Posts Tagged Writing

Balancing Writing & Life—The World Rewards Finishers NOT Perfection

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

The world around us is always pushing this notion of “perfection” and, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder what “reality” looks like. All the models are tall and thin and young with poofy lips (and men have their own variety of the super model stereotype). They have fabulous clothes and new cars and go on expensive vacations.

Even our homes! When I look around my house that’s littered with toys, my sink full of dishes and two baskets full of laundry (even though I just DID laundry) I wonder what a real home is supposed to look like? Where do I fit? Sure NOT on Pinterest.

Granted, there are areas I KNOW I am slacking (*cough* Christmas tree is STILL standing) and let’s not talk about the state of my drawers and closets. But, I generally (when the washer ISN’T broken) wash the sheets 1-2 times a week. I make the beds. I clean the toilets all the time because Spawn is 4 and we are still working on AIM.

Pippa claims she is "helping" with laundry. Right.

Pippa claims she is “helping” with laundry. Right.

But I am nowhere near the homes in magazines or on TV, even though I live in an apron. I will never wear skinny jeans and I am unwilling to go into crushing debt to keep up with a world who portrays a “reality” that is geared to make me emotional, make me feel inferior and therefore buy stuff. Or work more, do more, more, more, more.

I live in my apron only usually no makeup and hair in a scrunch-ee

I live in my apron, but usually no makeup and hair in a scrunch-ee.

Why do I bring this up?

Because perfect is an illusion. There is no such thing. Our society has gotten into this GO BIG OR GO HOME attitude, and sure, that might be okay in one or two aspects of our lives…but ALL OF IT? I cannot look like a fitness model, write 4 novels a year, have perfect social media, make crafts with my kid, volunteer, drive a BMW and have a house that should be featured on HGTV.

Maybe you can. I can’t and won’t. Not worth it.

Thus, we need to list our priorities and it is okay to let the other stuff be less than perfect. But, in light of this argument, I also want to say this isn’t a pass to be lazy or mediocre. We should strive for that nice healthy balance. When we get out of balance, something or someone will suffer. I have to be careful I don’t get so focused on writing and business and cleaning that I forget to be a mom.

I have to take out time to run with Spawn through the house with NERF guns looking for zombies. The dishes will be there. I know. I’ve tested this hoping they’d disappear but they apparently mated and made more.

Writing

You want to be a writer? Great. Here’s the good news. If you’re writing, you’re already a writer so stop the angst. Just do it. This is one of the reasons I am such a huge fan of blogging. Writers write.

My mom can post on Facebook and The Spawn has been known to tweet, but neither of them blog….because they aren’t writers. Blogging is training for the professional pace.

Blogging is THE most stable form of social media and it trains us to be better writers. We can write leaner, meaner, faster and commit. No Writer Warden is going to show up and take us to jail if we don’t blog/write. To be professional, we have to be good at keeping and meeting self-imposed deadlines. Not only does blogging make us better writers and create a stable platform, it also trains those self-discipline muscles.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Even if you don’t blog, commit to writing something daily. Write a 100 words, then work up to 200 then 500. When I started, 1000 words was SO HARD, so I started with 100, but it was a beginning and we all start somewhere. The trick is to START.

Give Grace

I’ve read writing books and inspirational/leadership books that I wanted to punch. The last leadership book I read, the author talked about the importance of taking time to think, how he goes to his office and just sits in the quiet and thinks for an hour by himself in his special thinking chair. How cute.

I can’t even go PEE alone. 99% of the time, I have two cats and a dog fighting for attention while The Spawn hits me with a sword or begs me to help him level up on Angry Birds.

Can I JUST go to the BATHROOM….ALONE?

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.51.25 AM

Whenever I hear of an author who recommends traveling to a location for a book and staying there a month or two to absorb the experience? I think, “Sure. Uh huh.” And this isn’t to be negative, because I do have that as a goal. But, for most of us, that won’t be reality for a long time, if ever. But we still have to get the words on the page. We might have to use Google Earth, Google Images, or tweet a friend in the UK to help be our eyes and help us with setting and dialogue.

And the point of all of this is the best time to do anything is NOW. Just something. Don’t wait to be perfect. Just start. Baby steps are steps and one of the reasons I feel so many of us fail is because we buy into the lie that those tiny steps don’t count. That if we can’t GO BIG, we aren’t trying hard enough. That’s ridiculous and wrong.

Learn to SHIP

Blogging trains perfection out of us. Ship. Too many blogs falter and countless books are never finished because we’re too focused on perfection. There’s no perfect book. I could win a Pulitzer and still have people who hate my book.

Finished books are far more valuable than perfect ones.

The house? Hey, if I can keep from making an episode of Hoarders? Score! Sure, my goal is to organize a drawer a day, weekok month. But I can make my bed. My finances? My goal is to be completely debt free. I can start by not making more debt. For instance, I’m going to the Laundromat until I can save for a new washer.

My body?

I already eat clean, because I have a zillion food allergies. But, I haven’t been working out like I used to. Why? Because I was an IDIOT. I was caught up in the GO BIG OR GO HOME and gave myself such bad tendonitis that I had to lay off all exercise, other than maybe walking or yoga, for over a YEAR to fully heal.

I decided this weekend to revisit the p90X workout. I’ve done it before but I pushed too hard and injured myself. This morning, even though The Spawn was up all night and I had no sleep, I got up to my alarm and started. Did I do the whole thing perfectly? Nope. Was kind of a flabby train wreck, but I did it.

The trick to all of this is to:

  • Contemplate what is TRULY important. Might have to sacrifice the immaculate house for a finished novel.
  • Make a plan and one that is BALANCED. Somewhere between mediocrity and insanity is a nice happy place.
  • Give permission for failure. Failure teaches far more than success ever has.
  • Learn to ship.
  • Be a finisher. My mantra is “The world rewards finishers not perfection.”
  • Finish small and eventually we’ll finish big.
  • Just start. If we have a hiccup? Life blows up? Just start again. Simple.

I want all of you to reach your dreams and still have sanity, friends and a happy relationship/marriage/family. No perfectly clean house, no amount of money, no number of best-selling books can take the place of what’s really important. But, beyond that? REACH.

Ignore a world that’s out to tell you you aren’t trying hard enough and you aren’t good enough. YOU ARE. One foot in front of the other and celebrate the little things, because all the universe is constructed of tiny things ;).

The largest, brightest star is still made up of tiny atoms of Hydrogen and Helium. Every book is made up of a combination of 26 letters. Every healthy body is the cumulation of small, sound choices. Baby steps. Relish them and celebrate them.

Anyway, what are your thoughts? Where do you struggle? Are you bad about All-or-Nothing Thinking, too? Do you tend to go to extremes, either overdoing or being a tool slacker (raises hand)? What ways do you keep yourself pushing on? How do you handle setbacks?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

WANACon Winners

Rafflecopter Winners who won a REFUNDED Conference Fee

FREE WANACon Registration:

  • Kathy Wagoner
  • MJ Pullen
  • Kelley Conrad

Working on refunds today. CONGRATULATIONS!

Here are the three winners for MY Contest:

  • Grand Prize of Book/Brand Combo: Gry Ranfelt
  • Book Prize: Jacquie Biggar
  • Branding Prize: Shan Jeniah Burton

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131 Comments

The Tips to Maximize Conflict in Your Novel

Kirk

Whenever I blog about craft, I’m coming from the perspective of a long-time editor. I do understand that the creation process is vastly different from the editing process. I know this because I’ve been on both sides. But, if you want to minimize revisions and rewrites, it helps to have some basic editorial skills in your toolbox.

Since many of you might want to pursue self-publishing, you’re wise to hire an outside editor. The cleaner the text, the lower the bill. Even if you want an agent or to traditionally publish, the tighter the writing, the better the odds your work will earn positive attention.

