Archive for category Writing

Ten Ways to Tighten Your Writing & Hook the Reader

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 9.40.52 AM

Image via CellarDoorFilms W.A.N.A. Commons

When I used to edit for a living, I earned the moniker The Death Star because I can be a tad ruthless with prose. Today I hope to teach you guys to be a bit ruthless as well. Before we get started, I do have a quick favor to ask. Some of you may know that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so I’ve taken on our dojo’s blog to see if we can try out new and fun content and am using the moniker Dojo Diva.

I posted about how hard it is to begin and the fears that can ever keep us from starting. The way others try to stop us from doing anything remarkable. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories, so I hope you will stop by and get the discussion going.

Click the word “Comments” and a box should appear. This is new, so working out the kinks. If you don’t appear, I may just need to approve you.

To prime the pump, so to speak, anyone who comments on the new blog will be drawn for a separate contest to win 20 pages of Death Star Treatment (rigorous edit from ME). This means a lot higher chances of winning. Also, the first ten commenters get double entries.

Been bragging about you guys, so I really hope to see you there!

Moving on…

Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.

Drift=Bad juju

I’ve edited countless books, many from new authors. I see a lot of the same errors, and this is to give you a basic guide of what to look for in your writing. Be your own Death Star. Blast away this weak writing so that once you do hire an editor, it won’t cost nearly as much because the editor won’t spend precious time (charged often by the hour) to note or remove these basic offenses.

I love doing my 20-page contest, namely because I act as an intermediary. When I run across excellent writing I do try to connect it with an agent who might be interested (with the author’s permission, of course). Yet, many of the samples I get are infested with these basic oopses that tell me the writer is not yet ready.

So I hope you can use these tips as a guide to reveal the pearl that is your story.

Tip #1—Use Other Senses. BTW, Sight is the Weakest

A lot of writers (new ones especially) rely on a lot of description regarding what a character sees, and while this isn’t, per se, wrong it can be overdone. Also, of all the senses, sight is one of the weakest, thus it lacks the power to pull your reader into deep POV (point of view).

***Just know I am riffing off these examples. Some people love detail, others love minimalism so I am not doing anything other than providing quick illustrations. Ultimately, tailor these suggestions to your particular voice.

Smells are very powerful. In fact, it is the most powerful of ALL the senses.

Jane stopped short. She stared at the blackened walls and peeling paint that testified to the fire that took twenty young lives.

Okay, pretty good. But maybe try this.

Jane stopped short. The sickening sweet of cooked flesh stole her breath. It was all that remained of twenty young lives extinguished in flames.

Taste is also very powerful.

Fifi tucked and rolled as she dove out of her captor’s van. The ground came up hard, harder than she expected.

Not bad, but maybe try…

Fifi’s face met the ground, hard. At first, all she noticed was the bitterness of grass mixed with sand that crunched against her teeth. A moment later? The taste of old copper pennies gushed into her mouth, making her gag. Blood.

Try to use a combination of all of the senses to close the psychic distance. To rely solely on what a character sees will keep the reader at a distance. It will make her a mere observer and not a participant. Also, y’all might have noticed novels are pretty long so adding in other senses will broaden your emotional palette.

Tip #2 Don’t Coach the Reader

When we are new, we tend to think through stage direction, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean it should end up on the page. Readers aren’t dumb, so we don’t need all the details.

He raised his hand and struck her across the cheek.

Um, duh. We know he raised his hand to strike her. Otherwise, that would be a serious trick. Jedi mind powers, maybe?

He struck her across the cheek. Hard. Stars exploded in her vision.

We don’t need the character to step up on the curb or reach for the door handle. If a character makes it from one room to another, we fill in the missing (and boring) details. We also don’t need cues for emotion.

Tip #3 Don’t State the Obvious

She slammed the door and cursed in anger.

Unless this character has spacial issues and Tourette’s? We know she’s angry. We don’t “need” the “in anger” part. We’re sharp. We get it. Really.

Tip #4 Can We Have a Name, Please?

This can happen a lot when the writer is using first-person. We go two, three or ten pages and still don’t know the main character’s NAME.

Tip #5 Don’t Introduce Too Many Characters Too Quickly

This is the opposite of the last problem—too many names. I can’t tell you how many writing samples I’ve received that make this mistake. If you have ten named characters by page one? I’m done. In life, we can’t keep up with that many names all at once, and when reading, that doesn’t change.

Too many names will confuse us and muddle who the protagonist is. We get lost, so we’re frustrated and we put the book down…or toss it across the room.

Tip #6 Limit Naming Too Much Anything at Once

This can happen in science fiction and fantasy because we are world-building. Just remember that if we name characters, places, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, creatures, ships, robots etc. it can overwhelm the reader. Stories are about people and if the people get lost because of the world-building, that is problematic.

Jezebel gripped the Kum-Rah in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped just short of the Uf-Tah’s altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another Fluff-Tun.

I’m being a tad silly here, but maybe try something like…

Jezebel gripped her sword in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped short of the ornate altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another member of her family.

We still get some world-building without our heads exploding trying to keep up with names and figure out who is who and what is what. Later, as the story progresses, we can learn that the bad guys are the Uf-Tah, the henchmen are the Gil-Had and the victims are the Fluff-Tah. We can eventually learn the names of particular weapons.

Tip #7 Give Us an “Idea” of Who a Character Is and What He/She Looks Like

Don’t feel the need to bog us down too much, but by page one, we should know at least some basics about a character. Few things get weirder than reading about a character for five or ten pages and then realizing they are another race or gender.

Whaaaa??? He’s a black dude?

Tip #8 Strive to Give Us a Sense of Time and Place

Again, a few details are helpful to orient us where we are. Whether it is the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers, we need to get grounded quickly to become part of the world and fall into that fictive dream.

Tip #9 No Secret Agents

We are introduced to who we assume is the protagonist. Unless something cues us otherwise, we assume he/she is alone. When another character suddenly starts talking?

Jarring.

Also, tell us who this person is in relation to the character. Yes, you (the writer) know who this character is, but we don’t.

Gertrude awoke with a start. Her alarm clock hadn’t gone off, and panic gripped her. This was her first day at the new job, and being late could get her fired before she even started. She nearly fell as she scrambled out of the bed sheets and bolted for the coffee maker.

“I thought you’d be gone by now,” Ted said as he watered his Bonsai trees.

“Me, too. Hey, why didn’t you come wake me up?”

