Archive for category Writing

From Newbie to Master—Understanding the Writer’s Journey

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

The mark of a pro is they make whatever we want to do look easy. From running a business to playing guitar to wicked cool Kung Fu moves, masters rarely seem to even break a sweat. Same with authors. With the pros? The story flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless and effortless.

Just check out Ronda Rousey’s 14 second record-breaking WIN from this past weekend for an idea of JUST how EASY pros make things look…

Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three acts (stages) in this career if we stick it through.

Act One—The Neophyte

This is when we are brand new. We’ve never read a craft book and the words flow. We never run out of words to put on a page because we are like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up “music.” We aren’t held back or hindered by any structure or rules and we have amazing energy and passion.

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Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training. We also finally understand why so many famous authors drank…a lot.

Act Two—The Apprentice

The Apprentice Phase comes next. This is where we might read craft books, take classes, go to conferences and listen to lectures. During the early parts of this phase, books likely will no longer be fun. Neither will movies. In fact, most of your family will likely ban you from “Movie Night.” Everything now becomes part of our training. We no longer look at stories the same way.

The apprentice phase is tough, and for many of us, it takes the all the fun out of writing. The apprentice phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest, but filled with the most growth and change. It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.

I’ve studied other forms of martial arts, but I am relatively new to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Right now I am in the span of SUUUUUCK. When I started as a neophyte, I “seemed” to do better because I just muscled my way around on the ground and being naturally strong? It worked…against an equally green opponent.

Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….

Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….

But it also wore me out and gave me more than a fair share of injuries. I had to learn technique. Technique looks awesome when Coach does it. It looks easy on theYouTube videos.

When I do it? Eh…not pretty and NOT easy.

Right now, I’m losing most of…ok, all of my rounds, which is tough on the ego but easier on the joints. I’m focusing more on “rules”, finesse and drilling the basics because I know that in time? It will pay off. Right now is NOT the time for me to try and be “creative.” There is also NO substitute for time on the mat.

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Same with writing. Many shy away from craft books because they fear “rules” will ruin their creativity. Truth? They will, but only for a little while ;) .

Eventually we realize that rules were made to be broken. BUT, the difference between the artist and the hack is that the artist knows the rules and thus HOW to break them and WHY and WHEN. We start to see rules as tools.

As we move through The Apprentice Phase and we train ourselves to execute all these moves together—POV, structure, conflict, tension, setting, description, dialogue, plot arc, character arc—it eventually becomes easier. In fact, a good sign we are at the latter part of the apprentice phase is when the rules become so ingrained we rarely think about them.

We just fight write.

We’ve read so much fiction, watched (and studied) so many movies, read so many craft books, heard so many lectures, and practiced so much writing that all the “rules” are now becoming instinct and, by feel, we are starting to know where and how to bend, break or ignore them.

Like anything, there is NO substitute for DOING. Watching Ronda Rousey videos is a good idea for understanding ground-fighting, but it can’t take the place of mat time. Reading, taking classes, studying cannot replace writing crap until we don’t write crap.

At the end of the apprentice phase, writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the fighter who instinctively knows to arm bar an opponent without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.

The trick is sticking it through the apprentice phase long enough to engrain the fundamentals into the subconscious.

Master

This is where we all want to be. In fact, we all want this on Day One, but sadly, I believe this Day One Master is reserved for only a handful of literary savants. Mastery is when we return to that childlike beginning. We write with abandon and joy and, since the elements of fiction are now part of our DNA, our literary marrow, what we produce isn’t the off-key clanging of a neophyte, it’s actually a real story worth reading. Granted, it isn’t all kittens and rainbows. Masters have a lot of pressure to be perpetual geniuses.

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Portrait by Yosuf Karsh via Wikimedia Creative Commons

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Neophyte (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).

We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

The key to doing well in this business is to:

1. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.

2. Understand We All Have an Apprentice Phase—We will all be Early, Intermediate, then Advanced Apprentices. How quickly we move through these will be dictated by dedication, hard work and, to a degree, natural talent.

3. No One Begins as a Master and Few Remain Permanent Masters—Every NYTBSA was once a newbie, too. When we understand this career has a process, it’s easier to lighten up and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to not know everything. Many writers get discouraged and give up too soon because they don’t understand there is a process, and they believe they should be “Masters” right away.

Hey, I did.

We need to give ourselves permission to grow. If we love and respect our craft, we will always be learning, so we will continue to dip back into “Apprentice” to refine our art even further.

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged? Write with the abandon of the Neophyte then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master ;) .

I love hearing from you!

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

The winner for February is Monica Karel. Congratulations! Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen @ wana intl dot com. 

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

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70 Comments

Going Pro—Earning Rhino Skin & Learning Which Opinions Matter

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I heard somewhere that, statistically speaking, 10% of people will simply not like us, no matter what we do or how much we try. Whenever we decide to do something remarkable or even just different, this is when we’re most likely to encounter push-back.

Also, if we enjoy any measure of success or achievement, expect to be knifed. This is reality. We cannot control others, only ourselves and how we respond and what we choose to internalize. As writers, we’ll experience this with friends, family and even strangers.

Ah, strangers…

If I met someone and told them I was an HR manager, most people likely wouldn’t reply, “No I meant, what is your real job?”

I wouldn’t have to give a resume of all my accomplishments and proof I made money as an HR manager or even a roster of how many people I had in my charge. Yet, no one seems to find this type of behavior rude to do to creative professionals.

Sometimes it’s more than a little hard not to take it personally. But roll with it. Will save wrinkles ;) .

Yet, I will say this kind of disrespect can derail us when we’re new, so we must learn to IGNORE IT. Maybe others won’t tell you this, but I will. I believe in you. You’re not Schrodinger’s Writer. You exist.

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Write words? You are a writer NOT an “aspiring writer.” Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to do this job. Feel free to be a pre-published writer, but leave aspiring to the amateurs where it belongs.

Doctors begin as pre-med and lawyers start out as pre-law. They aren’t aspiring doctors and aspiring lawyers so I recommend deleting that word from your lexicon. Ignore these toxic “opinions.”

Also? Blog any amount of time and someone will call you an idiot. I guarantee it. They will have all kinds of Monday Morning Quarterback opinions, but they often hide behind cutesy monikers and avatars and don’t have the stones to have their OWN blog.

Why? Because being critical is way easier than doing.

