to be rooting for (most of the characters were utterly unlikable).

What hooks you? How long will you give a novel before you buy it? How long will you give a novel you have bought before you put it down?

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home

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53 Comments

The Character of the Successful Writer–A New Level or a New Devil?

It’s Friday! *insert Happy Dance here* What a week! Today I have an amazing opportunity to pass on some wisdom that I hope will change your life as much as it has mine. This blog is dedicated to helping the human writer. Why do I say human? Because we are more than robots sitting in front of a computer pounding out word count. We have fears and hopes and dreams and bad habits. We are all targets of Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies.

Today, we are going to talk about character. There are a lot of people in the world with the talent to take them straight to the top, but they lack the character to stay there. I hate to admit it, but I was probably one of those people. Writing, for me, has been a journey of developing my character as much as it has been about growing in my craft.

In the not-so-distant past, I was the reigning Queen of Do It Later Land, a sad realm paved with good intentions, nestled between the Post-It Note Mountains. For years, I was better at meddling in the affairs of others than focusing on my own life. Why? I didn’t have the right perspective when it came to my own problems. I dwelled on my failures and mitigated my success. I didn’t have the proper relationship with failure. Instead of looking at my failures as learning experiences, I felt it was proof that I was a loser and nothing good would ever come my way.

I was so negative, I couldn’t take my own company, and I had no clue how I was sabotaging my own success. The more I focused on failure, the more failure came my way. My life was filled with toxic people, and why wouldn’t it be? I was gravitating to people just like me…negative, hopeless, and always living in expectation of failure. I had this horrible belief that, if I never expected anything, I could never be disappointed. Those were dark years, but I thank every day for them. Why? Because I learned to view dark times and dark people differently.

Film develops in a dark room. Character develops in dark places. So today we are going to learn some Attitude Alchemy by changing hardships from loadstones to steps in a golden staircase.

Jerks are Good for Us

I know! Hard to believe. The day I understood this principle was the day my life began to change.

All of us have areas of our character that need to improve; rough edges that, left alone, will always be rough, making it impossible for the best aspects of who we are to shine through. First, how does coal become a diamond? Pressure! Lots of pressure! Even still. Ever seen a diamond dug out of the ground? It isn’t exactly ready to be set in an engagement ring. It looks like a dirty hunk of glass. It needs to be….CUT! What cuts diamonds? Other diamonds…low grade industrial diamonds that will never be good for anything but their ability to be highly abrasive. Jerks are the low grade industrial diamonds that shape the facets of our character. We cannot shine until we are cut, and cut again, and again.

As writers, prepare to deal with a lot of jerks. When we start out, most of us are dirty, rough hunks of glass. For most of you (me included), family will be the first line of industrial diamonds. Yes, they are likely going to roll their eyes and have sarcastic comments. They may even sabotage. We can choose to feel like a victim, or we can believe they are shaping our character. Do we love writing enough to continue? Or are we being a people pleaser who will quit the second someone has something nasty to say? My family’s sarcasm made me a finisher. I had never been one of those before, and that massive flaw in my character had been a huge stumbling block barring the way to genuine success. Hah! My family thought they would stop me, but what did they really do? They polished that flaw out of my character.

When you decide to become a writer, jerks will come out of the woodwork. Join a critique group and there is a quota that every group have one jack@$$. Another layer of industrial diamonds.

BZZZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTT Owiiieeeee!!!!! No! Ouch! You’re a writer too! I thought you’d say nice things and be supportive! Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!

The first time I read my work for critique, I thought I was going to throw up in my shoes. But I was so proud of what I had written. Even though my family was no longer speaking to me, I finished a novel. It was the first thing I had ever stuck to. I brought it to critique so I could send it to an agent.

There was a published writer who took my pages and threw them in the air and said, “This is crap.” The scent of blood filled the water and the sharks circled.

I got slaughtered.

I gritted my teeth, determined they would not break me. Somehow I made it through the rest of the session then stumbled through the parking lot to my car and cried. I so wanted to run away and give up, but that was what I had always done in the past. I dried my tears and resolved to prove I could write and write well. I refined and read and studied until the pieces I brought were polished perfect. My prose became the strongest in the group.

BZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTT Aggghhhhhhhhh!!!!

Once you make it past the critique group, you will have to likely endure the agents. Most will send you a form letter and, if you are lucky, they will even spell your name correctly. It hurts. But again, this process is cutting facets so you can shine brighter. Maybe you need to read more or take more writing classes. Maybe, because of fear, you aren’t writing in a genre you really love, so your voice isn’t developing.