Okay, who is Ted? Brother? Husband? Boyfriend? Friendly home invader? We need to know. Maybe not right away but at least on the same page or pretty close to it.

I see this all the time. A name, some dialogue but no introduction, so no sense of who that character is. We are book-readers not mind-readers.

Tip #10 Tighten the Prose

The biggest red flag to me as an editor is an infestation of the word “was.” This is a major indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one? Fairly safe to assume the trend will continue.

Do a Was Hunt. See too many of those buggers together? Time to kill.

It was barely dawn and Lulu was sitting on the couch. She was waiting for her father who was already hours late. This was unusual for him. He was always punctual. A crack that was deafening made her scream and moments later the door was kicked in by the police who barked orders for her to get down on the floor.

Instead….

Predawn light spilled into the room where Lulu sat, waiting for her father to be home. He was never late. Ever. A deafening crack made her scream. Police kicked in the door and ordered her to the floor.

There are a lot of other ways to tighten the writing, but these are common offenders and a great start. We all do this no matter how many books we write. It’s why we need revision. We can spot this stuff and clean it up and make it presentable for the public.

What are some of your pet peeves? What loses you as a reader? Do these tips help? Do you see maybe some of your own bad habits? Btw, I did ALL of these at one time, so we are all friends :D .

I love hearing from you!

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

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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

, , , , , , , ,

155 Comments

Franken-Novel, Perfectionism & The Dark Side of Critique Groups

After six years in critique her novel was “perfect.”

Critique groups can be wonderful. They can offer accountability, professionalism, and take our writing to an entirely new level. But, like most, things, critique groups also have a dark side. They can become a crutch that prevents genuine growth. Depending on the problems, critique groups can create bad writing habits and even deform a WIP so badly it will lose any chance at resonating with readers, thus being successful.

The key to avoiding problems is to be educated. Not all critique groups are worth our time. Some critique groups might have limitations that can be mitigated with a simple adjustment in our approach.

Traditional Critique Groups

Many of you have attended a traditional critique group. This is the “read a handful of printed pages or read so many pages aloud” groups. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose.

When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for commercial publication.

In a good traditional critique group we learn that POV does not mean “Prisoners of Vietnam.” We learn to spot passive voice and “was clusters” and why modifiers aren’t always extra-nifty. We will hopefully learn self-discipline in that we need to attend regularly and contribute. We can also forge friendships and a support network.

So where’s the problem?

Traditional critique groups lack perspective.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.15.49 AM

Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see structural flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults. In fact, I would venture to say that most writers are not rejected due to prose, but rather, they meet the slush pile because of tragic errors in structure.

Traditional critique groups can tell us nothing about turning points or whether a scene fits properly. They lack the context to be able to discern if our hero has progressed sufficiently along his character arc by the mid-point of Act 2. They have zero ability to properly critique pacing, since pacing can only be judged in larger context. So, my advice is to get a beta reader that you trust. Critique groups cannot do what only beta readers can.

***A beta reader is a regular person who likes to read our genre and will tell us about the story from a reader’s perspective.

Traditional critique groups can also hurt us in the following ways.

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.48.53 AM

As we just mentioned,  those in a traditional critique group sitting around the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Fifi end up in Costco wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.”

Well, duh, of course they’re lost.

They’ve missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Our job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections our critique groups can follow.

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.48.40 AM

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

One great way to know good advice is to READ craft books. Hooked by Les Edgerton, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell are a great start. In fact, ANYTHING written by Edgerton or James Scott Bell, just buy it and read it. You can thank me later ;) .

That way, when someone offers suggestions, you will know whether or not that advice is supported by leading teachers in the industry.

They can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

The world does not reward perfect novels, it rewards finished novels. I still run into writers who have been working on “perfecting” the same novel for the past ten years. As professionals, we need to learn to LET GO. Either the project was a learning curve and it needs to be scrapped and parted out, or it needs to be handed a lunch box and sent off to play with the big novels via query or publication.

Scrap it, part it, shop it or ship it but MOVE ON.

Yes, I know NY publishes novels that have typos and grammar errors. But when writers are under contract, they don’t have 6-10 years to ensure that their manuscript doesn’t have a single misplaced comma. In fact, I would be so bold as to posit that readers don’t generally get to the end of a novel and declare, “Wow! That was riveting. Not one single dangling participle in the entire book!”

There are writers I know who have been working on the same book for four, five, even SIX years. I see them at conferences dying to land an agent and get that three-book deal. WHY? New York isn’t going to give them another 12-18 YEARS to turn in manuscripts. The hard reality is that, if we hope to make a living at this writing thing, we need to learn to write solid and we need to learn to finish…quickly.

Traditional critique groups can offer a false sense of security.

Can get you in trouble...

Can get you in trouble…

We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many successfully published authors has the group produced?

How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond that group for additional critique.

We must make sure our work is being reviewed by people who will be honest about any problems. Meeting once a week to sing kumbayah is not the best preparation for this brutal career. Once our book is for sale, we are open to the big bad real world of people with nothing better to do than skewer us publicly on-line in a blistering review.

You will know them by their fruits…

If your goal is to write great novels, make sure any group you join is producing successful novelists. I spent way too many years in a critique group that produced all kinds of articles and NF, but no one had published a successful novel. Then I wondered why the critique was…eh.

When I left that group for the DFW Writers Workshop, my world tilted on its axis because DFWWW is AWESOME and is known for producing professionals in all genres. In fact, I wouldn’t be here without them. I also STRONGLY recommend joining RWA (Romance Writers of America) and find an RWA chapter nearby even if you don’t write romance.

RWA is by FAR the most professional group of authors any of us can connect with. They are at the leading edge of the industry and these folks will totally send in the flying monkeys if you don’t get back to writing. 

By the way, if you want to get more out of your critique group, I have a class this Saturday (details below) that can make sure your larger structure is sound. This class can do what your critique group can’t and it will help you spend your time more wisely.

So what do you guys think? Have you had problems? Does your critique group seem to only run you in circles? Have you fallen for the perfectionism thing? Or am I off-base? What are your solutions? Ideas?

I love hearing from you!

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

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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

, , , , , , , , , , ,

74 Comments

5 Ways to KILL a Perfectly Good Story

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 1.34.53 PM

Over the weekend Hubby and I rested and watched movies and we took turns who could pick the film. Hubby loves dramas and war films. I prefer horror and space aliens. Anyway, Hubby chose the drama Unbroken and that is three hours of my life I will never get back.