There are all kinds of theories as to why humans act or react the way they do, but truth is? I don’t really care. Bluntness is my superpower. I don’t care and most times? You shouldn’t either.

I feel there are some things we’ve been taught in the past twenty or thirty years that’s just plain bunk. If we believe these “truths”? Just save up for therapy.

Every Opinion is Valid

Meme from Facebook

Nope. Sorry. Not all opinions are valid. Yes, people have a right to an opinion, but they also have a right to be wrong. Learning to separate out junk and ignore it is going to help you (and me) maintain peace when criticism comes our way. Discernment is critical.

My mom and I often talk about how stories we gravitated to as children are very telling about our character weaknesses/struggles.

My favorite was Old Man Wicket’s Donkey. The poor old man sets out with his grandson, a donkey and a load of grain. Everyone they encounter on the road has an opinion and Wicket tries to accommodate.

You terrible man. How can you let the boy walk when there is a donkey he could ride?

You dreadful, selfish man. How can you load that poor donkey with all that grain and a boy? The boy can walk!

And on and on and by the end of the story, they are all in the river, the grain lost, and the donkey drowns. By trying to please everyone, Wicket lost everything. He (and the poor donkey) paid the consequences for the decision, not every stranger with an opinion. For them? Opinions are free.

Sometimes, we just have to draw a line and if people don’t like our decision? They can get over it.

Understand sometimes others might not have enough information, the wrong information, sun spots frying their critical thinking. Who knows? Who cares? They might even have kind or noble intentions. But we’re the ones left with a dead donkey for listening to too many voices.

Every Opinion has Authority

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Again? Nope. Some people are not only wrong, but they don’t have a say. I know we live in this touchy-feely world where we’re all friends and peers but that’s a ticket to Crazyville. One of the reasons I quit running a free on-line novel workshop is I spent too much time defending my lessons and critiques against newbies.

I had people who begged and pleaded and got on waiting lists to be in my class…just to argue with me non-freaking-stop in front of others. They’d been in the writing world all of a minute when I’d spent ten years in the field. It was exhausting for me and demoralizing for others in the class.

Looking back? I shouldn’t have indulged this behavior.

I never mind questions. I LOVE teaching the whys behind my methods and new people often think of things I don’t. I learn from everyone. I believe most professionals are open and even excited to share more details.

But that’s wholly different than some neophyte being disrespectful, challenging a professional’s competency in front of others, and refusing to listen and take instructions because we’re all pals. I’ve experienced this poor behavior on the blog, in the workplace, writing groups, family, and even martial arts.

Nothing like a white belt standing there and correcting an upper belt. Le sigh. Most of my injuries in martial arts came from White Belt Know-It-Alls who believed they could correct/ignore me in Jiu-Jitsu (because they once took Tae Kwon Do for a month).

Um, no. And I was the one with the torn rotator cuff, not the noob who didn’t want to listen to how to do a throw properly.

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I learned eventually to stop this early with a boundary. If someone is reckless in the dojo and won’t listen? I won’t work/spar with them.

As a current two-stripe white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I know my place. If I have a question or don’t understand something, I respect Coach’s instruction and don’t argue because, “I watched a YouTube video that said…”

No.

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Thing is, some people just don’t get a vote and they shouldn’t get one. There are places even MY opinions are better kept to myself.

One of my greatest vexations in the business/writing world has been dealing with people who go to just anyone for an opinion. This erodes confidence and creates confusion.

If I write romance, it is unwise to get a middle-aged male who likes techno-thrillers to beta read. He isn’t my market. If he doesn’t like it? Fine. But don’t go rewrite the book because one person made a constipated face. This person’s opinion shouldn’t have the same authority as a respected beta reader who’s a middle-aged female and huge fan of love stories.

I had family members who felt the need to give an opinion about me leaving sales and becoming a writer. People who hadn’t talked to me five times since childhood. Really? Just…really O_o .

Okay, when we’re finished talking about my career path, we’re going to have a little chat about your relationship record and child-rearing.

Or not.

Know WHO You Are

My favorite quote is, “Tigers do not lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.” People have opinions. A lot feel the need to share them. Go team! But we don’t have to listen and take these opinions to heart. We can consider the source.

Sometimes criticism or critique is valid, but it can also be manipulation and gas-lighting with a bow. A big red flag is when others don’t address a specific behavior, they’re content to condemn you (or me) as a person. When I was in my 20s and even 30s I used to play these Reindeer Games.

No mas.

Well, people don’t like you because you talk too much.

So I’d be quiet.

Well, people don’t like you because you don’t talk enough. They think you’re a snob.

Oh-kay.

Well, you really just need to watch your topics of conversation. You’re offending people.

Apparently not enough for them to come to me in person. Which people? Which topics?

Well, I don’t want to say. Just be careful what you talk about.

I’m gonna go back to the “not talking” thing.

People don’t like you.

Why? What am I doing? What can I change?

Well, just try harder so others will like you. 

Okay.

People don’t like you because you just try too hard.

I give up.

The mark of a secure person is we don’t need to be surrounded by yes-men and drones. But just because we are open to opinions, doesn’t mean they all should get equal weight.

When it comes to doing this writing thing, we cannot listen to everyone. When we do, we end up with a Book-by-Committee, Blog-by-Committee, Career-by-Committee, etc. And, last time I checked, committees are generally known for just mucking things up.

Sometimes life calls for a benevolent dictatorship ;) .

Yes, you likely will fail. If we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting. I fail. I fail a lot because I try a lot of new things others are too chicken to attempt. Own it. Be proud of it. Show me someone who’s never failed and I’ll show you someone who never did anything remarkable.

Rhino skin is earned by trials and we won’t last long in the world without it.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Guard your dreams and your heart. Be fierce. Set boundaries. Let go of the toxic stuff to make room for the good stuff, the stuff with merit.

What are your thoughts? Have you encountered this nonsense in the writing world or even maybe the workplace? Do you have family, friends or even strangers who’ve crossed a line? Do you find it hard to ignore wrong or bad opinions? Have you dealt with opinions that corroded your confidence and made you second-guess?

Do you have a litmus test for what opinions and ideas are worth time and mental energy? Have you felt torn apart by conflicting advice? Maybe even dealt with the “no one likes you” maneuver?