Line-edit is important and no longer my area of expertise. I put commas everywhere and pay other editors the move them where they need to be. Typos happen even to the best of us. Right now, I’m editing my almost 100,000 word mystery-thriller and *head desk*. We all need a good editor. In the past 12 months, I’ve written well over 600,000 words. Yet, even with all this practice? I oops. You will oops. It happens.

Today, we’re going to talk about ways to up the tension and conflict. Conflict is what draws a reader in, what keeps them turning pages. When the conflict lags, so does the reader’s attention span. A good beta reader or content editor is a great ally for spotting these literary doldrums. I’m here to offer some guidance how be your own content editor before you pass your work onto another pair of eyes.

Tip #1—Perfect is Boring

Everyone has baggage and people who don’t aren’t the mettle of great fiction. Decisions are driven by life experiences good and bad (for fiction, bad experiences are more interesting). We don’t need to have a character who was beaten in foster care to have “issues.” We’ve all had our hearts broken, been betrayed, or even been around people who measure us against impossible standards.

A character can be impulsive because she came from a household that was far too structured. He can refuse to trust because his last job brought him in for a glowing quarterly review, only to fire him the next week. She can refuse to give in to love because she’s been self-sufficient so long she fears losing freedom.

Never underestimate the little things that can propel decisions (particularly bad ones). Many readers can’t relate to fifteen years of horrific sexual abuse, but they can easily relate to a parent, guardian or former love who was never pleased and withheld affection. They can connect to a character who’s deeply insecure because of being compared to a sibling.

I’m not saying we can’t have characters with nightmare backgrounds, but it isn’t mandatory. What is mandatory is that a character arc. If we begin with a fully actualized protagonist, then there is no way to grow, thus no crucible. The plot problem should be what fires away character flaws (refusing to be a team-player, unwillingness to trust, blind loyalty, etc.) and transforms a protagonist into a hero.

Tip #2—Some Personalities Naturally Clash

Every scene should have conflict. Conflict doesn’t need to be aggressive. Allies are often the best source of conflict in our arsenal. Think of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Captain Jack Sparrow isn’t the protagonist, but he creates a lot of tension because he’s utterly unpredictable. Allies never know if he’s going to sell them out to the bad guy, and often when he does, he comes to the rescue. He’s completely selfish, or is he?

If your protagonist is a paladin—embraces order and predictability, follows the rules, doesn’t like surprises—then a natural ally would be the maverick/loose cannon, the character who believes rules are “more guidelines.”

According to the Myers-Briggs, I score dead-even as an ENFP or INFP. While the MB jury is out as to whether I am an introvert or extrovert, I am off the charts on intuition. I make most of my decisions based off my gut. This gives my mom and brother—both ESTJs—a twitch. Why? We are polar opposites. I could care less about graphs, numbers and charts. My mantra?

There are lies, damn lies and statistics. ~Mark Twain

But? My mom, brother and yes, my husband, looooooove charts, Excel and bar graphs. Those closest to me process information and make decisions very differently than I do. This means, if I want them to be on the same page as I am? I have to write lists, show numbers, etc. Otherwise? We might as well be speaking two different languages. I speak the heart and they speak the head…and trust me when I say this has lead to a lot of conflict and misunderstandings.

Think Captain Kirk (all instincts) and Spock (all logic). We don’t need a ship of ticked off Klingons for all the tension. The dynamics between Kirk and Spock also propel the story and generate dramatic tension.

You're being highly illogical.

You’re being highly illogical.

If your character is a homebody? Pair her with a nomad. If he’s a rebel? Pair him with a rule-follower. You get the idea :D.

Tip #3—Nothing Worth Having Comes Easily

There is a difference between a “bad situation” and “conflict.” I recently beta read a book and part of my feedback was, “Everyone gets along too much.” Always run this simple litmus test:

“My character wants X, but then Y happens.”

It can be big stuff. Your character finds a key piece of evidence but then bad guys show and torch the place along with the proof of murder before a CSI team can get there. It can even be little stuff. Your protagonist needs to be able to unravel some problem and can’t think with noise, but one of her allies babbles like an idiot when nervous. Setbacks and roadblocks will intensify a story. Get your protagonist so close to what she wants she can taste it, then take it away.

Image via Pixar's movie "Finding Nemo"

Image via Pixar’s movie “Finding Nemo”

Also, by mixing big problems with small problems, you will be able to better control the pacing of a story. If everything is a fight scene or car chase, it not only wears out a reader, it can quickly get boring. That is actually my complaint with the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Great stories, but another sword fight? I could only watch Sparrow swinging from ropes so long before it became tedious.

Whenever I do content edit, these are some of the areas I hunt for. A victim writer might get comments like “Too perfect” “Okay, I’m asleep” “Nothing happening” “Why does everyone get along so well?” Yet, whenever you do your own revisions, these are areas you can easily fix yourself. Even I am slashing through my novel looking for the Doldrums of Nothing Happening.

Do you have personalities that just hit you like industrial sandpaper? Maybe you are highly organized, but have a sibling couldn’t find her own butt with a flashlight and Google Maps? Can you think of people you know, but there is conflict because you process information differently? Is your partner (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.) a person you like, if they didn’t drive you NUTS?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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99 Comments

Consolidation, Nooble & Agents Who CARE—What’s Ahead for 2014 in Publishing

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

I promised yesterday, I’d offer up some predictions for publishing in 2014. I don’t know if these are “predictions” or “suggestions” but I am, at heart, an eternal optimist. As I’ve said many, many times, this is a WONDERFUL time to be a writer. It’s a Golden Age of Publishing if we’re willing to embrace the new. Yes, there are challenges. I might be an optimist, but I’m not a moron (okay, that time I accidentally drove to Missouri doesn’t count).

There are new perils ahead, ones we won’t know about until we step both feet in them. In ways, writers are The Lewis and Clark Expedition Literary Edition unfolding in 0s and 1s. This part of why I implored yesterday for writers to be involved in their social media communities. This new paradigm is awesome, but predators abound.

Sadly, there will be more wanna-be publishers, more bad books, more phony reviews, more bullying, more competition, and discoverability will only get tougher…exponentially. But, the flip-side is that writers are making more money, novelists can finally make a living, moth-balled novels are seeing new life and creating new fans, and unique and creative genres are being born. Additionally, forms of writing nearly rendered extinct (poetry, novellas, etc.) have been given new life and authors have a lot more choices and control. We trade one set of problems for new advantages (and…yes…new troubles).

Like the dot-com burst of the 90s, this paradigm will eventually find its way. New gatekeepers will emerge and the market will stabilize…until the next revolution. But until that time…

First, Consolidation is King

Back in The Olden Olden Days, humans went to the butcher for meat, the baker for bread, the smithy for nails, and the tailor for clothes. Then Super Walmart was invented (okay grocery stores then supermarkets might have “paved the way” *rolls eyes*). As humans became more pressed for time, consolidation became vital for competitive edge. Now, we don’t have to trek to the liquor store for the New Year’s Eve champagne when we can simply pick it up at the supermarket with the very last fattening food we’re eating EVER….

….okay, until February.

Consolidation is everywhere. Gaming systems no longer just play games. Try ordering a movie on your 1986 Atari. Want to post on Facebook or peruse You Tube? A Nintendo 64 probably won’t do the trick. In 1990, if we said, “Wow, I need to take Christmas pictures. Let me get my phone!” Men in white coats would show up uninvited and take us away for a “vacation.”

Want to take pictures with your PHONE? Might we suggest one of these...

Want to take pictures with your PHONE? Might we suggest one of these…

Gaming consoles (XBox) now stream video, allow us to access movies, Amazon, social media, and even shop. Phones are no longer just phones. They play music, manage bank accounts, surf the web, take pictures and video, and entertain toddlers (um, Angry Birds?). We can even run a business remotely using various applications. Try that on THIS.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Robert Huffstutter.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Robert Huffstutter.

Aside from calling people and generating a seething hatred for those unfortunate souls with too many 0s in their phone numbers? THIS bad boy (above) was good for calling people and letting them call US…and maybe braining a burglar or dazing a Florida cockroach long enough to shoot it with a GUN.