Halfway through the movie, I had Hubby pause to check out how much more of this film I would have to endure, and I’m pretty sure I was worse than sitting with a young kid in a dentist’s waiting room.

I’m BORED! *plays with spit*

Though the intentions behind making the movie were noble and the cinematography superb, the fictionalization fell flat. And, since I don’t like wasting my time, I figure we can at least look at what went wrong with the movie and use it as a cautionary tale and example of what not to do.

What bugs me is that Louis Zamperini’s life could have made an excellent film. But, because of these five common rookie errors, the movie fizzled and failed to resonate.

My apologies ahead of time to those who liked the movie. Personally, I think adding some Klingons might have improved it.

Fiction has rules and we ignore those at our own peril. And, since I see these mistakes a LOT (particularly with new writers) we are going to take some time to explore what went wrong with what could have been an excellent movie…

#1 Characters Cannot Randomly Change

I’m sure in life people randomly change all the time. They do random stuff for no reason. This is bad to do in fiction. Fiction hinges on cause and effect and characters can’t do stuff simply because we (the writer) need them to.

In the movie, Louis Zamperini is introduced to us as a young spit-fire kid who is constantly in trouble. Though barely a teen, he checks out girls in church, steals, smokes, drinks and gets into fights. Early in the film, he is dragged home by a police officer and the viewer is told through dialogue that this hothead is bound for jail if he doesn’t straighten up.

Okay, interesting character.

*brakes screech*

Out of seemingly nowhere, Louis Zamperini decides to listen to his older brother and try out for the track team. No dark night of the soul. No sitting in a jail cell and having to make a hard choice. He simply one day apparently says, “You know what? I think I’m going to give up petty crime and go to the Olympics.”

*head desk*

Characters cannot change without a crucible. It’s cheating.

#2 Characters Must Have an Opportunity to FAIL

So yada yada yada, we endure a bunch of pointless flashbacks which seem to only tell us that Zamperini can run really fast and then we are in WWII and Zamperini is fighting in the war. For virtually the ENTIRE movie, Zamperini has no choice in what happens. He’s merely the victim of bad things happening to him.

The ONLY setback Zampirini didn't tun into...

The ONLY setback Zamperini didn’t run into…

He’s in a plane crash, they’re adrift at sea, bad things happen, sharks, more bad things, Japanese, more bad things. Then he and the only other survivor are rescued by the enemy and stuffed into a POW camp. And more bad stuff. And more and…*checks watch* even MORE.

Crappy luck is NOT dramatic tension. Dramatic tension is created by choices. When our protagonist is whisked along by events he cannot control and the only opportunity to fail is suicide? We bore the audience. That is a bad situation, not authentic drama.

Zamperini is far too evolved for the story and he has no opportunities to choose badly. He overcame his poor character before the story problem ever happened. There are no situations that cause him to arc (or for him to help anyone else arc).

He’s always the one who remains calm, the one who is level-headed, the one who does the right thing. He takes the beatings while in captivity and presses on to stay alive. He is the same when the plane crashes as the day when he walks out of the POW camp.

Zzzzzzzzz.

For this to have been true drama, we needed one Zamperini who went to war who was flawed and one who made it home “perfected.” The war situation should have been the crucible to fire away those character imperfections and leave a hero in the protagonist’s place. Yet, we get a sense that Zamperini was already a “hero” before his plane was ever shot down.

Thus, instead of a character journey to become a hero, we are left to endure a chronology of nothing happening. This is an excellent example of why too-perfect characters are BORING. Zamperini is a one-dimensional caricature because, as a human being, he has no place left to arc.

He’s also surrounded by “plot puppets”—characters who serve no purpose. I.e. Why is brother there other than to get Louis to join the track team and riff off a couple of inspirational quotes?

#3 Good Story Goals are ACTIVE

To have a solid story problem, our protagonist must have an active goal. Staying alive is NOT an active goal. It is like “containing Communism.” It’s passive and about as effective.

I don’t know about you guys, but staying alive is probably my top priority every day. It is why I don’t blow-dry my hair in the shower or juggle power tools. My goal pretty much every day is to NOT DIE. Staying alive is not a story-worthy goal.

I run into a lot of new authors who tell me that their story involves “staying alive” “staying hidden” “avoiding” “protecting” etc.

A young peasant boy must protect the princess of the realm from evil forces lest the Black Sorcerer enslave the realm.

Okay, so what’s the book about? A peasant boy stuffing princess in a giant Princess Hamster Ball and putting up round-the-clock security?

What must the protagonist DO in order to triumph?

#4 Flashbacks are a Often Sign of Weak Writing

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 10.56.37 AM

Jolie likes to flip back and forth in time, but there is nothing in the flashbacks that tell us anything we couldn’t have learned in dialogue and real-time narrative. We get that Zamperini went to the Olympics. We don’t need to go with him to Berlin understand that.

Really.

I’m not a fan of flashbacks. They stop the forward momentum of the story to go and “explain.” If we use a flashback, we have to be careful that we aren’t relaying information that any viewer/reader could have gleaned from the present story. That is being redundant. Flashbacks can also indicate we might be telling the wrong story or starting the story in the wrong spot.

In the case of Zamperini, the better story might have been the WHY behind him trading stealing for running. Why change? What makes a hotheaded hoodlum into an Olympian who later would become a war hero and man of God?

Since Jolie keeps flitting back in time, this might have been the actual story, but would have required better writing. Zamperini being starved and beaten for almost two hours is easier.

#5 The Antagonist MUST Be Defeated By A CHANGED Protagonist

Original cartoon via Hyperbole and a Half

Original cartoon via Hyperbole and a Half

If we pan back and look at all the great stories, power begins in favor of the antagonist. It is through change (arc) that this balance of power shifts. In the beginning of a story, the protagonist would fail (does fail) if pitted against the antagonist.

To keep in the same genre, we will look at one of my favorite classic dramas. In Fried Green Tomatoes, Evelyn Couch is bullied by her husband and Monster-In-Law. She has no spine and a low self-esteem. It is through stories of Idgy Threadgood (parallel plot line) that Evelyn changes—TOWANDA!–and, in the end is able to stand up to her tormentors.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 1.21.46 PM

In the beginning, Evelyn handles the situation all wrong. She apologizes for her own existence and tries to appease those who enjoy making her a victim. By the END of the story, Evelyn is a changed person (protagonist—>hero). The ingredients for her to stand up for herself were always there, but the story problem is what reveals the gem that was always inside.

Evelyn defeats the antagonist in Act III by finally refusing to be abused.