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

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

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87 Comments

Three NEVERS of Social Media for Writers

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These three professional blunders can hang on like the smell of dead fish and stink up our author career, so avoid them at all cost. I understand that many of you who follow this blog are new, so if you’ve made one of these mistakes, you’re learning. We all oops (especially in the beginning), so don’t sweat it. Yet, I see these three behaviors far more often than I’d like.

You’ve been warned ;).

NEVER Be Nasty in a Blog Comment

I am fully aware that my blog can’t make everyone happy. I work my tail off to entertain and enlighten but I know I can’t be all things to all people. If I’m not your cup of tea? Just click the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the e-mail WordPress sends you or e-mail me and I will happily assist you leaving (and cry later *sniffles*).

There is no need for this:

Ohhhh-kay.

Ohhhh-kay.

The irony was 1) I didn’t even write this particular post. It was a guest post and an excellent one at that 2) It wasn’t negative at all. It just wasn’t coated in glitter and fluff. Professionals don’t have a lot of time and shouldn’t need to be handled with kid gloves and 3) Was it really necessary? I’s written over 600 posts at the time, and one wasn’t her cup of tea? So we just carpet bomb?

I once wrote a humor post about my many failed attempts to join the military. It was a humor post. It was posted for Memorial Day and to honor those willing to sacrifice for the very freedom this person liberally uses…

Yes, this counts as a troll...

Yes, this counts as a troll…

Oh, and a warning. Trolls will bait you with the, “You will censor my right to free speech” to get you to approve a nasty comment. But they forget we actually don’t have universal 1st Amendment Rights or we’d be able to yell “FIRE!” in a movie theater or stand and scream profanities and threats in the middle of an Applebee’s without being arrested. Don’t fall for it. Your TRASH function is there for reason.

Also, blogs count as a benevolent dictatorship.

And my personal favorite?

Um...OUCH.

Um…OUCH.

See, the thing is, if you want to tell a blogger she has the brain of a retarded chimp, that she’s a loser-poseur fake, don’t do it in the blog comments (or at all, for that matter). AGAIN, the comment is there forever, complete with the commenter’s name and face.

Oh, and it’s spelled “expertise” by the way ;) .

Most of the time, when I get nasty comments like these I just send them to the trash. They aren’t heathy for the comment community and everyone has a bad day, which is why I didn’t include the gravatars or names of these nice people. But, remember, not all bloggers will be nice.

I have the right to be wrong and y’all have the right to un-sunbcribe, never buy one of my books and tell all your friends that oatmeal is smarter than I am. I get that I can’t please everyone, but there is a way to disagree and remain polite, respectful and professional. There’s no need for ad hominem attacks.

If someone writes a blog you don’t like? Fine. But keep in mind that this person worked hard and for free to offer you something of value. All they ask in return is for some common human decency.

People have long memories regarding those who are needlessly cruel. And sure, a blogger might be a new, unpublished nobody. Doesn’t mean he or she’ll remain that way. We never know who we might need one day, and burning bridges is a bad long-term plan.

If you do goof and hurt a blogger, just e-mail them and apologize or apologize in the comments. A lot of bloggers (I’d like to believe) are reasonable. Own the mistake and ask for gratis.

Never Be Nasty on Twitter

Twitter is a wonderful tool, namely because it can help us go viral. Yet, that’s precisely why we must handle it with care. It can go VIRAL. A random woman on Twitter tweeted a nasty remark about rapper Ice-T’s wife and millions of fans pounced.

This woman had to delete her account and practically go into witness protection. I am certain she didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but it shows that tweets should be handled with care.

Sure, we can delete tweets, but often by the time we realize we need to delete one…it’s already too late. Twitter goes quickly, so it can get out of hand quickly.

Never Write Bad Book Reviews

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

This doesn’t apply to book bloggers and book reviewers. That’s your job and we love that you give us guidance on what to read. But, as authors? I believe in what Candace Havens calls Writer Karma.

If I can’t give a book a great review? I just don’t review it. Again, publishing is a small world and we all need each other. The world is already out to throw us under a bus. We need each other to keep from turning into cutters.

***And yes, I KNOW “experts” tell writers to blog book reviews, but that’s a BIG, HUGE, MASSIVE no-no in my book. First because writing reviews is a HUGE time-suck. Average of twelve hours to read a book then time to craft a review. Even if you posted once a week, that is 36-40 HOURS per month we could have spent on the novel. Second, book reviews will never go viral, EVER. And thirdly? Reviewing books muddies and undermines the author brand.

If a writer really bungled and you just cannot remain quiet? Send him or her an e-mail outlining the problems and maybe suggestions how to do better with the next book. This way correction is private and we aren’t publicly and permanently humiliating a peer.

Some writers might not respond well, but I know I’ve gotten e-mails that actually were really helpful. Readers who spotted typos or formatting errors that could be corrected. The idiot stuff? I just ignore, but I do appreciate that it was handled privately.

If you goofed on this and now feel badly, remove the review. In the future, focus on reviewing what you love.

Our BRAND is AUTHOR, not “book reviewer.” My opinion is we can’t do both.

Book reviewers have to be forthright to be taken seriously. This means some books will get shredded. This can undermine how our fellow writers feel about working with us as authors.

“Hey, I publicly shredded your first novel with a two-star but thoughtful review. I have a new book coming out. Can I guest post on your blog?”

“SURE! Just as soon as you send me a lock of your hair to complete that voodoo doll I crafted in your likeness.”

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Juha-Matti Herrala.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Juha-Matti Herrala.

I have a post that delves deeper into this conflict of interests HERE. Remember, we can be Siskel & Ebert or Steven Spielberg. Tough trick to be both.

We Are Human

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

I’d love to tell you I’ve never made a mistake, that I am the shining example to all, but I’ve had bad days too. I’ve screwed up and had to apologize. Just own it and say you’re sorry.

We all need grace, let’s just try not to make a habit of needing it too often. We’re wise to remember there’s a human on the other side of that screen. The digital world is wonderful, but it takes work (and sometimes holding our tongue fingertips) to keep it a positive experience.

Have you ever had someone shred you publicly on your blog? On social media? How did you handle it? Did you cry? I used to. Have toughened up. Do you delete the comment or leave it up so everyone will know they’re a jerk and steer clear? When you see comments on a blog that are rude and in bad taste, what do you do? Do you make note of the name? Defend the blogger?