These days, more and more people rely on smart phones and tablets for everything. 

Why do I mention this? Because the future of physical bookstores relies on partnering with other types of retailers. Um, consolidation?

The closest Barnes & Noble to me is in the heart of the BUSIEST FREAKING MALL in DFW, Texas. I am simply not that motivated. What if indie bookstores or Barnes & Noble took the path of Starbucks? Tuck that sucker (a mini-version) in a Target, supermarket or a Costco. I NEED food. Books? Eh, shop on-line. Stick them TOGETHER and lure me with the SHINY. I am SO THERE!

Much like I can buy wine at my local Krogers, why can’t I have a choice of more than a handful of books on one aisle? Make life easier. Gas is expensive and I don’t OWN CLONING TECHNOLOGY, BUT MY LAUNDRY DOES.

*left eye twitches*

This dovetails into my first prediction.

Prediction #1—Kiosks and Microstores Will Gain Traction

Blockbuster is dead. Alas, Red Box remains.

The trade paperback is fairly standard, so digital kiosks are a great alternative. Make the Espresso technology a lot like Red Box. A touch-screen panel to peruse recommended books then pay for either a) a download or b) a rental (limited e-book that expires—integrating the library into this business plan) or c) a printed book (with a coupon for 15% off a latte or grocery purchase over $50, of course).

A “rental”? Yup. Wouldn’t that be great for those books we were forced assigned to read in high school and college? And, if we “rent” the book, this can count towards the purchase of the book if we do want to actually keep and reread Moby Dick. Win-win.

If Best Buy will do this, why not B&N?

If Best Buy will do this, why not B&N?

Microstore? YES.

Think of the small stores in airports. I’d much rather have a small store with an educated and well-read staff to help guide what to read than to throw chance to the wind on-line. Microstores can still stock the most popular paperbacks/hardbacks/collections, but then they can guide consumers what to load on their new devices (and maybe even help) or print on the Espresso machine.

The largest consumer group is the Baby Boomers. An educated bookseller could not only guide what to read, but also demonstrate how to upload books to the new device. Maybe even load some freebies for great customer service? *wink, wink*

These booksellers can act as gatekeepers to help modern consumers avoid the digital slush pile. Indies, self-pub and traditional would be on a level playing field. Good books would be recommended by staff members who READ and who are PASSIONATE about BOOKS. Pay the book salespeople a flat commission. Who cares if they recommend James Patterson or Joe Schmoe Patterson? They sold a book and if they want customers to return and offer more commission? They’ll probably want to recommend good books.

Prediction #2—Booksellers Cultivate a Culture of Reviewers

Microstores can also encourage reviews in a way authors can’t. I’d love to offer sweet prizes for reviewing my book, but it’s just too…what’s the term? Creepy. Sure, I want reviews as much as the next author, but it’s a fine line that can get writers in ethical trouble. A microstore wouldn’t have this issue. They could actually cultivate a culture of reviewers.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Micro Indie Booksellers could offer incentives to the best reviewers who write ACTUAL reviews (no matter what book it happens to be, thus removing problem of favoritism). If people act like trolls or play sock puppet? Doesn’t count. The more the customers review, the better (educated) reviews they post? The more bonuses they receive. Booksellers can reward consumers for being active and ethical citizens of the reading culture.

This helps the microstore, the bigger retail outlet (who rents space and partners with discounts), the consumer struggling to save time and who needs guidance, and it helps authors get REAL reviews. Not this, pay us to read your stuff and say something nice nonsense. It’s a positive way to combat bullying and encourage thoughtful, genuine reviews.

Prediction #3—The Boutique Boom

We already touched on this when we discussed micro-trends, but part of why Big Publishing is hemorrhaging is because small is the new big (thanks, Seth Godin). Big Publishing makes most of its profits off the mega-trend, but mega-trends are dying. Amazon has grown exponentially because it harnesses the momentum of millions of micro-trends. Authors don’t have to reach millions of people to make a good profit/living (if one takes away the needless waste of the old paradigm). Publishers don’t either ;).

Prediction #4—Strong Indie Houses Will Replace Big Publishing

Granted, we live in a time when everyone can be an author and everyone can be a publisher, but this business is tough. It requires capital, business savvy, organization, innovation and raw tenacity. This means a lot of indie publishers won’t last, and the ones that do will add increasing value. Because these new publishers are innovative, lean, offer higher royalties, and aren’t married to massive Manhattan overhead and paper, they’ll eventually replace NY publishing (and we hope they’ll learn from The Big Six’s mistakes).

When one considers the current business trajectory? Bookstores, libraries and foreign markets are becoming increasingly friendly to indies. They have to in order to survive. Loyalty to NY only goes so far when one is facing extinction. What will NY do when indies can do everything they can and offer lower prices to consumers and higher pay for authors?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Robert Ellsworth Tyler

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Robert Ellsworth Tyler

Prediction #5—AP Reviewers Will Be Forced to Take ALL Authors Seriously or Perish

As is stands, it’s almost impossible for a self-published author to score an AP (Associated Press) review. Yet, when we’re now in a time when non-traditional authors are matching or outselling traditional authors? How long can the AP remain silent about the books people are reading? If they don’t dive in? Book bloggers will happily replace them, and maybe they should. The press was never meant to solely be a mouthpiece for conglomerates.

Prediction #6—Social Norms Will Trump Market Norms

Freebies, give-aways, contests, algorithms, coupons, are fine, but alone? Invisible. Writers must be engaged personally and create community or it’s Career Roulette. We (consumers) don’t want any more deluge of free stuff. We are drowning in FREE. We don’t want more newsletters crapping up our In-Box. We don’t want link spam.

We want connection.

The 18th-20th century world was actually a historical anomaly. The factory model, the TV-Industrial Complex, the World of Big Business and Bigger Gatekeepers is GONE. We’ve returned to our human roots. We want to laugh, talk, klatsche, and we gravitate to who we know and like. We humans are returning to our tribal roots.

Algorithms will be harder to manipulate, reviews tougher to fake, and promotions will grow increasingly invisible, especially as new emerging markets add even more competition to the din.

Prediction #7—Age of the Artist

Multimedia is the future. Books eventually have to be more than books (much like phones became more than phones). Consumers will gravitate to e-books with sound, music, images, quick reference, video, similar reading suggestions, etc. Artists working together will thrive. E-books can create communities where fans can become friends, talk, argue, and hang out.

Musicians? Make friends with writers and offer short music selections. Photographers and graphic artists? Writers need cover art and internal images. Videographers? Writers need book trailers that don’t suck. Also, short video clips can enhance the reading experience. Heck, team up and put together music videos for a book. Get creative!

We are ARTISTS. This means we cannot be automated or replaced by robots. ENJOY!

No, I am not saying paper will go away. It won’t. But when I bought an IPad for business, it was soon abducted by a two-and-a-half-year-old and I haven’t seen it since. The Spawn reads. A LOT. But he reads off the IPad, because he loves interacting.

Prediction #8—A New Breed of Reader

I mention the IPad, then quickly hear the cry of the, “But you’ll damage their BRAINS” crowd. Uh huh. Just like those record players paired with books damaged me when I was four. The interactive experience has always been there. In cave times, it was around a fire listening to a storyteller/bard. Later, book clubs, records, tapes, blah, blah, blah. Interactivity has always been there, only today, it’s been heightened to new levels.

And when I was that nerdy teen reading a paper book ALONE, what I would have given for a crowd of likeminded teens all over the world who shared my love for Dragonlance books and my passion for The Pawn of Prophesy. I love how detractors decry that technology makes people less able to socialize, because I was SO SOCIAL with my stack of paper books hiding in a corner of the lunchroom praying no one would notice me.

The new paradigm has finally accomplished what Big Publishing couldn’t. It’s made reading COOL and this trend will continue to grow.