In Unbroken there is no change. Zamperini takes beating after beating in defiance of his tormentor, The Bird. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t even inspire others to change. He simply outlasts the sadist and we are dragged along for the trip until the Allies can save the POWs (and the audience) from more abuse. We lose the internal development of the character and trade it for the cringe factor of watching Zamperini endure worse and worse torments.

What We Take Away

Characters might begin as victims of fate, but they eventually must take control.

Perfect characters are boring. Bad decisions make excellent fiction.

Characters need ACTIVE goals. “Surviving” is not active and the only way a character can fail is by DYING.

There is no authentic victory unless the protagonist is given opportunities to fail.

Examine flashbacks. What purpose do they serve? Are they necessary or Literary Bond-O to prop up a weak story? Does the story begin in the correct spot?

Does the protagonist change? How? How does the change make the protagonist into a HERO?

What are your thoughts? Am I being too hard on Unbroken? Were you bored too?

I love hearing from you!

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

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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

, , , , , , , , ,

147 Comments

Pen Names—Necessary Evil or Ticket to Crazyville?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of gaelx

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of gaelx

Today we are going to talk about a somewhat touchy subject. The pen name. Before anyone gets in a fluff, understand two things. First, I’m on your side. Secondly, this is only a decision you can make. My goal here is to make sure you guys are making educated business decisions. Thus, I won’t stop anyone from having a pen name, but about 95% of the time? It’s unnecessary.

In my opinion? Pen names are more hassle than they are worth and they’re a fast way to land in Crazyville. Pen names used to offer benefits, but most of those benefits have evaporated because the world is digital and connected. In fact, pen names can actually hurt book sales and stall a platform and brand.

Let’s look at some of the advantages pen names used to offer that no longer exist.

I Need a Pen Name for PRIVACY

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.51.25 AM

Here’s the thing. We are in The Digital Age. Privacy is an illusion. In fact, be too private and we fail to connect emotionally with others and thus the platform and brand never gain traction. Social media is social and being social requires a certain level of vulnerability and openness.

One of my bugaboos is when writers tell me they just want to write or they just want to sell books. They don’t want to *shivers* talk to anyone. This is a personal choice. I can’t require anyone to be sociable, but in a world where readers are being deluged with a gazillion choices, they are going to gravitate to who they know and who they like.

And, to be blunt, we are expecting people to part with money and precious time they don’t have to read our books. It takes an average of 12-15 hours to read a novel. We are asking a lot of others. The very least we can do is talk to them and have a good attitude about it.

Being open and vulnerable doesn’t mean we post our Social Security Number and the names of all our kids. It can be something as simple as, “Hey, I totally dig Star Wars” or “I like to crochet weapons of mass destruction.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 12.25.39 PM

But some writers don’t want to do social media at all or they want to hide behind a pen name and only post “writerly things” or “BUY MY BOOK!” because, yeah, that is SUPER creative and we don’t already get enough of that *rolls eyes*. They don’t want to share anything personal and the pen name is there to help them gain emotional distance and keep their “lives separate.”

The problem with this thinking is that, in The Digital Age, WE ARE THE BRAND.

Before The Digital Age, gatekeepers stemmed the number of books that came to market. Readers only could buy what they discovered browsing a bookstore. Now that there are millions of titles and more being added every day? Those habits and hobbies no one cared about in 1995 are what’s going to help us cultivate our readership.

When we try to separate our personal persona from our writing persona, we create layers of friction and a lot of extra work for those trying to discover our books. This means we can inadvertently undermine our own success seeking the illusion of anonymity/privacy.

A lot of writers complain to me that they don’t want to post things everyone else can see. Problem with that is it is TOO EASY to lose control of information posted on the Internet. Thus, my personal rule? If my mom can’t see it, I don’t post it.

I Need a Pen Name to HIDE

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

Erotica authors generally run into this problem. If what you write might cost you your job? Then yes, I agree a pen name is probably a good idea. It will be extra work, but y’all probably already knew that. What I DON’T like is often writers believe that just using another name is enough.

No.

First, if you require a pen name for safety, security, etc. hire a pro. I recommend The Digital Dark Knight Jay Donovan at Tech Surgeons. Tell him I sent you and he will give you special rates. If we are just creating social sites under a made up name and thinking this keeps us “safe”? This is akin to locking the screen door to keep out serial killers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 12.18.24 PM

If someone is motivated to find us, they can (unless you hire a pro like Jay).

You will probably have to look into the legal aspects of using another name and will likely require a DBA (Doing Business As) because, if you have any amount of success, you will need to be able to cash the check under another name, do taxes, etc.

It does me no good to use the pen name Fifi Fluffernutter because I want to hide that I write erotica, but then someone goes to buy a book and can only make out the check to Kristen Lamb ;) .

Also, I will say that having to hide an identity is very stressful. Sites like Facebook use facial recognition software for tagging photos and then those photos are searchable. All it takes is a friend carelessly posting a photo and tagging with the wrong name to implode a carefully crafted alter ego.

There are rumors that Google is wanting to acquire Twitter, meaning every tweet would be cached and searchable. As more social networks communicate across platforms and search engines become more ingrained and more advanced, hiding will get harder and harder.

I Need a Pen Name for Each Genre

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 10.57.14 AM

NO! For the love of all that is chocolate, NO!

Remember, WE ARE THE BRAND. You guys come to my blog and trust I will work hard and deliver enjoyable content. This means when I have a book out, there is less work or thinking on your part. You know me, hopefully like me and you trust my work.

My name holds a lot of power because it promises to deliver content you enjoy. I write social media books, but I also…wait for it…write fiction.

Did anyone’s reality just fracture?

People “get” we do more than one thing. In fact, those who like my blogs or social media books, might just decide to read my fiction simply because they already trust my non-fiction. With SO many choices out there, we find a writer we like and stick like glue. We don’t want the hassle of trying and testing an unknown.

Readers don’t only read one genre. In fact, I think that is probably fairly rare. When I look at my bookshelves, I have almost every genre. If nothing else, we will at least enjoy the kissing cousins. Suspense readers will also dip into thrillers or mysteries.

When we use a pen name for another genre, we are back at Ground Zero. We have to build another name without any help from the already existing platform. Right now, I’m finishing a sci-fi trilogy. When that sucker goes to market? I am NOT motivated enough to start ALL OVER. If my followers don’t like science fiction? Don’t buy it. Simple. But, there may be people who might just try a science fiction because it is written by me ;) .