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

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

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133 Comments

Creating Dimensional Characters—The Blind Spot

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Last time, we talked about how to deepen characters and how EVERYBODY LIES (thank you Dr. House). Lies are critical for great fiction. To become excellent writers, we need to become great secret-keepers. Denial is more than a river in Africa ;) .

I’d started a series on this a few months ago and Shingles got in the way of the next posts I had planned. But, the first of the intended series was about THE WOUND.  Check it out if you have a bit of time.

Most of us don’t go around lying because we are pathological liars. We lie because of our wounds. And, if you read the post, wounds don’t have to be big to be BIG.

Newer writers sometimes think we have to have a rape or death for it to be “enough” but never underestimate “smaller” wounds. They are far more common, very damaging, and readers have a lot likelier time empathizing and thus connecting.

Though I had my fair share of big wounds in life, strangely enough, the small ones did just as much damage and maybe even more. It was the jokes about me being ugly or fat from family members or schoolmates. It was being teased that my clothes were from Kmart (had a single mom).

It was playing sports, competing in martial arts, or being first chair in clarinet and playing a key solo…yet every kid had a parent/family member in the audience but me.

These wounds drove me to being more of a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, and insecure about my body and looks. One can only be called “Thunder Thighs” so many times. To this day, I refuse to wear shorts even though, when people made these comments, I was 11% body fat. I just happen to be built for strength and “willowy” is an adjective that will never describe me.

Me at 5'3", 165 pounds and a Size 10.

Me at 5’3″, 165 pounds and a Size 10.

Yet, though the wounds did their fair share of damage, they also created a person who learned to be self-sufficient VERY early….which is a mixed bag. Also, I learned to ignore other people’s opinions. This helped A LOT when I was blogging about how social media would change the world and had others calling me a lunatic.

But, I can also say there are times I maybe should have been better at listening to counsel and opinions. Learning to discern when to listen and when to ignore is still a struggle for me…because of the WOUNDS.

Beyond “The Wound”

Today, we’re going to explore an extension of the WOUND. The BLIND SPOT. There are no perfect personalities. All great character traits possess a blind spot. The loyal person is a wonderful friend, but can be naive and taken advantage of.

The take-charge Alpha leader can make a team successful, but also inadvertently tromp over feelings or even fail to realize that others have great ideas, too. Maybe even BETTER ideas.

Often the antagonist (Big Boss Troublemaker) is a mirror of the protagonist, especially in the beginning of the story. In the first book of the series I am currently writing, Romi (my protagonist) is LOYAL. She believes everyone has some good and the world will reward you if you simply are good and work hard.

How she ends up in trouble and the number one suspect in an Enron-like scam is that she trusted the wrong people and they let her take the fall for the scheme.

Romi is VERY Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde."

Romi is VERY Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.”

To arc and be able to beat the antagonist and solve the core story problem—Find money and clear her name—she’s going to have to grow up. Her bright-eyed naiveté is an asset. Others (ALLIES) gravitate to her because she is such a Pollyanna. They are there to buttress her weaknesses and even mentor her growth.

Yet, by story’s end, she cannot be the same. She’s going to have to be more realistic and see truth about people in order to come out alive.

Conversely, the antagonist is betting that the original blind spot used to make Romi the sucker will remain. The antagonist is banking that she will refuse the call and thus not grow. The antagonist’s blind spot is pride and opportunism. Being able to manipulate.

Yet as Romi grows, she learns to see who people truly ARE, not what she simply wants to see and that is a large reason the antagonist fails.

Application

To use an example from a movie we have likely all seen. In Top Gun, what makes Maverick the best pilot is his complete lack of fear. He has the cajones to do what other pilots wouldn’t ever consider.

He’s driven by his wound, the lie about his father. This has made him one of the best pilots (trying to overcome his tainted history and impress a ghost) but he’s missed the lesson on how to be part of a team.

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Yes, maybe breaking all the rules makes you “the best”, but it can get others killed. It isn’t all about HIM.

This is why when I refer to “the antagonist” I prefer my made-up term Big Boss Troublemaker. The antagonist isn’t always “bad.” The antagonist is simply the person responsible for creating the core story problem.

Iceman isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t evil with a plan to take over the world or infiltrate the Top Gun school as a sleeper terrorist.

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He’s simply a by-the-book fighter pilot who believes Maverick shouldn’t be there. He loathes Maverick because he thinks he’s a danger to himself and others (and, frankly, he has a very valid point).

The plot provides the crucible. Maverick butts heads with Iceman over and over in a um, man-part-measuring contest. But what happens when Maverick loses Goose? Crisis.

A hard event (PLOT) has now forced Maverick to face the truth about himself. For the first time, he SEES the blind spot Iceman and others have been pointing out (which has been the core source of conflict). This loss forces him to go searching for answers deeper than buzzing the tower.

He finally recognizes others might actually have a point.

The beauty of this movie and why it’s remained so timeless (aside from hot guys in Navy dress) is it’s a movie exploring people. Real, broken, hurting people blind to who they really are. By story’s end? Everybody arcs.

Maverick learns there are other people in the sky besides HIM and that he is part of a TEAM. Iceman lightens up and recognizes that Maverick, too, has a point. Sometimes one just has to toss out the rulebook.

Thus, when creating characters in any story, to deepen them, we need to KNOW them. What DRIVES THEM? How would they react according to their past, their wounds and their blind spot?

As a writing exercise, take a scenario. Maybe an attempted mugging. How would different characters react?

For instance, when I was in college, I taught Jui-Jitsu during the day and sold papers in the evening. One dark winter night a drunk tried to mug me in a dark apartment complex and take my hard case briefcase.

Because of MY background, growing up powerless and determined to be in CONTROL, I’d taken years of martial arts. Also, when I was eight, I witnessed my 6’8″ male family member raise his hand to hit my mom while she was cooking….and she beat his ass out the front door wielding a mad hot cast iron skillet.

This left a mark (though likely more on said family member).

Thus, 12 years later when a MUCH larger drunk came up behind and tried to mug ME, he got beaten heartily with a briefcase and then chased until I lost him.

But why did I fight, not just hand over the briefcase?

I’d always been POOR. I was very poor in college and had worked long hours to buy a really nice briefcase in hopes of landing a better job than selling and delivering papers. There was no money in the case. I could have handed it over but because of MY wounds, the briefcase was more than a briefcase.

Clearly my BLIND SPOT is I have an alligator mouth and a pekinese @$$. I could have lost and ended up hurt or dead.