Prediction #9—Barnes & Noble Needs a Sugar Daddy Bail-Out

Barnes & Noble has been on the downward spiral for a while. What I find funny is people feel sorry for them. Remember the 90s when they all-but-demolished the indie bookstore in Darwinian fashion? Seems like karma is coming back to bite, Blockbuster-Style. B&N is facing serious comeuppance now that the bully has met with someone capable of bloodying their nose. If they do survive, they’ll have to marry well. My bet is on two major suitors.

Suitor #1? Microsoft. And I am not alone in this assessment. Microsoft operating systems still dominate tablets, personal computers, and smart phones, so the Nook can be easily integrated into the operating systems of all Microsoft devices. Microsoft would take over the e-books and B&N would survive. Yes, Microsoft has dated dabbled, but never offered a ring.

Or perhaps, one day we will tell our grandchildren of grand two-story buildings with coffee shops inside and “business hours.”

In my day we had to get in a car and drive and find PARKING and look on actual SHELVES for a book *waves cane*.

Suitor #2? GOOGLE.

Apple’s relentless innovation has slowed since the death of Steve Jobs, and Android is taking them on. The Google-Android partnership has Apple on its toes in regards to automobile iOS systems. It’s the Siri-Google Smackdown! While Apple is fighting on that front, Microsoft could take a chunk out of iBooks with a B&N bailout (and give Amazon some competition at the same time).

Or, if we want to go for the most interesting Bailout-Marriage, why not Google Books? A SEARCH ENGINE marrying a BOOKSTORE? If Google can partner with Android, B&N isn’t exactly as wild of a partnership as it might sound. If Google-Android does win the Computerized Car Business, cars are now big into downloading entertainment. AUTOTAINMENT. Want to listen to an audio book on the commute? Want to synch your reading device while stuck in traffic or on a long road trip (not while driving, please)? Want to download a new book for the kids fighting in the back seat?

Nooble…

Um, Goo-Barnes…

Um…Boogle….

NOBLE GOOGLE is HERE!

Hmm, Noble Google. Kinda catchy :D. Though Nooble is cute.

Prediction #10—Agents Will Have to Innovate, Too

Agents. Yeah. I recall the days when conferences would pay big bucks for agents to attend…and then the agents refused to talk to authors. I can personally attest to enduring the brunt of daring to talk to those who’d come down from Mt. Olympus NYC to talk to me, a lowly mortal…writer. *shivers* They sneered that we made a typo in a query, yet couldn’t be bothered to even spell our names correctly in a rejection letter (been there). Agents tweeted lines out of queries as jokes. They laughed and mocked writers on-line worse than a den of high school Mean Girls, but now?

Wait.

Writers still have a job.

REVELATION! Agents need writers. Whouda’ thunk? Now, make no mistake, I think agents are awesome. We are wise to have a good agent. Many agents are tireless champions who should be paid better, but the old paradigm birthed a lot of prima donnas who forgot who paid their wages.

Some of the BEST people I know are agents. Laurie McLean (of Forward Literary) is not only a FABULOUS agent, but a marvelous human being and my friend. BUT, Laurie is there for WRITERS. She’s a warrior for good writers and great books, and there are many agents like her. In the new paradigm? Agents like these will thrive and they SHOULD.

Authors need allies and agents can help even the self-pubbed or indie author. Laurie is extremely forward-thinking and always has been. When I first taught social media in 2008? She was the only agent out of TEN who attended. She’s AMAZING at planning author careers. She can tell you when to self-pub (if it’s right for you/your work), then guide you to the best indie or traditional house (and deal) and then take your work as far as it can and should go.

She’s always on the lookout for the perfect path for each writer and every work (Red Sofa Literary, established by Dawn Frederick, is another fab choice). These folks do what agents should do! Agents like Laurie, Dawn and their teams will thrive and the others? Well, let’s hope they can learn and innovate ;).

What are your thoughts? Do my predictions make you happy or break out in hives? What do YOU see in the future? HOW do you do it? Because I had to drink three packs of Red Bull to see the future. What would you LIKE to see coming down the pipeline?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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124 Comments

Expectation & Desire—Cultivating Fans, Not Just “Readers”

Image via WANA Commons @ Flickr, courtesy of the talented and generous photographer Frank Selmo

Image via WANA Commons @ Flickr, courtesy of the talented and generous photographer Frank Selmo

We talked about this earlier in the week, but when I first approached agents with the idea of a social media book for authors, I was nearly stoned. All readers want is a good book, was their cry. Yes, that was true before our world inalterably shifted with The Digital Age.

In 1993, we didn’t expect an instant reply to a phone call. In 1996, we knew to just go make a cup of coffee while we waited for our dial-up Internet to load a page, because we didn’t expect for a page to appear in a fraction of a second.

In 1999, we didn’t expect our cell phones (the few who owned them) to take brilliant pictures, play music and offer us high-speed access to the Internet so we could make reservations for dinner, buy movie tickets, or do some Christmas shopping while stranded at the doctor’s office.

These days? How quickly would you change Internet providers if you could only open one screen and it took 3-5 minutes to load?

The Difference Between Expectation and Desire

Readers expect a good book. They expect proper grammar, punctuation and formatting that doesn’t look like it was performed by a sloth with a severe Valium addiction. These are basic, fundamental expectations…and they no longer impress people all that much.

Give you an example. I took my niece to a very expensive fine-dining establishment for her graduation. I saved the money to give her a treat. I’d chosen this restaurant because it was the one place Hubby and I would go to celebrate big events, like our wedding anniversaries.

Why?

Because, the first time we went there, we were greeted as if we were the most important people in the world. Instead of working middle class, we were A-Listers. A hostess guided us to a candle-lit table scattered with fresh rose petals and an artful bouquet of flowers. There was a card telling us Happy Anniversary and it was signed by all the staff who told us how grateful they were we’d chosen their establishment.

I am not a fan of seafood, but decided to give it a try. Everything they served had been swimming in an ocean 24 hours earlier and was fast-tracked to Central Texas. I never knew fish could actually taste soooo good, namely because all I’d ever been served was frozen mush that tasted like a freezer.

The waiter tended our every need. When I mentioned I had food allergies, the head chef came out to the table and worked out a special dish just for me. At the end of our meal? The staff arrived with free desserts for both of us. The chef had personally crafted one for me to accommodate all my allergies.

Now THAT is what I'm talkin' about....

Now THAT is what I’m talkin’ about….

*swoons*

Every time after, the staff of this restaurant treated us as if we were the most special people on the planet. I was a DIE-HARD FAN and we rarely eat out. When we did? This was the only choice, the ONLY place I wanted to eat. And we had to plan, not only because the place was pricey, but it was tough to get reservations if one didn’t do it far in advance.

Fast-Forward

It’s May of 2013 and I call for reservations at my all-time-favorite restaurant to celebrate my niece’s graduation (she’d won a scholarship to study abroad for the summer). I told the reservationist how important this event was. My niece has grown up in a family where Golden Corral was about as fancy as dining ever got. I wanted it to be perfect. I spent days telling my niece how amazing this place was.

We arrive and the first thing the hostess says is, “Where do you want to sit?” and points to an empty dining room. No table. Nothing prepared. Every time I asked anyone a question, the answer was, “I don’t know. I haven’t worked here that long.” The table is set with chipped bread dishes and dirty glasses. I call over one of the staff and hand her my bread plate and say, “You guys might want to throw this away.”

“Why?” *blank stare*

“Because there is a chip and I don’t want food poisoning.”

“Oh.”

When the waiter arrives, I explain in detail about my food allergies and order a dish that is simple. All they have to do is leave off the butter sauce. I tell my niece to order whatever she wants, it’s her special day. She orders the lobster, which was $90. Our food arrives and guess whose food is swimming in butter?

We had to sit and wait twenty minutes while the food was remade. No visit from the chef. No apologies from the manager.

In short, I was fuming by the end of the night (and mortified). $220 for a meal, and the service would have been better at Mexican Inn for $30.