It Doesn’t Take Much to Implode an Identity

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.42.33 AM

A couple days ago, I had an author whose agent recommended that he use a pen name for his new books that are General Fiction and not Christian Fiction. My argument is that many Christians do read outside of Christian Fiction and thus the pen name would cost him the following he already had for four other books.

He countered that they didn’t want the haters who would be upset that this wasn’t Christian Fiction and that these stories were grittier. But my problem is this.

It only takes ONE.

It only takes one troll putting two and two together to dismantle all that work to craft a new identity. Thus, he could potentially cost himself a LOT of readers who are smart enough to realize that General Fiction is NOT religious and who would have read the books anyway to make a small group of people happy (people who are likely never going to be happy anyway).

In the end, it is the author’s decision and this might be a good case for a pen name, but note that it WILL be extra work with almost no support from the existing fan base structure.

Another writer was using a pen name because her family is less than supportive and they trolled her other sites when she tried to use her real name.  Again, the problem is this. What if she becomes successful and crazy family member figures out the pen name and starts trolling the site? Eventually this writer will have to put down a boundary.

Troll my site one more time and you will die in a tragic blow-up doll accident in my next novel.

She is costing herself a TON of extra work to cater to a handful of bullies. She’s losing all those close connections–schoolmates, college friends, colleagues, etc.—who actually will be her best word of mouth sales. I have people who didn’t say three words to me in high school who are now avid fans because I’m the writer they KNOW.

I Need a Pen Name Because My Name is Too Hard to Pronounce or Spell

NO! That name no one has gotten right since you were a kid is now your digital BFF. If you don’t believe me? Google Janet Evonnivich.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 11.11.32 AM

I see authors with AWESOME names for the Digital Age change it to something utterly forgettable. If your name is Skjolsvik, I don’t have to know how to pronounce it, I just have to be able to recognize it in a lineup. Also, all I have to remember is it starts with Skj—. Search engines will correct me if I goof it.

I Need a Pen Name Because There is Another Person With My Name

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 12.09.35 PM

Again, search engines can help with this. Do y’all really think I am the ONLY Kristen Lamb? When I decided to set aside fiction to become the social media expert for writers, I began by googling my name. There was another Kristen Lamb who happens to be a media mogul. I called her and told her, “There could  be only one.”

She thought I was kidding :D .

Actually, I DID call and I DID say that because I’m a nut, but she IS a Kristen Lamb and ergo super fun and cool and we actually talked for about an hour.

But by producing a LOT of content and properly tagging that content, I now dominate the search for my name. And, even if I didn’t? If someone knows they are searching my name for social media and they get Kristen Lamb the Cake Decorator, all they have to do is add the words “social media” to narrow the search.

I Need a Pen Name Because Using My Name is Pretentious

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 10.34.45 AM

I hear new writers say this a lot. Why would anyone care what have to say? They don’t. When I was new, they didn’t care what I had to say, either. Being a writer is fundamentally pretentious and even narcissistic. We have to believe we have something to say that is worth not only reading, but PAYING to read.

Just own it.

And if we pan back, this entire argument is more than a tad ridiculous. So no one would care what Kristen Lamb has to say, but they WILL care what Kristen Lamb writing as an imaginary person and figment of my own imagination has to say? And that isn’t pretentious?

It is YOUR Decision

In the end, all I can do is give you branding and social media advice. Multiple names and pen names are a lot of work that is very often unnecessary. I see writers do this same thing with multiple blogs.

I blog about writing but I also blog movie reviews and funny anecdotes. What if my followers who like my writing posts don’t like kitten stories?

Um, they don’t read your post that day?

I write thrillers, but I also write cozy romance. What if my readers don’t like cozy romance?

Um, they don’t buy them?

If you require a pen name for safety issues, legal issues or even because it could endanger your job? TALK TO JAY. The rest of us? Our time is better spent writing more books ;) .

What are your thoughts? Questions? Experiences? Do you have a pen name and love it? How do you manage that pen name without going cray-cray? Did you start out with a pen name and now you regret it? Do you have multiple names you now need to merge? I can actually blog about ways to do that another time.

I love hearing from you!

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

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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

, , , , , , , , , ,

184 Comments

Against All Odds—What’s Our REAL Chance of Becoming a Successful Author?

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

Many of you were here for last week’s discussion regarding What Makes a Real Writer? When we decide to become professional writers, we have a lot of work ahead of us and sadly, most will not make the cut.

I know it’s a grossly inaccurate movie, but I love G.I. Jane. I recall a scene during Hell Week (the first evolution of S.E.A.L. training) where Master Chief has everyone doing butterfly kicks in the rain. He yells at the recruits to look to their left and look to their right, that statistically, those people will quit.

Who will be the first to ring that bell? Who will be the first to quit?

Years ago, one of my mentors mentioned The 5% Rule. What’s The 5% Rule? So happy you asked. Statistically, only 5% of the population is capable of sustained change. This means of ALL the people who want to run marathons, 5% will. Of ALL the people who join a martial arts class, only 5% will ever reach black belt. Of ALL the people who have a dream of being a career author, only about 5% will ever reach that goal and maintain it.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 12.39.09 PM

At first, I was horrified when I heard this statistic. I want everyone to be successful! Surely if they had more tools, more chances, more affordable classes…

Human nature is a weird thing and, had I not seen this 5% rule play out countless times, I’d still be an unbeliever. Yet, like everyone is not meant to be a Navy S.E.A.L., not everyone is meant to be a career author. This is good news and bad news. Bad news is odds are against us. Good news is multi-fold. First, we control a lot of the factors that lead to success. Secondly, this job is NOT for everyone.

Believe it or not, what we do is excruciatingly HARD. Just like it is NOT normal for a human body to run long miles in freezing surf carrying a Zodiac filled with water, it is NOT normal to sit and write 100,000+ words. Most people—literate or not—cannot do what we do.

They like to believe they can…but they can’t.

One of the reasons regular people are so shocked to meet a “real” writer is that so few writers ever really reach the professional level. But, why? Why do so many give up the dream? What does the 5% writer do differently than hoi polloi 95%?

I’m an optimist. I believe all of us possess what it takes to be in that coveted 5%. Question is, can we overcome our natures?

Pros Like Validation But Don’t Require It 

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

Validation is different from feedback. We ALL love validation. We crave it. We adore it. But pros don’t require it.

When I first brought my glorious prose to a critique group, I said I wanted feedback. What I really wanted was for the group to tell me that my words were written in angel tears and that all the agents who rejected me must have been brain damaged.