But what about a person with a different background? A different wound? A different blind spot?

What if the person mugged was a trust fund baby who could easily buy another briefcase? Or a person who’d been beaten badly in formative years and would do anything to avoid experiencing that pain? What if the person was elderly? There are a lot of variables that make a VERY rich palette to create characters with LIFE.

Think of your own life and personality? What is your greatest strength? How does it create your greatest weakness? What is YOUR blind spot. Play a little armchair psychiatrist and what you find might be really interesting ;) . Feel free to share about you or even your favorite characters you’ve read or even written.

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

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

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41 Comments

How to Create Multi-Dimensional Characters—Everybody Lies

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Image via the award-winning show “House.”

Back in the Spring we started talking about ways to create multi-dimensional characters. Then I probably saw something shiny and, in case you are wondering? NO, I can’t catch the red dot. But I don’t give up easily :D .

It’s tempting for us to create “perfect” protagonists and “pure evil” antagonists, but that’s the stuff of cartoons, not great fiction. Every strength has an array of corresponding weaknesses, and when we understand these soft spots, generating conflict becomes easier. Understanding character arc becomes simpler. Plotting will fall into place with far less effort.

All stories are character-driven. Plot merely serves to change characters from a lowly protagonist into a hero….kicking and screaming along the way. Plot provides the crucible. 

One element that is critical to understand is this:

Everyone has Secrets

To quote Dr. Gregory House, Everybody lies.

All good stories hinge on secrets.

I have bodies under my porch.

Okay, not all secrets in our fiction need to be THIS huge.

Secret #1—“Real” Self Versus “Authentic” Self

We all have a face we show to the world, what we want others to see. If this weren’t true then my author picture would have me wearing a Gears of War T-shirt, yoga pants and a scrunchee, not a beautifully lighted photograph taken by a pro.

We all have faces we show to certain people, roles we play. We are one person in the workplace, another with family, another with friends and another with strangers. This isn’t us being deceptive in a bad way, it’s self-protection and it’s us upholding societal norms. This is why when Grandma starts discussing her bathroom routine, we cringe and yell, “Grandma! TMI! STOP!”

No one wants to be trapped in a long line at a grocery store with the total stranger telling us about her nasty divorce. Yet, if we had a sibling who was suffering, we’d be wounded if she didn’t tell us her marriage was falling apart.

Yet, people keep secrets. Some more than others.

In fact, if we look at The Joy Luck Club the entire book hinges on the fact that the mothers are trying to break the curses of the past by merely changing geography. Yet, as their daughters grow into women, they see the faces of the same demons wreaking havoc in their daughters’ lives…even though they are thousands of miles away from the past (China).

How could she just LEAVE those babies?

How could she just LEAVE those babies?
Image via IMDB “The Joy Luck Club”

The mothers have to reveal their sins, but this will cost them the “perfect version of themselves” they’ve sold the world and their daughters (and frankly, themselves).

The daughters look at their mothers as being different from them. Their mothers are perfect, put-together, and guiltless. It’s this misperception that keeps a wall between them. This wall can only come down if the external facades (the secrets) are exposed.

Secret #2—False Face

Characters who seem strong, can, in fact, be scared half to death. Characters who seem to be so caring, can in fact be acting out of guilt, not genuine concern for others. We all have those fatal weaknesses, and most of us don’t volunteer these blemishes to the world.

In fact, we might not even be aware of them. It’s why shrinks are plentiful and paid well.

The woman whose house looks perfect can be hiding a month’s worth of laundry behind the Martha Stewart shower curtains. Go to her house and watch her squirm if you want to hang your coat in her front closet. She wants others to think she has her act together, but if anyone opens that coat closet door, the pile of junk will fall out…and her skeletons will be on public display.

Anyone walking toward her closets or asking to take a shower makes her uncomfortable because this threatens her false face.

Watch any episode of House and most of the team’s investigations are hindered because patients don’t want to reveal they are not ill and really want attention, or use drugs, are bulimic, had an affair, are growing marijuana in their attics, etc.

Secret #3—False Guilt

Characters can be driven to right a wrong they aren’t even responsible for. In Winter’s Bone Ree Dolly is driven to find her father before the bail bondsman takes the family land and renders all of them homeless.

Ree is old enough to join the Army and walk away from the nightmare, but she doesn’t. She feels a need to take care of the family and right a wrong she didn’t commit. She has to dig in and dismantle the family secrets (the crime ring entrenched in her bloodline) to uncover the real secret—What happened to her father?

She has to keep the family secret (otherwise she could just go to the cops) to uncover the greater, and more important secret. She keeps the secret partly out of self-preservation, but also out of guilt and shame.

Seeking the truth is painful...

Seeking the truth is painful…
Image via “Winter’s Bone”

I’m working on a fiction series and nearly finished with Book Two of three. But in Book One, my protagonist takes the fall for a massive Enron-like scam. She had nothing to do with the theft of a half a billion dollars and the countless people defrauded into destitution. Yet, she feels false guilt. She feels responsible even though she isn’t.

This directs her actions. It makes her fail to trust who she should because she’s been had before. When she uncovers a horrific and embarrassing truth about someone she trusts and loves, she withholds the information (out of shame for the other person) and it nearly gets her killed.

This embarrassing secret is the key to unlocking the truth, yet she hides it because of shame. Shame for the other person and shame that this information reveals her deepest weakness…she is naive and has been (yet again) fooled.

Be a GOOD Secret-Keeper

This is one of the reasons I HATE superfluous flashbacks. Yes, we can use flashbacks. They are a literary device, but like the prologue, they get botched more often than not.

Oh, but people want to know WHY my character is this way or does thus-and-such. 

Here’s the thing, The Spawn wants cookie sprinkles for breakfast. Just because he WANTS something, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for him. Don’t tell us WHY. Reveal pieces slowly, but once secrets are out? Tension dissipates. Tension is key to maintaining story momentum. We WANT to know WHY, but it might not be good for us.

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED.

Everybody LIES

They can be small lies, “No, I wasn’t crying. Allergies.” They can be BIG lies, “I have no idea what happened to your father. I was playing poker with Jeb.” Fiction is one of the few places that LIES ARE GOOD. LIES ARE GOLD.

Fiction is like dating. If we tell our date our entire life story on Date #1? Mystery lost and good luck with Date #2.