We can take all those “No’s” as proof we are a failure, or we can take that and use it to change… BZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTTTT OWWW NOT THAT!!!!! AGHHHHH!!!!

Even when you get published, and probably especially when you get published, there will still be jerks. They will write hateful stuff on your FB page and your blog and even send you nasty e-mails. Candace Havens (who is one of  THE most awesome people in the world) showed to a book signing in tears after someone posted a horrible, eviscerating review on Amazon. I have never seen a writer give more effort to teaching new writers than NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. Bob had a workshop participant act so badly I seriously expected Bob to start speaking in tongues. He handled it with class, but I know he was deeply hurt by a writer he was trying very hard to help.

Jerks are part of life, and they can be a new devil or can bring a new level. The choice is ours.

Jerks can test our commitment level. They can challenge our convictions or even make us angry because they speak a truth we are scared to face. Whenever something makes me angry, I stop and ask why it bothered me. Jerks can teach us how to set effective boundaries. In Kindergarten we get taught to be nice to everyone. It’s a good principle to follow, and most people are respectful. But, being nice doesn’t mean we give carte blanche to people who want to tear through and wreck our lives and be hateful and disrespectful.

Sometimes we have to set boundaries, and that isn’t always pleasant. I had to unfollow someone on FB yesterday. I NEVER have to do that. But, he was bullying me and my friends and kicking sand in their faces. He wrote hateful comments on this blog and even wrote a blog calling me all sorts of ridiculous unfair names. But, he was teaching me a lesson that I have struggled with all my life. When do we stop being polite and put our foot down? Was I going to cave in what I believe, or was I going to water down my humor so he would not be offended? I happen to believe that a sense of humor is the sign of a healthy society (and person). This individual was challenging that belief. Would I compromise?

No. I wouldn’t. And I wasn’t going to permit him to bully me or any of you.

If we want to be NY Times best-selling authors (and many of us do), it stands to reason that we will have to be effective at setting and enforcing boundaries. We will need to be disciplined and committed and believe in our work and ourselves. All those jerks along the way just BZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTTed off all the rough edges.

So the next time someone kicks sand in your face, you can get upset, or just smile and think….BBZZZZZTTTTTTT Boy are you gonna make me shine! It isn’t easy and it isn’t instinctive, but the activities that are contrary to our nature and what we want to do, generally are the best for us.

Lifting weights, eating broccoli or even giving up a movie with friends to make word count are not always the things that we want to do, but they take us a step closer to the big goal. Same with how we handle jerks. We can give in and cry and whine and go tell all our friends how we are picked on, or we can think, A new level or a new devil? I choose another level. Bring it on. The more you grind, the brighter I’ll SHINE! Give it your best!

What are your thoughts? What challenges have made you better? Share your triumphs! We love being encouraged. What have been your greatest trials? Suggestions? Recommendations?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

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43 Comments

2011 and Planning for Success in the New Year

 

It’s New Year’s Eve, and we are standing on the threshold of a shiny new year. It’s almost as good as getting new school supplies. The smell of virgin paper not yet touched by a ballpoint. A new start. No mistakes. Nothing but potential.

Okay, so if you are anything like me, your initial New Year’s Resolutions might look something like this.

  1. Lose 20 pounds by February 1st
  2. Run a marathon
  3. Go to gym 5 hours a day
  4. Win the Nobel Pulitzer by my birthday
  5. Save 85% of my income
  6. Go on vacation to Bora Bora (Note to Self: Look up actual location of Bora Bora)
  7. Clean out garage
  8. Paint house inside and out
  9. Finally have all my socks match
  10. Write 3 award-winning novels by summer

There is something about facing a new year that instills us with such hope that we lose all touch with reality (and I haven’t even started drinking yet). It’s great to set goals, but most of the time we are our own worst enemy.

Odds are, if you are a fan of this blog, you are likely a writer, an aspiring writer, or this is a condition of your parole. Regardless, all of you need to learn to set effective goals and learn habits that will keep you from sabotaging your success. Hey, I hear ya! I am the world’s worst.

But this past year, 2010, has been one of my best. I reached a lot of goals. Why? Because I learned some good lessons and applied them consistently. I hope to do even better this year. So I am going to pass these lessons on to you and hope that you will benefit as well.

1. Grant Permission to be Imperfect—Perfectionism is a noble trait taken to the extreme which can serve as an excuse for mediocrity and a mask for fear. Perfectionists tend to be self-saboteurs (I would know nothing about this *whistles innocently*).  We perfectionists nit-pick over every single detail often at the expense of the big picture. Perfection is noble, so it makes a great shield. I mean, we just don’t believe in churning out shoddy half-ass work, right? Um…maybe. Or maybe we have a fear of failure, or even a fear of success. So long as nothing is ever complete, we never have to face our demons and can happily fritter away our days perfecting our scenes and dialogue.

            Here’s the deal. No publishing house ever published half of a perfect book.

2. Give Baby Steps a Chance—All or nothing thinking, a close relative of perfectionism, can tank the best projects. It is so easy to fall into this trap of, If I can’t do X, then I do nothing at all. Baby Steps are still steps. It’s like the question, “How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.” Small steps, over time, with consistency add up. It’s sort of like working out. We can choose to show up January 2nd at 5 a.m. and work out three hours, but that is a formula to end up sore, injured and burned out.

So often when I go to the gym I am so tired I want to die. I used to be the person who went hell bent for leather, only to end up sick or injured. So two years ago I made a key change in my attitude. Now when I go to the gym I tell myself, “All I have to do is ten minutes walking on the treadmill. Ten minutes. If I still feel tired, horrible, sick, fatigued, disenchanted, etc. I can stop, go home, and climb back into bed. In two years I have only stopped twice. Usually all I need is to push past that initial wall and then I am off like a rocket.

Same with writing. Make small goals. “I will write 15 minutes.” “I will write 100 words.” Sometimes all we need is a little momentum. Can’t rev the motor if we never turn the key. A good way to get going is to use kitchen timers. Set the clock and write for 30 minutes. I use sticky notes and set my big goal, then I divide it in half. One sticky note is on the left-hand side of my monitor (starting count). I then place the half-way point in the middle, and I am not allowed a break until I make that number (even if all I write is pigeon poo). The finish line is on the right. Getting started is always the hardest part. I generally find that if I can make it to the mid-point, I am golden.

3. Establish Accountability—Earlier in the week we discussed the pros and cons of a critique group. Critique groups and partners do keep us accountable. It is easy to blow off writing when it is just us, but when we will be a let-down to others? Different story. This is one of the reasons I LOVE blogging. Blogging has done so much to change my character. I adore you guys and love helping you and hearing your comments. I feel that you have given me your trust and that I need to always put my best effort forward. The funny thing is that this change in my writing habits, has sifted into other areas of my writing. Sort of like, when you get in the habit of going to the gym, you also start noticing that you take the stairs or don’t mind parking at the back of the parking lot.

This is why writing down your goals is imperative. If nothing else, it is a cue to your subconscious that you are committed to something. You will feel a lot more conviction if you write out a goal than if you decide to let it float around your gray matter. I would even advise taking it to the next step and sharing your goals with others. I feel this is why so many writers have a hard time saying aloud, “I am a writer.” To say it means we have to own it and that people will be watching. We are going to invite a whole other level of accountability and people will notice if we are screwing off. But I say that accountability is the best way to reach your dreams faster, so bring it on!

4. Small Change Will Grow into Big Change—Good habits have a way of filtering through our lives. I have a saying, “Smaller truths reveal larger truths.” We don’t have to do mind-blowing alterations in our routines to start seeing real change in our lives. I guarantee that if you just start making your bed in the morning that other things will fall in line. Soon, you will notice that your bedroom is neater, and then the kitchen. As your house gets tidier, so does your purse and your car, and so on and so forth.

Just start with small writing goals and I guarantee that bigger better changes will follow suit.

5. Understand that Feelings LIE—Modern pop psychology loves to ask about our feeeelings all the time. Feelings are important, but they are a lousy compass to guide our actions. Why? Feelings can be affected by so many things—fatigue, diet, too much sleep, too little sleep, jerks at the office, kid toys underfoot, PMS, hormones, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, cat vomit in our house slippers, and on and on and on. If I can pass on any lesson that will change your life it is for you to understand that your feelings will almost always take the path of least resistance. If we are going to accomplish anything in life we cannot let our feelings have a vote.

I blog whether I feel like it or not. I don’t wait until I feel like writing to sit my tuchus in a chair. Feelings can be the enemy and steal your dreams. The Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies will capitalize on your feelings and do everything in their power to convince you that you will get to it later when you feel like it. Shut them down. Don’t give your feelings a vote.

The best way to shut down your feelings is to make lists of goals. I make lists every day and it keeps me focused. I can be exhausted, disenchanted, disillusioned, but it doesn’t matter. I look to the list. It’s like my earlier example of the gym. I say, “Okay, I will just do the first three.” Funny thing is that once I get started, I usually keep going. Like most things in life, overcoming that initial inertia is the hardest part. Lists keep us focused and don’t give feelings a say.

6. Make a Plan—There is a saying in sales, Fail to plan, plan to fail. A good plan will keep you focused, accountable, and give you clear benchmarks to measure success. I recommend buying NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer. He teaches how to craft a plan for a writing career. In fact, at WDWPUB, they are running a special and you can order a special bundle package of Warrior Writer along with my agent-recommended book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media AND Bob’s Novel Writer’s Toolkit that will take you from idea to finished product. These three books are the basic pillars to a successful career. I also recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. For $20 a workshop, you can learn everything about self-publishing, writing a novel, social media, and on and on…all from the comfort of your home and for less than the cost of eating out one meal.

In the end? Just Do It. Put that slogan on a Post-It notes and paper your house if you must. Put a Troll doll on your computer to remind you to be wary of Crappy Excuse Trolls in your midst. If any of you are new and don’t know the M.O. of the Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies, go here. They make 12% commission off your shattered dreams.

And remember:

  1. Grant Permission to Be Imperfect
  2. Give Baby Steps a Chance
  3. Establish Accountability
  4. Trust that Small Change will Grow into Big Change
  5. Understand that Feelings LIE
  6. Make a Plan

What are some struggles that you guys have? What are tactics you use to keep focused? What are your goals for this year? Be brave and put them in the comments. What are some goals you’ve always wanted to reach but haven’t? Why? What is your advice?

Happy writing!

See you next year!

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32 Comments

Are We Being a Responsible Novel Parent or a Deadbeat Book-Daddy?

So this is the year. You are finally going to do it. You’re going to write a…no, you are going to finish that novel. How many of you have a bazillion ideas whirling around your gray matter at all times? How many of you have at least a half a bazillion ideas started and left unfinished? They are lurking in your documents, smoking and picking on the short stories. Maybe even writing gang tags on your recycle bin. The Unfinished are a miserable lot. Their lives began with such hope and promise, but then they were abandoned without so much as a good-bye. We are their deadbeat parents, promising that this weekend we’re going to spend quality time with them. But, we don’t. Why? Most of us are skilled at making babies, but we fail big time when it comes to being good parents capable of nurturing an embryonic idea to a successful novel.

Like “parenting,” we writers need to learn certain skills and gain good habits. We aren’t magically mystically born knowing this stuff. This is why I get such a bee in my bonnet when writers won’t say with pride, “I am a writer.” No aspiring. Aspiring writers aren’t responsible parents. They are the “Deadbeat Book-Daddy” of the writing world. They hang out with their writing when it is convenient and fun, and fail to stick it through when stuff gets hard. They don’t invest time, money, and resources into nurturing their work and maturing it into something they can be proud of and brag about.

My novel graduated today. She will be published this summer. Oh, I never thought I would see that day. *sniff, sniff*

And I am not busting your chops. I have a fair amount of Unfinished lurking in my computer too. They hang out with the spam cookies and send me e-mail about my inheritance in Ghana. But, I love them. They are mine. Some will one day be able to go to reform school. Others? Yeah…..we just won’t talk about them. They drool and say Baby Ruth a lot.

No one is going to fault any of us for making bad babies in our ignorance. My blog lessons, however, are here to educate you about how to take an idea and then lay a plan to grow it into a thing of beauty.

We have spent two months talking about structure. If you are new to the blog and want to write a novel, I highly recommend you go back and read the Structure Series so you have the tools to sally forth with the rest of the class.

Part of why ideas get started then abandoned is that writers really don’t get instruction about how to do this novel-writing thing. We believe we are born to write and for some reason that we should already know what we are doing. In our pride, we take off writing, then wake up one day and realize that we have painted ourselves into a corner. This is the point where most of us will do one of two things. Some of us will just give up and wait for the Inspiration Fairy to visit us in our dreams with all the answers. Others of us (yes, I have done both) will at this point (normally 30,000 words in) whip out the Literary Bond-O putty and slather that crap on until we have a “finished” novel that is so complex we don’t even understand it. Why? Because we had to create a secret government conspiracy, an evil twin for our evil twin and a rip in the space-time continuum all to explain why our protag wasn’t where she needed to be on page 100.

Here is the blunt truth. You need to be taught your craft. We all do. People with natural musical ability don’t feel they are “cheating” if they learn how to read music or take voice coaching. And I know all your family will believe that writing is easy, because, yes, even a chimpanzee can make a sentence.

All right. Enough of that.

So, no more Deadbeat Book-Daddy, and hello Responsible Writer Parent. Today we are going to talk about ways your novel can be hijacked, despite your best intentions. Many of you, in an effort to be a Responsible Novel Parent will go out and join a critique group. Excellent…but beware. I am going to explain how traditional critique groups can hijack your dream of being a novelist. But, I will also tell you how to side-step these problems and use the critique group to its maximum advantage.

Critique Groups

This is my opinion, so take it for what it is. I’m right :D–ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Seriously. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose. When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for publication in New York.

In a good traditional critique group you will learn that POV does not mean Prisoners of Vietnam. You will learn to spot passive voice. You will hopefully learn self-discipline in that you need to attend regularly and contribute. You will forge friendships and a support network.

The problem with traditional critique groups is that they lack the ability to properly judge the quality of a novel. Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults.

Traditional critique groups can hurt you in the following ways.

Get you in a habit of over-explaining—In a traditional critique group, those sitting at the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Cassandra end up in a meat locker wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.” Well, duh, of course they are lost. They have missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Your job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections your critique group can follow.

Book-by-Committee—Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a book-by-committee, also known as Franken-novel.

False sense of security—We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many traditionally published authors has the group produced? I’m not picking on self-publishing, but self-publishing doesn’t have the same rigorous peer review. How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond our group for additional critique.

 Also make sure this group is producing successful novelists. I began Warrior Writer Boot Camp because my old group of six years produced many successful articles, short stories and NF, but they had never produced a successfully published novel. I knew I had to create a different critique format capable of critiquing a leviathan work of 100,000 words.

Some writers naturally understand structure, and so they do fine in the traditional setting. I didn’t naturally understand structure, and my novel ended up on so many bunny trails I needed a pack of plot-sniffing dogs and a GPS to find my original idea. If you are the same, then make sure you take traditional critique for what it is…critique of prose. You might need to find or start another group on your own dedicated to looking at the big picture.

Or…be creative. If you can’t go to the mountain, make the mountain come to you.

Modify the content you bring to critique. Instead of bringing the first fifteen pages of your novel, write a fifteen page synopsis based off what you did when you were plotting with the index cards (discussed last week). Every scene card had a one-sentence summary, so writing a synopsis now should be a piece of cake. Write your one-sentence log-line at the top so they can critique that too, and also so they can make sure your synopsis supports the log-line.

Let your brilliant writer friends chime in on what they think of your story as a whole. Is it contrived? Is it convoluted? Boring? Does this synopsis sound like a book they are dying to read? Can they tell who the antagonist is? Is your antagonist dumb or the stuff of greatness?

Once you have your novel as a whole critiqued, take it to the next step. The next week take Act One and write a fifteen page synopsis of what happens in Act One. Get critique. Clean it up. Then, take Act Two and Act Three and do the same. Write fifteen page synopses about what happens in each act. Then take it to the next step. Break your act into scenes and write a summary of what happens in each scene.

This way you are cleaning up your concept. You are going beyond the prose. Your fellow writers NOW can help you by brainstorming better ways to build your mousetrap. They can offer insight into how to fix the idea before you invest the next year writing a book that is doomed from day one because the original idea needed to be fortified before it could support 60-100,000 words.

Once you have solid critique on all these summaries, take off and write that novel. Now it will be way easier because you know where you are going. Also, because your writer friends helped in the planning phase, they will be better trained to see flaws once they critique your final product. They will know why Cassandra is in the meat locker wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw.

I am going to warn you. This method will test your mettle. In traditional critique, we can hide behind our pretty prose. Concept Critique means laying our baby out there bare bones, warts and all. This will show you why you are in a writing group. Is it because you really want to succeed at this writing thing? Or, are you like me? I wrote really awesome prose and I got to hear every week how wonderful I was (even though the big picture was fatally flawed). I had to check my ego at the door when I started WWBC. Now I couldn’t hide. My ideas and story took a beating…but produced a final synopsis/outline that was brilliant (mostly because of my brilliant writer peers).

Being a Responsible Novel Parent can be tough on the ego. We have to face up to our “kid’s” problems and then look for ways to fix them. This means admitting we don’t know everything and being humble enough to look for genuine outside help.  Does our “kid” have Novel ADD and go off on a zillion bunny trails? Does our “kid” have Story Autism? It’s in its own little world and not connecting with outsiders? Novel Development Issues are not a sentence for our “kid” to be one of “The Unfinished.” Concept Critique will help diagnose these developmental issues, and then give you ways to solve them so your novel can have an excellent life and be a “kid” any writer parent would be proud to claim…and brag about…a lot.

What are your biggest “Novel Parenting” issues? Problems? Concerns? What do you feel about critique groups? Are they helpful or do more harm than good? Do you guys have ideas for other ways you could re-tool a traditional critique group to be able to better see the big picture? I love hearing from you guys. 

Happy writing!

Until next time…

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books. Put that gift card you got for Christmas to good use, ;).

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