I did not want to hear that I might not have a clue what I was doing. I did not want my pages handed back dripping in red ink. In fact, that hurt. A LOT. I had to learn to suck it up and press on. If one person had an opinion? Well, might just be a personal preference. When ten people gave the same opinion?

Houston, I had a problem.

Writers can work years without any hint of outside approval. Most people can’t sustain this and they give up. I found out last week that this blog has been named Writer’s Digest‘s Top 101 Websites for Writers for 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 10.37.39 AM

*happy dance*

But some of you might not know that I blogged for almost two years and no one cared. My biggest fans were the male-enhancement bots.

I so licked your blog. You make many grate poinsettias. Is it just me or are all your commenters brain dead?

Hmm, maybe he’s foreign? Or not *head desk*

How much do you LOVE the dream? Because I will tell you that if I went by outside approval, I would have quit YEARS ago. If I judged my future success by my beginning blog stats or early book sales?

*weeps*

I was starting to wonder if I’d made a serious error by leaving sales. Sales had a paycheck, a fancy title and a company car. No stranger ever asked me if I was a “real” salesperson.

I went a LONG, LONG, LOOOONG time when no one cared and worse, they thought I was a joke/lunatic/poseur/hack. We need rhino skin in this business.

When I started this blog seven years ago, there were all kinds of other bloggers who were bigger than me. Sadly, many of them are gone. Never underestimate the power of simply showing up.

Below is an image of my blog stats.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.10.51 AM

Can you tell when I made it past “The Dip”? What if I’d quit? In 2009, I had a little over 6,000 views for the year (and I’d been blogging about 18 months by this point). In 2013, I had almost 450,000 views. But how many people would have given up when staring at those 2009 numbers (which works out to about 15 views a day)?

Pros Don’t Find Time, They MAKE Time

Time isn’t hiding down in the couch cushions camouflaged in Cheerios. We don’t find time, we make time. Often new writers will bemoan how they wish they could find time. 

Yet, I will posit this.

If today, I could guarantee you hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and all you had to do was finish the novel, how many would stay up late or get up early? How many would decide the family can go to the movies alone? Or that the floors are clean enough?

Often we procrastinate because there is no guarantee of success. Procrastination and perfectionism are frequently driven by fear of failure. If we never finish, we can never really fail. Our work is never out there to be judged.

As I like to say, “If we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting.” So what if you write a blog and no one cares? Join the club. My first blogs were dreadful. So the crickets and spam bots can boo you :P ? Write a crappy first novel. Then move on. Learn. Keep writing!

No unpublished blog ever went viral. No unfinished novel ever became a runaway success.

Pros Focus on What They Can Control

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 7.38.15 AM

Show me a struggling author and I will show you someone spending too much time shopping the same book. Instead of writing more books and better books, these writers are worried about querying the same book over and over, or (if published) they fret over sales, marketing, blog tours, or algorithms.

We cannot control what will be the next hottest thing. We can’t control the marketplace or the tastes of readers or whether matte bookmarks sell more books than pink beer koozies. This means we shouldn’t waste precious time on things we cannot control at the expense of things we can.

When I gave the 5% statistic earlier, many of you were probably discouraged. But let’s take a closer look at that number.

It’s been said that as much as 75% of the literate population would love to one day write a book. Out of hundreds of millions of possible authors, how many do you think actually take the idea seriously?

5%

And of the tens of millions left over, how many sit down and write and finish a first draft?

5%

Of the millions remaining, how many actually read craft books, get critique and keep revising that first draft until they have a polished draft?

5%

Of those who finish that first novel then realize they have a train wreck and not a novel, how many suck it up and start over to write a better book that’s more likely to engage with readers?

5%

Of those who finally write a decent book, how many take time to also build a brand and platform? How many learn to blog effectively in ways that reach and cultivate readers?

5%

How many get in the regular habit of writing, researching and revising? They don’t just stop with the one book and keep on writing more books?

5%

Of those who publish the first book and don’t instantly become zillionaires, how many keep writing and improving?

5%

This profession is really hard. Toss a few hundred million people with a dream into one large funnel and most will not shake out at the end. Yet, if we look at the individual pieces of becoming “successful” it is astonishing how much we control.

Others whine, we work.

What are your thoughts? Does this 5% example make you feel a little better about your chances? Can you look at your own life and routine and maybe see some areas that you can come up higher? I am ALWAYS reevaluating how and where I am spending my time. Have you been allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by things beyond your control? Do you find that fear keeps you from finishing? Hey, I have been guilty of ALL of this, so we are friends here ;) .

I love hearing from you!

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

***Congratulations to March’s WINNER of 20 Pages of Critique. Krystol Diggs, step into the arena! Please send me your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. I look forward to reading your work.

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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

, , , , , , , , , ,

195 Comments

Selling & Social Media–DON’T Be a Personal Space Invader

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir...

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir…

We writers are kinda weird…okay, a LOT weird. We can drift to extremes if we aren’t vigilant. Either we are the non-stop All-Writing-All-The-Time Channel or we’re afraid to mention we have ever read let alone written a book lest we offend anyone. I get it. I struggle, too. We are artists and “selling” feels…ookey.

Yes, ookey is a word.

Marketing feels especially weird in The Digital Age. But why? Also, why is the ROI (Return on Investment) so dismal with traditional marketing tactics? Facebook ads are a notorious waste of money and I doubt the guy who programmed his Twitter to mention his new book five times an hour has seen a massive uptick in sales.

Perhaps death threats, but not sales :D .

I feel that, as we shift from the TV-Industrial complex of the past century and into the Digital Age, we are becoming more of a global village. Information no longer runs one direction, from sender to receiver.

Why?

Because the medium has changed. The medium always affects communication, and a lot of well-intended advice fails to account for this shift.

We Heard It the First 20 Times

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 3.22.03 PM

As much as I rail against it, we still see the relentless book spam. Yet, we are wise to appreciate that as the communication mediums changed, society, culture and values shifted as well.

For instance, we never had America + Television. Once television became a part of our everyday life, America was different. It could not go back to the way it was before television. The change was like a chemical change, a cake that could not be un-baked. The culture changed. Our habits, language, expectations and definitions of “truth” all shifted.

Same with social media.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.32.45 AM

In the traditional paradigm, “air space” cost money. To put out an ad, a commercial spot on television or even an ad on radio cost money. Even printing off flyers and paying someone to stuff paper under windshield wipers cost money. This “cost barrier” was a sort of gatekeeper that naturally decreased the number of people who would be “advertising” their products.