When it comes to your characters, make them lie. Make them hide who they are. They need to slowly reveal the true self, and they will do everything to defend who they believe they are. Remember the inciting incident creates a personal extinction. The protagonist will want to return to the old way, even though it isn’t good for them.

Resist the urge to explain. 

Feel free to write it out for you…but then HIDE that baby from the reader. BE A SECRET-KEEPER. Secrets rock. Secrets make FABULOUS fiction.

What are your thoughts? Questions? What are some great works of fiction that show a myriad of lies from small to catastrophic? Could you possibly be ruining your story tension by explaining too much?

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

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

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58 Comments

Social Media is a Waste of Time for Writers—Hmmm, Think Again

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We’ve been talking a lot about social media lately and I am always grateful for your comments and thoughts. This kind of feedback not only helps me improve my blog, but my also books, because I get a glimpse of your worries, weaknesses, fears, loves, and strengths.

As a teacher/mentor/expert, it’s my job to address those fears and put you at ease or reinforce when you’re headed the right direction and give you tools and tips to take what you’re doing to another level.

There’ve been some comments that have piqued my attention lately. Namely this notion to give up on social media completely to write more books (out of vexation for the medium and the task).

Oh-kay….

Social Media is a TOTAL Waste of Time

Write more books instead of tweeting or blogging. Social media is a giant time-suck better spent writing great books.

I don’t know how to answer this besides, Er? *screeching breaks* Personally, I can think of no larger waste of time than researching and reading and spending countless hours crafting a wonderful book of 60,000-110,000 words and then?

No one knows the book exists so few people ever read it, enjoy it or are changed by the author’s story.

It’s like spending six months to a year on an oil painting to hang it in an attic.

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These days, any agent worth their salt will not sign an author who doesn’t have a social media brand and presence. Rarely, they will take a book from an author who doesn’t…but usually it will come with the requirement the author get on-line and get to work.

I ADORE Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary and once shared a panel with her. She told the story of a book she LOVED and took even though the author wasn’t on social media. She was so impressed with the book she signed the author but told her she needed to get on social media and start building a platform.

After six months, the author refused. Dawn gave an ultimatum. Get your tail on social media or we drop the book and cancel the contract.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Myth-Busting

It used to be that an author who wanted to completely avoid social media went traditional. Well, traditional publishing has now seen the value of social media and almost all of them require it. They require it even if they allot budgeting for marketing. Why? Because social media helps them gain a FAR greater ROI on the marketing dollars spent.

How?

I’ll give an example. I once read a traditionally published craft book that changed my life. At the time, my platform had grown fairly large and I’ve worked very hard to create a solid reputation for recommending only the best resources. I tried to contact the author not only to promote the book, but to get this author to present our conference (which sells A LOT of books).

The web site was an outdated clumsy mess and the contact e-mail at the bottom was no longer any good. The author wasn’t on FB or Twitter and I think I finally located this writer—of all places—on LinkedIn. Four months later the author replied, but by then the window of opportunity had closed.

I was…vexed.

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Additionally, since I’d had such a bear of a time connecting to the author, I wasn’t going to recommend this tedious experience to others.

Publishers have since recognized this problem and they want to remove as much friction from a potential sale as possible. Their goal is not only to sell a book but to captivate and cultivate a FAN who will buy that book, the next and the next. This is simply smart business.

Though I’m not a huge fan of ads, it makes sense that if a publisher (traditional or indie) is going to pay good money to create and launch one, that anyone interested should be able to easily connect with the author. Same with coveted AP reviews, interviews, or events. Even if we self-publish and pay for promotion, an existing platform will make the most of that investment.

A LOT of any sales is the follow up then the follow-through.

If social media is new, scary, overwhelming? Welcome to being NEW. Most of us start like this…

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Social Media is for the CONSUMER

I come from a background in sales. Cardboard. Not glamourous but everyone uses it. Being the cheapest or mailing out flyers or calling non-stop was not what sold my product over other choices.

And trust me, we had BEAUTIFUL ads. I also had competition offering a far cheaper product. They also had products virtually IDENTICAL to ours. But ads and price and even selection weren’t the major driving factor in sales.

Rather, it was the customer’s ability to quickly and easily connect with ME.

Maybe the company didn’t need corner board the day they met me. But then, that purchaser I’d spoken to in the spring signed a contract with a client in the autumn who wanted to ship truckloads of water heaters STAT. Water heaters that needed protection during shipping.

Because that purchaser had my personal cell number (back in the days when most salespeople didn’t have one and I paid for my OWN), guess who closed the sale?

Most salespeople didn’t want to pay out of pocket for a cell phone. They liked the old ways, the way business had always been done. Call the office. Leave a message with the receptionist, and then they’d return the call when they got back in off the road (which could be DAYS).

Even if the salesperson got the message once they checked into their hotels, it would be late in the evening. The earliest a customer could get an answer would be the next day.

Me? They talked to the minute the idea flitted across their brains (or within the hour if I was in a meeting).

It cost me $400 a month of my own money to have a cell phone with enough minutes. Back then, 2000 minutes a month was the max one could buy in a package, but I had a nine-state territory and also all of northern Mexico and believed it was a wise investment.

Work smarter, not harder….

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I put out my own effort and money to make it easier for a customer to find and connect with me instantly. I didn’t have to. But it sure made that $2.5 million a year quota a lot easier to meet. Of ALL the cardboard reps vying for the SAME SALE, I was the one who was Johnny on the Spot to solve a problem. I was the one they could dial and get an almost-instant response and solution.

Though cardboard and novels are different products, that tether of personal connection is powerful.

A large number of agents, especially those at the prestigious agencies, will not even consider a query if they can’t google our name and see we’ve been working to at least connect and begin cultivating a community that can become readers.

But now many authors are going indie or self-publishing. Indie houses I can guarantee will likely ignore anyone who doesn’t want to be on social media. Those who self-publish? WE ARE THE PUBLISHER. What responsible publisher with a hint of business acumen ignores any kind of interaction and follow-up with potential customers (readers)?

It reminds me of the cardboard salesmen who didn’t want a cell phone. They’d missed the point that their job was to serve the customer’s schedule and needs, not the other way around.

Golf is NOT Golf and Dinner is NOT Dinner

Hubby and I had an interesting debate a few days ago. He kinda turned his nose up about wining and dining and entertaining clients (we have two small businesses). But Hubby has spent most of his professional life as a procurement person and is a long-lost cousin of Mr. Spock.