See, when we first went to this restaurant, we expected clean glasses, plates that weren’t chipped, servers who could answer simple questions (or make an effort to find the answer), who could take basic instructions. We expected excellent food. That alone? We would have been happy. But the original restaurant gave us more than expectations, they gave us our DESIRES. 

Meet expectations? We create customers. Meet DESIRES? We create a cult following.

We desired to feel special. We desired above and beyond…and they gave us what we desired. THAT was what made me willing to save for two months to go to THAT dining establishment.

How Does This Apply to Books?

Readers expect good stories, just like we expected clean glasses. But what do our readers desire? The same thing we desired at the restaurant—to feel special, to connect, to have someone focus on us for a change.

This is why social media is such a game-changer. When we blog, we serve others. We have books to write. We don’t have to blog, but we’re going the extra mile to inform, connect, engage and entertain. Readers are expecting to be spammed by authors, yet they desire to know them and connect with them. 

All you need is love....

All you need is love….

The writer who automates pre-programmed tweets and never talks to anyone, is like that restaurant who thought they could keep business by simply having a fancy menu and doing the bare minimum (and not all that well). I would venture to say the empty dining room should have been my first warning to RUN! 

When we give others (readers or potential readers) what they desire, this is when we differentiate. There are scads of other social media experts who have books. Go to their Twitter and it takes a half a second to realize it is all pre-programmed, self-serving fluff. This is why if you see me on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else on social media? It is ME.

I don’t want to eat spam, so why would others? Yet, by looking inside, I know what I desire—meaning, connection, fun, engagement, recognition, and to feel someone cares. That is what I desire and I’m not any different than most of you or even the people who might buy my books (or even yours).

By serving people more than what they expect and, instead, seeking to give them what they desire, THAT is how die-hard, lifelong fans are made. A good book is what people expect, but search inside and ask, “What do readers desire? And what ways can I give that to them?”

I love hearing from you!

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

I hope you will check out my newest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World on Amazon or even Barnes and Noble.

Also, here is a list of WANA International classes and Christmas specials.

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85 Comments

WANA–A Nursery for Stars

Image via Flickr Commons and contributed by The Smithsonian.

Image via Flickr Commons and contributed by The Smithsonian.

Yesterday, a minister commented on my post and said something that made me really think, “Sometimes even the ministers need ministering.” My purpose with my blogs and teachings have always been to serve writers holistically. We are humans with dreams, wants, needs, crises, and people depending on us. Writers need more than a craft class, Facebook lessons or a better way to write a query letter.

Often, when we decide to become writers, those closest to us can become our biggest dream-stealers. I know when I left sales to become a writer, it was ugly. I might as well have told my family that I was moving to New Mexico to worship aliens who’d whisk me away on a comet if I wore a gray track suit and Nikes.

The aliens never showed up, btw. Total…flakes. *rolls eyes*

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 4.54.49 PM

People have often made the joke about the Church of WANA, yet in ways, it is. I’ve made it my mission for the past five years to serve writers as human beings. I educate about craft, and all of my social media teachings are centered around love, service and focusing on building community. I offer no fancy tools or algorithmic alchemy, just a simple formula. Love each other. Be who you are. Be storytellers. Be there.

That’s it.

I wanted writers to know they weren’t alone. Much of our job is grueling, solitary and even mocked. If we aren’t J.K. Rowling, we aren’t “real” writers and our “job” is viewed as a silly hobby (as if J.K. Rowling began as a mega-author *grumbles*). It can be very easy to give up if one is alone…which is WHY I created WANA (which stands for We Are Not Alone).

When I began my journey to become an author, I was very lonely. Had it not been for my mom, I know I would have given up. She allowed me to live with her on the condition I worked and did everything I could to reach my dream. We had many close to us tell her that she was “enabling me” and that no thirty-year-old should be living at home with Mom.

Image Courtesy of Jenny Kaczorowski WANA Commons

Image Courtesy of Jenny Kaczorowski WANA Commons

I needed to stop being a fool and a leech go get a “real job.” One of our church elders informed me I had a better chance of being hit with lightning than becoming a published author and that I needed to be an adult and pursue a “real” career (He was a stockbroker, and we no longer attend that church).

Anyway, after what he said to me, I fell apart and polished the resume. I contacted my former boss to see if he would give me a recommendation, that I was giving up writing and going to find something in sales.

He refused. He’d read my writing and told me he would not support me giving up on my dream.

TWO people. Two people made the difference.

Thus, years later when I discovered blogging and social media, I wanted to pay that precious gift forward. I knew what it was like trudging through craft books that were garbage or outdated. It was a nightmare trying to find solid guidance on craft. I also knew social media would be a game-changer, that it would be the key to empowering authors.

In 2007, I witnessed literary agents being downright cruel to new authors. Some even refused to accept pitches or openly mocked query letters as if the poor writer who’d written it wasn’t human. I received rejection letters with my name misspelled or even the wrong title of the book. So I was supposed to do every little last detail perfectly but it was OKAY to not even offer the human decency to spell MY name properly?

Right.

I vowed I would change this. Writers didn’t deserve to be the least and the last. Baby writers needed guidance and nurturing and YES…even protection. We needed a family when we couldn’t rely on our own. We needed support—professionally, spiritually and emotionally.

Then came WANA.

I wish it was wholly my idea, but it coalesced from a small group of people who started to care for one another. I took note and began building on that. Writers didn’t have to go this hard road alone. We are here. Need a beta reader? Are you sick and need a guest blog? Need advice for cover design? Need a good template for how to write a synopsis?

Need a friend because it’s two in the morning and you’re sitting with a loved one in the hospital? Suffered a loss? Feel like giving up? Doubting your dream? Questioning your sanity for even daring to try?

Just speak out in the darkness and a WANA will answer.

We won’t let you quit.

WANAs at Huntington Beach...

WANAs at Huntington Beach…

We have been there to help writers on deadlines and offer guest posts. One writer was broad-sided by a truck. She expected her platform to be gone when she finally got home. Nope. WANAs were there. WANA has supported the birth of babies and even been there to cheer on the brave ones fighting cancer, yet still writing.

Susie Lindau, the bravest WANA of all...

Susie Lindau, the bravest WANA of all…

It’s funny how I’ve spent so long being there for the WANAs, yet the tables so recently turned. I wanted to give in and give up. I was absolutely wrecked. I’d fallen and couldn’t get up…until countless digital hands reached from around the world to hold me, to prop me up and let me know that I was NOT ALONE.

So I thank you. I’m on my way back and you guys are the light that guides me. Thank you for ministering the minister :D. I love what I do. I love to believe there are baby writers who are now full-grown authors because WANA was there protecting them, loving them, nurturing them, and supporting them. I love the people WANA has brought together, because I might never have been so blessed to know you any other way.

WANA isn’t just some hashtag to blast promotions or a gimmicky group to cross-promote. It’s a nebula; a light in the dark…a nursery for stars ;).

Thank you for shining so bright.

What are your thoughts? Has writing been lonely? Have you had a WANA there to help you up? Have you been discouraged, overwhelmed? Do you struggle with family or friends who make fun of your dream? Meet us on Twitter at #MyWANA and we can chat and offer you a digital hug.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Also, for all your author brand and social media needs, I hope you will check out my new best-selling book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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70 Comments

How Many Licks, um Books, Does It Take to Get to the Top of the Best-Seller List?

The Dork Side

Image courtesy of The Dork Side

Most of us, especially when we’re new, want our first short story to be a major contest winner or our first novel to be a runaway success. That’s natural. Of course, this is not reality for us mere mortals.

Just like most of us never picked up a violin and magically busted out a flawless rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee, most of us won’t sit down and write a work that hits the New York Times best-seller list the first go round (or that sells a bazillion copies on Amazon, if you’re an indie).

Yeah, I was bummed, too.

Writing, like most other things, follows the Law of 10,000 Hours (Read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more). 10,000 hours of dedicated practice/work/study/training seems to be the magic number that separates the successful professional from everyone else.

Whether it is gymnastics, ballet, playing the ukelele, or writing, practice is key if we want to become masters of our pursuit.

*shock face* :O

This is why we need to write as often as possible, and it’s HUGE reason I am a proponent of writers learning to blog. Blogging can help accelerate the path to mastery, and has an added benefit of helping build a lasting author platform that can help drive sales.

History demonstrates time and again that it takes roughly 10,000 hours (or a million words, depending on who we listen to) to reach the status of true artist and masters of our craft.

Additionally, most authors write at least three books before they start seeing success, which is part of why successful novelists like Bob Mayer, Joe Konrath, and John Locke are constantly telling writers to do less tweeting and more writing. They’re correct. Write, write, write. Great to have a social platform, but we need books to sell or the platform is merely a monument to our Facebook skills.

Guess how long it takes to write three novels?

About 10,000 hours.

Three books minimum.

Thus, all you indie/self-pub authors who put your first book up for sale and you haven’t sold enough copies to buy tacos? Keep writing. 10,000 hours. 3 books. Traditional authors? Three books. Rare is the exception.

The more we write, the better we get (ideally). If the first novel is “eh” keep writing. To paraphrase some Monty Python:

I wrote a book! …and it sank into the swamp.

So, I wrote another book! It, too, sank into the swamp.

So, I wrote another book! …. And it caught fire, fell over…and sank into the swamp.

But the fourth book, THE FOURTH BOOK STOOD.

Happy writing! And follow The Dork Side on Facebook if you want to laugh regularly.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? How much practice do you do daily? How much did you write before you started actually thinking your writing was any good…and other people didn’t run away bleeding from the ears?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

ANNOUNCEMENT: My Antagonist Class is in four days. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off when you sign up. Packages range from $49-$249. Need help with your book? Stuck? Getting rejected? Want a plan for NaNoWriMo? Have a drawer full of half-finished books you have no idea how to fix? An idea for a story you can’t figure out how to plot. A plot you can’t repair no matter how many revisions? Struggling with a series?

I can help :D. And the cool thing, is once you’ve been through my process, you can plot and fix any book ;).

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–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

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

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57 Comments

The Single Best Way to Sell a Lot of Books

Via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

There are a lot of ways to try and sell books. One way? Non-stop Twitter book spam, “Buy my book! Buy! Buy! Buy! #writer #books #ineedmoney #indie #selfpub.” Just make sure you set it to automate to EVERY writer hashtag and to repeat every fifteen minutes. People LOVE THAT.

We can advertise fifty times an hour and never have to bother actually talking to people on Twitter. Hey, our time is valuable, whereas others? They have plenty of time to be on Twitter, so why not give them a GREAT BOOK?

Then there are of course, form-letters on Facebook. “Dear Valued Person, I noticed you like puppies. My book has puppies, please buy now!”

We can also rufie invite people to FB fan clubs for our book against their will.

Me: When did I become a member of The Raven’s Chest Hair Fan Club? *scratches head* *leaves group*.

Then there’s always Goodreads Begging: “Hi, I’ve never even said hello to you and don’t know you from a hole in the ground, but my book is the best thing since Scratch-and-Sniff stickers, yet strangely not selling. I’m sure together we can make my book NUMBER ONE!”

Or not…

In my new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World I actually spend a lot of time explaining why advertising and marketing doesn’t sell books in the new paradigm (or any other, for that matter) and what changes to make for any advertising or marketing to be more effective. Yet, ads, banners, book trailers aside, people want to read a great book.

This means our best way of selling books is…

You ready for this? *drum roll*

Writing great books.

Price is no longer as big of a determining factor as it used to be. A couple years ago, John Locke started the .99 bandwagon and many authors jumped on. At first readers were excited, until they realized the slush pile had just been dumped onto their Kindles and Nooks.

This is good news and bad news. Bad news? Being cheap isn’t the game-changer it used to be. Good news? People are gravitating to higher priced books, because there is a presumption of higher quality. This means good books can make more money. Yay!

***Btw, I said higher priced not stupid priced. Traditional publishing has taken many a hit for this. Strange fact. Consumers won’t pay the same price for an e-book as a glossy hardback. Wow, who would have imagined that?

Yet, just because potential readers are gravitating to higher priced books, doesn’t mean an automatic purchase. It means our customer’s time is *gasp* valuable. Yes, they are browsing the slightly more expensive books…to whittle down which books they will invest time in reading sample pages. We have to earn the sale.

Our sample pages, which are the beginning of the book, are our most priceless selling tool.

I know most of you’ve heard agents and editors usually give a book one to three pages, before continuing or chunking into the circular file. You might be thinking one to three pages? But, my story really gets going on page 21.

No.

I’ve run the first-twenty-pages-contest on this blog for about three years. Most of the samples I get? I don’t need 20 pages. I need one. I already know all the writer’s bad habits and level of education and skill (or lack thereof). It’s simply shocking how many of the same problems plague the beginning of most first-time novels.

And it’s easy to think this is all very unfair, but think of your own experiences browsing a bookstore. Aside from cover and interesting title and story description, what do we do? We open the book and scan the first couple of pages. If those first pages stink, we don’t give the writer twenty of fifty or a hundred pages to sell us.

Unless you wrote Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but he was dead.

So when you are dead, I suppose people give more gratis, because I cannot count the number of times people have said, “Well, yes GWTDT bored the paint off the walls, but after the first hundred pages, it’s awesome!”

I…am not that motivated. I gave the book more than it’s due (because the writer was dead) and gave it 20. Next! I’m aging here.

So if you are reading this blog and you’re dead? You get more leeway. Also, what’s it like on the Other Side? Feel free to leave a description in the comments :D.

For the rest of us who remain among the living? One to five pages.

I can tell 99% of what’s wrong in a book by page five, and so can agents and editors (and readers, though they might not know what is wrong, only they aren’t hooked).

It’s sort of like going to a doctor. He/She can tell from the sphygmomanometer (been DYING to use that word) which is a blood-pressure cuff, a look at skin pallor and basic symptoms to tell if a patient has a bum ticker. No need to crack open the patient’s chest and stare right at the sickly beating heart.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Most new writers (especially) have what Candy Haven’s calls a fish-head. What do we do with fish-heads? We cut them off and throw them away, unless you are my family, who are scavengers Scandinavians and then they make soup *shivers*. This actually explains the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo mystery.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of David Pursehouse

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of David Pursehouse

The writer was dead and Swedish. Apparently Swedish readers looove fish-head-story-soup and somehow convinced others to give it a try. Not saying these are bad books, btw. Clearly, they have a huge fan base and rave reviews. I’m just I am not patient enough to get to the good stuff (and neither are a lot of other people).

Most new novels need to lose the first hundred pages. But that’s just something I’ve gleaned from experience. Yet, who cares about the first hundred if we can’t care about the first five? Often, the problems in the next 95 pages can be fixed by knowing what went sideways with the first five. Seriously.

Sample pages are…samples. If we go to Sam’s or Costco, how many will stop for a sample of egg rolls, pizza, or Acai juice? How many will stop to sample the Fish Head Surprise?

My point, exactly.

For a fantastic resource about this, I highly recommend Les Edgerton’s Hooked. Also, August 21st, I am running a Your First Five Pages webinar. Bronze is $40 and Gold is $55 (I look at your first five pages) and use WANA15 for 15% off. The webinar is recorded in case you can’t make the time and a PDF with notes will be sent to you following the class.

What makes you stop reading a book? How long do you give books? Are you patient enough to wait a hundred pages for it to get interesting? What do you find the hardest about writing the beginning of the book? Have you lopped off your own fish heads?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

Winner of 20 Page Edit for July is EDWARD OWEN. Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com.

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149 Comments

Crested Butte, The ASSASSIN-WICH and I Made It Out ALIVE!

View from my room...

View from my room…

Last weekend I taught at the Crested Butte Writing Conference in Colorado. Amazing conference with fantastic presenters (highly recommend) and though it was memorable and magical…I thought it would KILL me.

It Didn’t Begin Well…

I am NOT a fan of early morning flights. Even though I had everything packed and ready to go, I wake up WHEN?

3:00 a.m.

…and CANNOT get back to sleep.

So I get up, do some work and have plenty of time to get to the airport. I figure, “Eh *waves hand* I’m not presenting today, so I will just go to bed early.”

I finally get to Gunnison, Colorado, my ride picks me and the other presenters up. She’s already scouted out a restaurant that had gluten-free and dairy-free food. YAY, ME!

The Assassin-wich

Whenever I go to different regions, I make it a point to try what’s local. I ordered the Trout BLT with the GF bun. I made it a point to dramatically tell my waiter how horrifically allergic I am to dairy and gluten.

“Oh, yes, yes, I checked. The coleslaw is fine for you to eat.”

It wasn’t.

The Assassin-wich

The Assassin-wich

Soon after lunch I felt like hell, but assumed it had more to do with being up since three that morning and traveling all day than anything else. Maybe it was because I was such a high altitude and it was altitude sickness.

Helping is Hurting

Soon after lunch, we go to the Ladies’ Room and the editor from Harper Collins picks the stall with no toilet paper. After I made her listen to my pitch….

KIDDING!

No, I grab some paper and bend down to hand it to her and WHAM! There was a stupid, weird, makes-no-sense extension of the counter and I whacked my forehead HARD.

Yes, I am klutzy, but give me a break, I was sleep-deprived, at high altitude, and had just been poisoned (though at this point I didn’t know it). Wasn’t on my game.

So, by dinner time I am feeling pretty bad, but I washed my face, redid my makeup and went down. The only thing gluten and dairy-free is the steamed zucchini. Yay. Well, beggars can’t be choosers. I talked and had people laughing and once it was over?

I crawled back to my condo and held to my promise and go to be early. 10:30 (that’s early for a conference)…

….only to awaken at midnight violently ill.

Zucchini of DOOM

I was sick all…night…long. I knew it! That zucchini had butter. Never trust a squishy veggie!

It’s Never Been So Hard to Put On Makeup

I was shaking so badly from being sick for (by that time) 7 hours and sleep deprived that I’m a little surprised my makeup didn’t turn out more like this…

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Blah Blah Photos Blah

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Blah Blah Photos Blah

So 8:00 a.m., I walk down the mountain (in dress shoes), carrying my computer bag. At breakfast, I wolf down some bacon because it was the only thing I could trust. I start chugging water, because I am dehydrated and…?

STILL sick.

I keep having to chat and smile and then sweetly and politely excuse myself so I can run to the closest bathroom…and thank GOD I carried makeup and a toothbrush. I attend every session I can because 1) I want to support other speakers, 2) I am eager to learn and 3) there was NO WAY I was going to make it UP the mountain to my room without, um, dying.

I tell one of the Crested Butte writers that I’ve had terrible Zucchini Poisoning, but that I will be fine. Just triple-check the future meals, please. They feel terribly guilty, but I assure them that Hey, I have food allergies and it happens.

In the meantime, I go to the hotel store and buy two large bottles of Gatorade and a packet of electrolytes and vitamins that are supposed to help with altitude sickness), and it only cost me a mere $17. Hotels *rolls eyes*

I chug all of it because it is now 11 a.m. and….I am STILL getting sick. I present in 2 hours.

Bonding with teen writers, LOL....

Bonding with teen writers to take my mind off…wanting to DIE.

Safe Zone

I excuse myself early because I am sure the Zucchini of Doom is what poisoned me. So, I go back to that restaurant from the previous day, because “they were careful and knew how important it was to not contaminate food.”

I go to order the same thing, but the waitress stops me. “The coleslaw has dairy, and so does that dressing for your salad.”

O…M…G.

I get sick if something with dairy brushes like zephyr near my food. I ate a half a cup of coleslaw and a half a dairy-infested salad.

How was I still ALIVE?

Sarah makes sure I get a meal I can eat without dying and I tip her 40%. Then I ask to speak to the manager and politely explain that dead patrons make lousy return customers. Then I excuse myself…

Because, yes, I am STILL SICK. By this point? 12 hours.

Um, We Thought You Weren’t Coming

So I put on my game face and head to the main lunch. I’m not eating but I can still be there to do my job. I have a table with my name and people who want to talk to me…and it’s full.

We thought you weren’t coming. They said you were sick.

I found it funny that it was my designated table and I was the only one without a seat. But they scooch me in and soon I have everyone talking and laughing. Outside Kristen is funny and helpful. Inside Kristen wants to use the 10% off the ski-lift coupon so she can throw herself off the top of Crested Butte.

The Crested Butte writers felt better because I told them it was the restaurant and not the Zucchini of Doom that poisoned me. That seemed to make them relax. I can see how trying to kill your speakers could look bad.

Game, ON!

I was blessed that an hour before I presented I stopped getting sick. With GF, dairy-free food in my stomach and enough Gatorade to supply a lacrosse team, I was good to go and gave it my best. I presented for a little over an hour and no one would have known I was sick.

SCORE! *fist pump*

The Reward

I struggle back up the mountain to my condo. I needed time to rest and regroup. That evening, I was rewarded for my diligence. I had THE BEST GF, Diary-Free Pizza ON THE PLANET at a place called, The Secret Stash. It was so good, I bought another one to bring back to the condo with me. $60 worth of pizza, I didn’t care. I needed safe food.

Angels sing!

Angels sing!

The French Tried to Kill Me, but FAILED

Of course, the next night we go to a French food restaurant. I go through all the Please, please please NO gluten or dairy and I get THIS…

pork

Ah, but I am smarter now. I spot the deadly mashed potatoes lurking beneath my pork loin.

SHE SCORES AGAIN!

The rest of the conference went great, even though I was seriously puny and had knot on my head (this explains so much, right?). I am a bit sad I got so sick because I was too weak to do any of the hiking or fun stuff we had coupons for. But, I did get to help and serve a lot of writers and that’s what I love most anyway.

The Lesson

Why do I tell this story? First of all because it’s kind of tragic-funny. I am a person who honors my commitments to the point of lunacy, but…

Mostly I want you guys to know I pale in comparison to what other writers are willing to do for their craft. I’ve known writers who kept writing even though they were facing a double-mastectomy or going through chemo. One writer kept writing even as she cared for her husband who was undergoing chemo for brain cancer.

I’m friends with a big name author who kept writing even after three deaths in one year (two were this writers’ parents). Life will still be here. We get sick, we face hardship but we need to press on and, more importantly? LAUGH. Keep a sense of humor. Everything passes, but the writing will remain and often the thing we love (writing) can help us get through tough times. If I didn’t LOVE serving writers so much, I NEVER could have maintained my game face.

EVER.

So what about you guys? Do you have food allergies and faced down the Assassin-wich? Did you learn to press on even when life threw you a hardball…in the FACE?

I love hearing from you!

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 once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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98 Comments

Self-Discipline. Ok. What Now? Can We Buy Some on E-Bay?

Don't make me toss you in my well....

Don’t make me toss you in my well….


Yesterday, we talked a bit about self-discipline. It’s one of my favorite topics namely because it took me so long to get it figured out. Also, we live in a culture of quick-fixes and fad diets. We idolize the rare few who “rocket” to fame. In Robert Greene’s FABULOUS book Mastery he even mentions how our society’s almost developed a general disdain for plain and simple hard work. We’re a culture of day-traders, not investors. Thus, in a world of instant, it can be really easy to get discouraged when the *POOF* *Glitter* *Ahhhhhh* magic doesn’t happen.

Success is mostly elbow-grease, and most of us can’t afford to hire Buffalo Bill to toss us in a well and hose us when we don’t make word count. We have to be self-directed, self-motivated and self-disciplined. That isn’t natural. It goes against our natures, so we have to develop this area if we want to succeed at anything.

How?

We Must Be Wise How We Train

Self-discipline is in us, we just have to strengthen it. It’s a muscle of character. Don’t start Day One trying to have the discipline of a Shaolin Monk. That is a formula to fail. Start with small steps. It’s one of the reasons that I believe blogging is wonderful for new writers in particular. Blogs are great for training self-discipline muscles, for showing up no matter how we feel or what craziness is going on.

Craziness will always be present. It’s called life. If we wait until everything calms down before we can write? We will be writing from the afterlife.

*chains rattle because I'm typing*

Publishing Purgatory—they let you go when you finish the novel.

We Must Be Mindful To Progress

Make sure your goals get progressively more difficult as time goes on. Start with small goals and progress from there. Small successes inspire us to try harder, bigger, better tasks. Too many writers start out with some stupid word count goal that is destined to fail long-term:

I am going to write 5000 words a day.

What happens is they burn out and hate their writing (been there, done that got the T-shirt). Start with 250 words (one page) six days a week and go from there. If 250 was way too easy (like curling a 1 pound weight) then adjust until it is slightly beyond comfortable. Once that word count becomes easy, increase by 15%….just like weightlifting.

Learn to Fail Forward

Failing Forward by John Maxwell is one of my favorite books. Successful people are successful because they have a healthy relationship with failure. They view it as a learning experience, reevaluate and then try again, and again and again, each time modifying the approach. Persistence is more than not giving up.

There is a fine line between persistent and stupid.

If my goal is to drive from DFW to California, but I’m on I-35 North and refuse to give up and change highways, I’m not persistent, I’m a moron…who will end up in Canada or even the North Pole.

How many writers keep shopping the same manuscript that’s been rejected time and time again? They refuse to dig in and do the tough revisions or move on to a new book and in the end it kills their success. The first book is often a learning curve.

Use it. Learn from it. Fail forward.

Set a time-limit. If your first book has taken the last four years of your life and you’re still not finished? Shelve it. Move on. Learn. Write more books. Likely, you’ll improve with the next books and can go back and fix what was missing from the first one.

Failures must be stepping stones, not tombstones.

Many writers hang on to the first manuscript because they fear failure. It isn’t failing, it’s learning. It took me five years to let go of my first novel (the one banned by the Hague Convention as torture). I felt if I started a new novel, then I was a failure. A quitter. No, the first book is often our training wheels. Let go and skin some knees and elbows. Yeah, it hurts, but pain is a great teacher.

Successful people quit stuff all the time. It’s knowing what and when to quit that makes the difference.

Action First

People have a mistaken understanding of how life works. Most of us believe the feeling comes first, then the action and then the change. Heck, I did.

WRONG.

Action is always first. Act first, then the feelings will change and finally the results change.

Feelings are a horrible guide. Feelings can be affected by diet, weather, activity level, the news, traffic, PMS, kids, cat puke in our slippers. Feelings are a terrible compass. Are they important? Sure. The bumper on my car is important, too, but it makes a lousy navigational system.

Just remember, “Amateurs wait for inspiration. The rest of us get up and go to work.” ~Stephen King.

What are your thoughts? Where do you struggle? Are you afraid of failure? What do you do to maintain your discipline?

I love hearing from you!

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 once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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69 Comments

Writing is Best When We Get Out of Our Own Way

Image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

One of the benefits of attending the same conferences year after year is I get to see which writers are published and which aren’t. Which writers finished the book, and which ones haven’t. It’s staggering how many authors I know who have been working on the same manuscript for two, three, five or even ten years. As NYTBSA Bob Mayer likes to say, “They are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

I confess, I was once guilty of this behavior, too. I would absolutely edit my WIPs to DEATH, and this behavior made it impossible to finish. Thankfully, blogging and writing non-fiction has helped tremendously with my fiction. I have learned to overcome perfectionism and ship.

Just Tell the D@&% Story

I recently finished a novel, but I will confess that, as I wrote, it was sooooo tempting to go back and edit, correct, perfect every sentence. This time? I didn’t. Every time I was tempted to go back, re-plot, adjust the story, revise, I just said to myself, “Kristen, just tell the d@&% story.”

This is why the simple act of knowing what your story problem is and where it will end is VITAL.

My story problem?

A former Dallas socialite is blackballed after her con-man fiance vanishes with a half a billion dollars in stolen money, leaving her as the FBI’s favorite suspect. Homeless and broke, she’s forced to move in with her crazy trailer trash family, where she soon discovers that solving her mother’s fifteen-year-old murder is the only way to uncover a massive criminal network before they kill her and everyone she loves.

This means my mind has a checklist of everything that needs solving regarding plot. Likely, the book will end with 1) solving the murder 2) exposing the criminal network and 3) finding the missing fiance and the stolen money.

Knowing how your character needs to change is also VITAL.

Character-wise, there is also a mental checklist. I know who my protagonist is in the beginning and where she needs to be by the end. This helps tremendously because, as I wrote, my protagonist would say or do certain things and my mind would inject, “Uh uh. She isn’t that evolved yet.” Or “Um, she needs to have grown up a little bit by now.”

Simply knowing those two elements: What is the problem that must be solved by the end? How does my protagonist have to change in order to earn the title “hero”? These two critical pieces can help you get out of your own way. I learned this cool stuff from Bob, by the way, so take his classes if you can or go to his retreat. Will change your life.

Learning to R-TUTE (Yes, you can giggle)

RESIST THE URGE TO EDIT. This can also stand for RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN.

I recall, as I was writing my latest book, my hands seemed to take on a life of their own. I would add in an unplanned character or an unforeseen (seemingly meaningless) detail. Not too long ago, I would have backspaced over these moments of serendipity, convinced they were stupid because “they weren’t part of the outline.”

Yet, by the time I reached the end of my novel, I was blown away at how those “unplanned” details and players had coalesced into a multi-layered story I’m unsure I could’ve consciously plotted.

Your subconscious is your best friend. Premature editing can uproot the unconscious seeds of brilliance. Premature editing can kill momentum.

RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN! You DO NOT NEED TO EXPLAIN. Really.

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED. Metachlorians RUINED The Force. Same with your characters. Don’t go “back in time” to tell us why Such-and-Such is a brooding emotional mess. We don’t want to be your protagonist’s shrink, we want to partner with her on an adventure and watch her overcome her flaws in amazing ways.

Do you like hanging out with people who can do nothing but talk about their bad childhood? I don’t. Why would we want to hang out with characters (novels) who drag us to mandatory family therapy? We DON’T.

The Benefits of Writing FAST

We Learn by DOING.

We can read books about playing guitar for years and still have no clue how to play the guitar. The best way to learn how to write full-length novels is to write full-length novels. No one (but you and probably every friend and family member) expects your first book to be perfect. Get over it.

When I first played clarinet, it sounded like someone was water-boarding a goose. Practice made the difference. Practicing FULL songs, from Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to finally (four years later) The Marriage of Figaro. But I didn’t play The Marriage of Figaro the first week I picked up my instrument. Same with novels. Keep writing and write to the end.

We Are Professionals

This is one of the reasons I do recommend blogging. We need to write every day. If we want to do this thing for real, then we have to take on the role of a professional. This means showing up a minimum of five days a week. What other job would let us show up when we feel inspired and not fire us? Who can take us seriously if we work when we feel like it?

Writing FAST Helps Keep Us Out of Our Own Way

When we write fast, we don’t have time to over-think and edit the life out of our story. Move forward. Press on. Especially new writers. You need the practice. More experienced authors can languish a bit more because they earned it. Eric Clapton can spend hours perfecting a certain riff, but he already passed the Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Test. 

Keep pressing and practicing. Every book makes you a better writer! Eventually you will be executing the literary equivalent of The Marriage of Figaro and can leave Mary Had a Little Lamb behind :D.

For those who are curious about what The Marriage of Figaro sounds like on clarinet:

What do you think? Are you editing your WIP to death? How to you resist the urge to edit? Does it involve duct tape and twisty ties? Are you struggling with finishing? Or, are you finishing books, but don’t feel you are improving enough?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of May, 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 once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of May I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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93 Comments

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