Then came the Internet and social media.

Now it is FREE! for everyone to talk about goods and services non-stop. The sheer volume of people all pitching their services renders them invisible at best and highly annoying at worst. There is a lot about the new publishing world that I love, but it also has created some serious problems.

How I feel checking e-mail. Remember when we LIKED getting e-mail?

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

Now that everyone can be published, we are inundated with constant pitching to buy books or download free books or read reviews for books. We can’t escape it.

Posting multiple times a day about our book for sale is like us going to a cocktail party and opening a card table to take book orders. The medium has changed and so have the rules.

Yes, it is important to let people know we have a book to offer, but how we do that has changed.

In the TV-Industrial complex, people merely received information. There was no dialogue, so no social rules applied. We didn’t take offense when we saw a commercial on TV…but the TV wasn’t our “friend.” We were strictly grounded in market norms. Market norms govern commerce. We pay the price on the sticker. We use coupons. Market norms are not personal.

Yet, social media seeks to harness social norms. Social norms are governed by relationships. They are more nebulous and emotionally driven.

I open the door for you and it’s implied I don’t expect a tip.

Where social media gets sticky is that yes, we can get the benefit of social norms. For instance, many people who know and like me from social media might choose to read my book above others even though it isn’t normally a genre they’d read. Yet, we must be careful mixing marketing norms with social norms or people feel used and manipulated.

Thanks for being my friend! Here is a link to my fan page and a free book! Please leave a good review, since we are friends *wink, wink*

Yeah, not creepy AT ALL.

Language Matters

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.42.36 AM

In the Golden Age of TV and Advertising, we accepted that commercials were just part of having entertainment on television. We didn’t “own” any of that airspace, so we willingly acquiesced. Social media changed this dynamic, and, for the first time in human history, the Internet gave us virtual territory.

Tom Anderson was highly intuitive when he called his new social network (2003) MYSPACE. Humans are territorial. Our Facebook wall is literally OUR WALL. When strangers post ads in “our space” it is irritating and personal.

Don’t be a personal space invader.

“Careful, Jim. I think it has a book for sale.”

We cannot get the benefits of social norms unless we respect social norms. On social media, we use terms like “friend” and “Likes.” To humans, these words have meaning, whether we consciously acknowledge this or not. When I “befriend” someone on Twitter and they immediately DM me with a spammy message to buy their book? I am offended.

Why?

Because social norms regulate social media.

Social norms don’t mean we are against buying stuff from “friends,” but it does mean we are part of a social dance that we should respect. For instance, how many of you have kids? How many of you have had your kids come home with boxes of candy to sell for school? Who did you go to first to offload overpriced crappy candy? Family. Then friends. Then probably some coworkers.

Why?

Because no one wants to go door-to-door selling anything, let alone $4 stale candy bars.

But see how the social norms guided who you would ask, and in what order, and even how you would ask for a sale? Many of those closer relationships are happy to buy overpriced candy, but only because they know you.

Let’s look at this scenario instead.

What if I complimented a woman in the grocery store, then got her chatting about the items in her basket and what she was cooking for dinner? At first she is hesitant but as we chat she lets down her guard and talks about her cat Muffin, and how she likes to bake cookies for the church.

And just about the time she is comfortable talking to me, I ask, “Wow, if your church likes cookies, they would LOVE chocolate bars. Would you like to buy some candy?”

I bet she couldn’t get to her wallet the door fast enough.

What To Do?

All right. Some of you might be panicking a little right now. But Kristen, how can we ever sell our book if we can’t TALK about it? I never said we couldn’t talk about our books. I said we had to adjust our approach. Sure, tweet about your book but don’t feel the need to camp on top of it ;) 

It should be clear to anyone looking at our interaction history that we are on social media primarily for the purpose of being social, NOT using Twitter of Facebook as free ad space.

We just need to apply the Golden Rule here.

Don’t just blast out a bunch of links all day. Are you lacking for stuff to read? I know I’m not. How many of you woke up this morning and said, “Gee, you know what I need? MORE information. I don’t have enough. In fact, I have far too much free time I need to fill. I hope I get some more e-mail.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.37.39 AM

Most people are on social media because humans are wired to be social. We are looking for connections, not another news feed with commercial breaks. If we wanted that, we’d just watch TV. I joke that social media was invented to fill a need. Many of us were seriously ticked off that Show-and-Tell was canceled after Kindergarden.

We’ve never gotten over the hurt.

We like Show-and-Tell. We love participating and we love watching and sharing in return. Hey, check it out! I baked a CAKE! Look at my new BIKE! I taught myself how to make a TREBUCHET!

Strangely enough, we haven’t changed much since childhood. Making friends is easier over something nonthreatening like a pic of our cat who has shredded the new ten-pack of toilet paper. People can relate. It generates the foundation of all relationships…a conversation.

Meet my fur-baby, Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat (who, upon popular demand, got his own fan page)….

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 5.35.06 PM

I’ve even memed him:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.04.59 PM

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 8.06.32 AM

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 8.08.39 AM

Y’all get the idea. But see how a random picture of my cat, became fun for ALL? A regular pic of my cat taking a nap transformed into something interactive. Suddenly, people who might never have before spoken to me were coming up with captions for Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat. Thanks Diedre Dykes!

This has nothing directly to do with selling a social media book, but it IS fun and it IS memorable and it IS the kind of content people love to contribute to and then share. These actions add up over time to create what we call “BRAND.”

Interruption Marketing DOESN’T Work

When was the last time a writer tweeted several times a day about her book and that prompted you to drop everything and go buy? When was the last time you clicked on a Facebook ad to buy something?

One of the reasons I encourage writers to blog is that a blog is very useful for passive selling. Every one of you who follow this blog know I have a book for sale (and even teach classes) even though I have never tweeted about them and never posted about them on Facebook.

How is this?

I serve first with a blog and then, at the end of my post, I mention my books or any W.A.N.A. International classes that might be of interest. So I am promoting my books and classes, thousands of times a day…but I am not doing so intrusively.

Most of you are not offended that I mention my books (I hope), namely because I gave freely, and thus reciprocation on your part feels natural. You don’t feel like I am ramming book ads down your throat.

No one likes a personal space invader.

My attitude is that some of you will read, click and even buy, but those not interested can simply quit reading at the end of the blog post. You might not buy one of my books today, but you know about them. So when the day comes that you decide you need to blog, hopefully my book will be in your mental databanks.