Hubby. Sigh.

Hubby. Sigh.

But then I explained that those off-site relaxed endeavors were actually investments in relationships and even friendships. When I took customers to lunch, I never talked business. I wanted to know (genuinely) about their wives, kids, or hobbies and let them have some fun talking about the things they enjoyed. It was personal.

It’s far more important to be interested than interesting.

When I would call to follow up, I asked about how their son’s Little League game went or how the wife was and simply told them I’d be in the area during a certain time. Never asked for money or talked about cardboard.

I also never chastised them or was hurt if they bought from another source. I’d say, “Well, that was a smart business decision. Can’t blame you for being prudent. Just hope I am there to help you next time. You know how to reach me.”

Over time, because of the relaxed atmosphere, I found that customers gravitated to calling me because they knew me, could reach me, and rather enjoyed not being pitched to non-stop. They’d even pay more.

This movie still gives me nightmares...

This movie still gives me nightmares…

What was really cool was that certain customers eventually refused to deal with any other company but ours, no matter how cheap the competitor’s price. They would even recommend me (and my product) to other companies, because I ignored the ABCs (Always BE Closing) and trusted the power of relationships and consistency.

The same can be said for social media. Blasting spam and bargains and free stuff might work for a while and on a few people, but it doesn’t generate the long-term loyalty money can’t buy.

Sure, back in my cardboard days, it cost me time and money and effort. My hard work rarely paid off immediately and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harshly criticized.

But, eventually, when customers had to choose between going to lunch with someone who jammed flyers and price lists in their faces, who never shut up talking about themselves and who insisted on a signature on the dotted line by the time the check came?

Versus me?

I was far less exhausting and annoying to deal with.

Social Media is NOT a Sales Pitch

The new way to TWEET MORE!

The new way to TWEET MORE!

Social media is like all those lunches or quick, relaxing trips to a driving range to just unwind and chat and become friends. People should know we have a book, just like all my cardboard customers had a fancy folder filled with all our products and a sample box.

But the product wasn’t my focus, people were.

To refuse to do social media would have been akin to me never traveling and sitting by the phone in my office hoping it would ring. That our cardboard would sell itself. I imagine I wouldn’t have lasted long.

To misuse social media is a formula for a customer (reader) to gravitate some place they don’t feel like prey. Social media used properly doesn’t take much time to do, but it will take time to grow roots.

Just like it only took five minutes for me to call a buyer, ask how his kids were and let him know I’d be in the area and ask if he and his receptionist would care to join me for a bite to eat. But, though it took minutes to make the invitation, it took months of care and authentic follow-up to build a foundation of trust that created a loyal customer.

Direct Sales is Almost Universally ANNOYING

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How many of you have gone to having a cell phone because the only people who called the landline were selling something? How many times have any of you said, “Sure, I’ll pay for that cruise right now” after getting a random phone call. Or, “Yes, sign my up for that credit protection plan. TAKE MY MONEY!”

How many times have you found a flyer on your windshield or front door and immediately called for that product or service? Or answered the spam in your e-mail with credit card in hand?

Think of this when using social media ;) . Relax, have fun and trust this is a process and a really fun one with the right attitude.

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

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

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134 Comments

Marketing, Social Media & Book Signings—Why NONE of These Directly Impact Book Sales

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In The Digital Age, we seem to find a lot of extremes. Either articles or blogs ranting how social media doesn’t sell books, it’s too hard, there are too many rules, whiiiiiiinnnnne. These folks might write books, maybe even great books, but I suppose they think readers will find them using telepathy. 

Or, there are those who worship the Oracle of Automation and the Lord of Algorithms. Instead of writing MORE BOOKS, they tweet, FB, Instagram, buy flare, do blog tours, futz with the website, the cover, the algorithms…and then can later be witnessed crying in a corner with a pan of brownies and a half-finished bottle of rum.

Thus, I am here to bring some balance to The Force.

Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

I’ve been saying this for about ten years, because the idea of using social circles for sales is NOT new. About ten years ago, I recognized that social media would soon be a vital tool for writers to be able to create a brand and a platform before the book was even finished. This would shift the power away from sole control of Big Publishing and give writers more freedom. But, I knew social media could not be used for direct sales successfully.

How?

When I was in college, every multi-level-marketing company in the known world tried to recruit me. I delivered papers and worked nights most of my college career. Needless to say, I was always on the lookout for a more flexible job that didn’t require lugging fifty pounds of paper up and down three flights of apartment stairs at four in the morning.

I’d answer Want Ads in the paper thinking I was being interviewed for a good-paying job where I could make my own hours. Inevitably it would be some MLM company selling water filters, diet pills, vitamins, prepaid legal services, or soap.

And if I sat through the presentation, they fed me. This meant I sat through most of them.

What always creeped me out was how these types of companies did business. First, “target” family and friends to buy said product (and hopefully either sign them up to sell with you or at least “spread the word” and give business referrals). Hmmmm. Sound familiar?

The business model wasn’t really about meeting people, connecting and actually liking them just because they were good people. There was an endgame…SELL STUFF (or manipulate others into helping you sell stuff).

Ick.

Hey, you go to the gym anyway. Strike up a conversation. Say nice things, then give the sucker friend target a FREE SAMPLE. People who work out need vitamins. That isn’t ookey AT ALL!

Hmmm, looks legit.

Hmmm, looks legit.

The Battle of the Experts

I recall being part of a panel in NYC at Thrillerfest and the other experts were all excited about applications that could tweet for authors “saving time” or even certain tools that could measure what days and times Twitter was most active and when people would be most likely to see our tweets. All I could think was:

1) Are these people tweeting or ovulating?

2) If everyone uses this same tool, then all they will do is crowd the feed and no one will see anything. Left long enough, these “Golden Hours” will shift so people can avoid the barrage of ME, ME, ME! MY BOOK!

The panel’s moderator (ironically) worked for the CIA and was tickled silly that there were all kinds of algorithms that could “predict human behaviors.” Of course, I made myself WAY popular when I said, “The only way to accurately predict human behavior is if we all have a chip in our heads and someone else has a joystick.”

Yes, I can be blunt. My mom is from New York. I blame it on her.

My assertion was that, if this was true, and we could accurately predict human behavior, then we wouldn’t be worrying about crime, war or terrorism and that these algorithms were a mirage that gave a false sense of us “being in control” of the uncontrollable.

Also, how would she still have a job at the CIA?

Oooh, But We Can MEASURE…um, NO

In the 90s and early 21st century most people weren’t on-line. Computers were still cost-prohibitive and Internet service was mind-bendingly slow (dial-up?) and expensive. Social media was in its infancy and only early adopters trusted buying on-line.

Companies could launch ads and measure click-throughs. How long did a visitor stay on a web site’s page? Did the visitor click the ad on the page? Did that ad then translate into a sale? Companies still do this. I’m pretty sure authors can do this, but why would we want to?

Could feel like THIS? Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Meet Spiffy the Algorithm Hamster. He is DEAD.

Unlike Sephora, Gap or Walmart, most of us are a one-person operation. We don’t have a team of interns to do this stuff. We also don’t have a multi-million dollar corporate budget.

What IF an ad doesn’t work? How many of us have time and extra money to launch a new ad?

Also, there are SO many variables beyond our control. I’ve seen this with blogging. A holiday, time of year (kids getting out of school), a major world news event (like Paris being attacked by terrorist cells) can all affect traffic and click-throughs. To try and study our stats and juke them for advantage is a lot of time better used elsewhere (like writing more books).

Might I suggest one of these...

Might I suggest one of these…

Relationships are Key

Social media is social, meaning it’s about relationships. This means, 1) it will take time to build and 2) it cannot be outsourced 3) it cannot be automated.

Can you imagine trying to maintain relationships this way in the real world? Give your husband a call-in number:

For the location of clean socks, press 1. For a word of encouragement, press 2. For the item I need you to pick up from the store, press 3. For the real reason I haven’t talked to you since yesterday, please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly.

Your estimated call wait time is three days.

HINT: Anniversary.

Social media and author brands will sell books, just not directly and not in ways that can be measured looking at clicks and stats. Social media is essentially word-of-mouth which has been selling stuff books for centuries and no one can measure it. 

The Bottom Line

Since I don’t have all the articles and blogs griping about social media, I am limited here. But I imagine that, aside from telling writers social media was a waste of time that doesn’t sell books, I assume not one of these complainers offered up some panacea replace social media.

See, it is a hell of a lot easier to complain than to offer a solution. Griping takes ZERO brainpower.

So, if social media doesn’t sell books, then what does? Ads don’t. Never have. Promotions (without an extant and vested platform) are time-consuming, expensive and have a dismal ROI (Return on Investment).

Also, if social media is so grossly ineffective, what explanation do we have for the MASSIVE power shift from BIG NYC publishing to indie and self-published authors now 1) making a reasonable second income 2) making a decent enough living to finally write full-time 3) nontraditional authors taking up an increasing portion of major bestseller lists like the New York Times and USA Today and 4) the major inflation of fiction writers now making six and seven figures?

All the ones I know of (and there are MANY) use social media to some extent. All of these authors would never have gained visibility, traction or sales without social media.How can we explain these trends without including social media as a variable?

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 1.17.53 PM

Notice I said social media as a variable. There is NO magic formula. Hard work, more books, good books and generating word of mouth (in part with a brand and on-line platform) is fundamental. Social media has been mistakenly touted as a formula to wealth and riches, but it isn’t. Neither is buying real estate using a proven program from an infomercial.

The Future

Bookstores are closing. Barnes & Noble is evaporating. Indie stores are making a comeback, but they have limited space (and need to unless they want to go bankrupt like the megastores that tried to KILL them). THIS is the future of book sales. THIS is in the cosmetics section of my grocery store. Insert a debit card and get a sample before you buy…

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. LOSS prevention?

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. Also, um LOSS prevention?

Oh, and these are popping up…

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.23.38 AM

Check your bank balance then BUY A BOOK!

For those who want a paper copy to hold...

For those who want a paper copy to hold…and get NACHOS!

These kiosks sound familiar. Reminds me of one of my posts from over three years ago. I wrote a lot of other blogs that said basically the same stuff, posts that are even older. But I’ve written over 800 blogs and I’m lazy and have to get back to writing books. And I am not alone in seeing this trend. I’m no great genius. Other people saw this coming.

Um, clearly since I can’t claim I invented any of these machines. Ok, I could, but I try to restrict lying to my fiction.

But, if THESE kiosks are down the pipeline, how can we reasonably come to the conclusion that social media is a total waste of time?

Relying totally on social media is a waste of time, but I’ve been saying that for years. As authors, we are wise to think in terms of our careers. Think like a business, as in short-term and long-term. Platforms and careers need a wide base, deep roots, a community of support, time and a heck of a lot of sweat equity.

Also, there are effective ways to do social media and ways that make others want to stab us in the face (which was why I wrote Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World).W.A.N.A. ways WORK. They’re responsible for selling millions of books. But they take time.

ROM has a simple step-by-step plan. Heck, don’t buy my book. Browse my blogs for free. I only care about your success.

The Future IS Bright for Writers

The future for authors is wonderful, but there is no Social Media Shake Weight. Sorry. I was bummed, too. But here’s the thing. The same articles/blogs that will discourage writers from social media because it doesn’t sell books aren’t also demanding we halt all book signings.

Book signings are fun, they are social, and they’ve historically been a way to connect authors to an audience in a personal way.

Until social media they were the only way. 

But book signings were NEVER meant as a sole means to sell books. In fact, it was really never even the purpose of a signing. Rather it was connection with the author as a person.

Craftfest

Even if a writer has a line out the door, the most even a mega-author might sell is a thousand books. Let’s be generous. FIVE thousand books. A drop in the bucket if you’re Dan Brown. Is selling 5,000 books relevant when an author sells millions? When an author has to board a plane, stay in a hotel, sit in one spot signing for hours or even come up with a speech? And travel city to city to city for a month or more instead of writing?

Food for thought ;) .

We live in a wonderful time to be a writer. Yes, it’s work, but there are a lot of reasons why this job isn’t for everyone. Success in anything is about staying power, passion, and effective action (solid social media, building relationships, and writing MORE books and GOOD books).

What are your thoughts? Are too many authors banking too much on social media? Do you feel social media has been sold to writers as a get-rich-quick-scheme? Do you see other authors approaching social media in a way you know is going to burn them out? Do you know of any nontraditional authors who sold zillions of books yet didn’t use social media at all? What did they do?

…ALIENS.

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

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

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