Since you have come to my corner of cyberspace it doesn’t feel invasive when I mention my books and classes, because I mention them in MY space, not YOURS. Also, like the picture of my cat, my blogs are interactive. I tell my thoughts, then look forward to yours. I am super blessed that my comments are a vibrant and interesting community. 

See how the experience now no longer only flows one direction? Content-recievers are now content-contributors and social media is far more fun because we are all engaged.

What are your social media pet peeves? Do you see red when people post ads on your walls? Or does it not bother you? Do you buy books from people who promote a lot on Twitter? Or do you not see the tweets? Do they irritate you or make you unfollow? What are some of the areas where you see the most personal space invasion?

Do you have any ideas for future installments of Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat? 

I love hearing from you!

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

***Note: I have been out of town and need time to calculate March’s winner, so will announce that NEXT BLOG POST.

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am finally back teaching and offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

100 Comments

What Makes a “Real” Writer?

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.52.53 AM

I’m finally home from speaking in Pennsylvania. Was honored to keynote for The Write Stuff Conference and super sad to leave. I get so attached to the writers and miss them when I have to go. Their passion, imagination and enthusiasm never fails to inspire me. I’d keep them and collect them in my basement except apparently this is called “taking hostages” and is “illegal” *rolls eyes*

…that, and I don’t have a basement.

I never prepare a speech. I’ve tried. But I am too ADD and end up ignoring/forgetting everything I prepared, so why not save time? Also, I present quite often and never want attendees to feel like they will hear the same things from me. Every class, every presentation is new. I love listening to those around me so my content fits better because it’s custom made.

This said, when I arrived in Pennsylvania, I had no idea what my keynote would be about specifically, so I had to keep my ears open for the common themes.

There is NO Aspiring

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.43.37 AM

Some of you have fallen for this when I speak. I will begin and ask how many aspiring writers are in the room. Yes, it is a trick question and yeah, it is more than a little evil of me, but it never fails to make a point. When the timid new writers “follow instructions” and raise their hands I yell, “NO! Stop it! You are a pre-published writer. Do or do not; there is NO TRY. 

Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for the weak and it takes guts to do this job.

Hey, I did it too. When I was new, I’d written tens of thousands of words, spent every spare moment reading about writing, studying, going to writing groups instead of the mall. I spent every spare bit of money on conferences instead of a vacation…but I was aspiring? NO. Writers WRITE. Stop being existential. We are REAL.

No one meets a lawyer who just passed the bar and asks if they are a “real” lawyer.

Really? A lawyer? How many cases have you won? 

Granted there are aspiring writers. They are pretty easy to spot because they say the same crap:

Yes, well I want to write a book, but I just have to find the free time.

My life is SO interesting. It would make a GREAT novel. Hey, how about I give you my story, you write the book and I will give you half?

Um? NO.

Writers Deserve RESPECT 

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 9.01.42 AM

This is my new hot button and I’m going to handle future interactions very differently because I’ve had enough. I spent all day Wednesday traveling across the country. Didn’t get to bed until midnight. Presented from 8:00 in the morning until almost 6:00 in the evening. We were rallying to leave for dinner at the bar of the hotel’s restaurant and THIS conversation actually happened:

Guy at Bar: *looks at me and two fellow authors and starts polite conversation* What are you doing here?

Me: We are writers.

GAB: Really? *genuine shock face* You are writers? Like…real writers?

Me: Yes.

GAB: Real writers? People actually DO that? For a living? This is your real job?

Me: Yes.

GAB: How much money do you make? You can live off that?

OKAY, I am DONE. I have had this conversation WAY too many times. So, the next time someone does this the conversation is going to look like this:

Me: Well, what do you do?

GAB: Human resources. I’m an HR manager.

Me: Wow *genuine shock face*. People DO that? That’s a real job?

GAB: Yes.

Me: Are you sure? Don’t they have an app for that? Or robots? How many people are you in charge of? Can people make money at that? Really? HR. You can live off that? How much money do you make?

And THIS is why Kristen requires adult supervision :D

Thing is, yes humans do write for fun or for a hobby. But if we are asked what our job is and respond, “I’m a writer” odds are we are not writing bad haiku on a Starbuck’s napkin all day.

And I get it. Writers (creative professionals) are like unicorns. Everyone knows about them just they would be pretty shocked to meet a real one. Yet, what other profession has to endure this amount of disrespect? No one else has to cough up a tax return or show a profit to prove their job exists.

Keep this in mind. If we don’t respect who we are and what we do then why would anyone else?

Stop Apologizing

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

I hate the term “aspiring writer” because it takes guts to do this job. Everyone loves what we do. Their lives would implode without it. Without writers there would be no entertainment, no instruction, no industry. No movies, no television series, no books, no manuals, textbooks, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, warning labels, laws, speeches, and all songs would be instrumental. No lyrics. Heck there wouldn’t even be an Internet.

It would be all pictures of cats.

Modern society hinges on writers. If we can take a step back and truly take in all we contribute it’s easier to own our profession and value it. Most people take what we do for granted because they fail to make the connection that their favorite television show began as an idea and started with a writer. 

They just assume they will log onto the Internet and be able to google anything they want. It’s easy to forget someone wrote that information.

So yes, I get it. This is a tough job. But if what we do didn’t matter then why is it dictators arrest and shoot the writers first? ;)

Writing is More than Literacy

Help those with no voice!

Help those with no voice!

Yes, it is probably great to be literate to become a writer, but what we do is more than stringing words together in sentences. We have a unique set of eyes and see the world in a way mere mortals cannot. I saw this mannequin while out shopping with the family. I guarantee you that hundreds of people had passed by without wondering why the mannequins were getting too fat for their cardigans.

:D

Before my keynote, a fellow writer told me the story of how he was staying in a hotel that was run by foreigners. We’ve all seen the signs clearly written by someone who didn’t have English as a first language. Anyway, he’s in the bathroom and there is this sign that reads:

Beware of Soap Dish

I have NO idea what that warning was trying to convey, but as a writer? What the hell is so dangerous about that soap dish? It is demonic? Does it try to eat people when they sleep? Does it steal souls? I might have even had to call management to know exactly what makes this particular soap dish so sketchy…

And THIS is the stuff writers think about :D .

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle with apologizing for what you do? Do you get tired of having to justify your profession? Are you now going to ask people if they are real doctors?

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).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am finally back teaching and offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

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

, , , , , , , , ,

141 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44,857 other followers

%d bloggers like this: