Archive for category Writing

Psychology of the Hater—Using our Naysayers to Fuel Greatness

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All right, I spent last post addressing HuffPo’s latest snooty rant regarding self-publishing and that’s cool. I don’t like giving attention to haters and click-bait. But, I also know there are a lot of emerging writers who follow this blog, who are finding their way in this crazy world of publishing. I’m here to keep you ON FIRE and to tell you not to let ANYONE steal your sparkle.

So today I want to milk a bit more out of this horrible post, because I think we can all learn something that is going to make us all better. And baby we need to be better. This is a tough world and we gotta STICK AND MOVE! No time to stand still!

Love Your Haters

If everybody loves us we are doing something wrong. We are blasé. We are the mediocre middle and nobody cares or even notices the mediocre middle. It would be great to say that everybody loves me but the truth is? They don’t. Hell you haven’t really made it until a rag like Salon blogs about you and has to misquote you in order to get readers. Went through that fun last January. Fun times.

Same with you indies. You must be doing something right or why would so many folks feel the need to put you down?

If people are hating, it means we’re doing something worthwhile. And we can let haters drag us down or we can use it.

You want to spend a blog calling me a hack? THANK YOU for helping me out! I needed blog ideas for this week!

The Psychology of the Hater

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Haters operate from a place of insecurity and fear. The thing is, I love the Big Five. Would I love to be a Random Penguin? Oh hell yeah! I dig the designer label. I’m vain. Not gonna lie about that.

Just like I know a Louis Vuitton purse doesn’t work any better than some plastic thing from Walmart, but I still want one 😀 .

Legacy has a place and it is a great business model for the right author with the right book at the right time. Sure The Martian started out self-pub, but it wasn’t the right book at the right time in the beginning for legacy. Once it evolved to a certain point? It was a great fit!

But that’s the thing…

Legacy is a business model not a religion.

When I read all these elitist rants about self-publishing, what I see is fear and insecurity. Want to know why? Because the writer who is truly doing well traditionally publishing is happy and busy and has no time to craft BS click-bait rants picking on others. They are too busy producing. They are secure.

And vice versa.

But when we subscribe to any form of publishing as a religion, it shines a light on our insecurity. I know writers who are all DOWN WITH GATEKEEPERS and DOWN WITH NY and you wanna know why? Deep down, they know they need a few craft classes and craft books. They are insecure with their ability to pass a gatekeeper on the merit of quality. So they dig in and chant that self-publishing is the only way because then, when they don’t sell any books, there are a lot of places to blame.

Oh, it’s the algorithms.

Oh, the only books that sell have mega marketing budgets.

Oh, I can’t compete with these legacy authors because they get all this PR and ads.

NY is just publishing crap. 

NY just wants mega-sellers like James Patterson.

Notice how all of these things are out of the control of the writer and all offer a convenient excuse. It gives a goooood reason for why the book is selling instead of maybe looking at the quality of the book and being honest.

Then, maybe if the writing is good? Sucking it up and being honest that we wrote a book there is not market for. Instead of whining that our ferret romance isn’t selling, maybe recognize the world may just not yet be ready for A Tale of Two Gerbils. We failed. We wrote a book for US and not readers.

So write another one. And another. And another.

Stick and move. Assess adapt and overcome.

But the same thing happens with the elites who all want to tout that “only traditionally published authors are ‘real’ authors.” Wanna know why? Because when these folks see that their book is #252,123 on the Amazon list, and no one is buying and no one is reviewing then at least they have small comfort in the fact that some gatekeeper somewhere thought they were special. It is the consolation prize for lackluster sales and not being able to quit the day job.

They strike out at the indies who are KILLING IT because deep down they are jealous.

There is NO Publishing Sugar Daddy

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For the emerging author who wants to traditionally publish because magically someone is going to hold your hand and make you a success? That is a fairy tale. Even if we publish with NYC, if our name doesn’t rhyme with J.K. Rowling, we aren’t going to get the major marketing budgets and ads. It doesn’t make business sense for them to give that kind of cash and attention to a new author.

We gotta know the business of our BUSINESS.

Want to know why NY props up Barnes and Noble? Because they have an older business model with a high overhead. Amazon doesn’t do huge initial orders. They prefer to do small orders then used diminishing stock to prompt the sale. Only 5 left in stock.

Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, has to stock all these giant stores and so they do massive initial orders. Those initial orders are comprised of stock they know with pretty good certainty they can MOVE. This means UP FRONT CASH for the Big Five’s business operations.

This is why the Big Five do ads and big marketing for the James Pattersons. Patterson pays the bills. Kristen Lamb does not (yet) 😉 . They aren’t going to put as much energy into rocking Amazon because it doesn’t feed their business model as well as brick-and-mortar.

See once we “get” the business of our business we stop taking it personally and learn we gotta hustle.

This means that for the traditional author who is not yet Nora Roberts? They have to do the exact same stuff us indies are doing. They need to be on social media, they need to build a brand. They need to be educated enough to ask the tough questions of their publisher.

Hey, why does this book description not have the right keywords? When can we fix that?

Did you run a reverse ASIN tracking? Because I did and we don’t have any of the right keywords for folks looking for books like mine. Hell, they are finding that indie chick over there. How about me? 

How can I get fans excited about reviewing?

How can I mobilize people to talk about me in a positive way?

No, see it is way easier to sniff at us indies and tell us we are hacks than maybe it is to befriend an indie who is doing well and ask, “How are you doing what you are doing? Can you point me the right direction?”

Same with us indies. You see a traditional author who writes books so wonderful angels weep? Read them. Study them. Befriend them. Ask, “How did you learn to plot like that?”

Complain and Remain

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It is easier to complain that so many wanna-be-writers are crapping up the world with bad books than it is to hustle and get to work. All of us are climbing through the same ranks. Someone who publishes a book so bad it makes my eyes bleed isn’t my concern because they aren’t my competition. And if the book is so bad my eyes bleed and they are selling a gazillion books? Then clearly they are better at something and what can I learn? Because I want to sell a gazillion books too.

Just remember the psychology of the hater.

If we are hating on someone else? I have a motto.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Instead of spending precious time and energy worrying about someone else? What can we do to focus on US? Why am I feeling insecure? What is bothering me? How can I address that? How can I overcome that and use my jealousy to make me better?

Because we ALL get jealous, even me.

If someone is hating on us?

It means we are shaking things up and hitting some button that makes that person insecure. OR, they know they can’t create something on their own that gets attention, but criticizing US does and the best they can get is riding OUR coattails. So again…

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I can’t hear what you are saying because I am already long gone 😉 .

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself getting discouraged by haters? Are you giving them too much power? Do you find yourself griping and making excuses. Heck, I do! I just have learned to recognize it and STOP IT! Can you see where your complaints might give you good direction to solve what is really wrong?

Give us a testimony! You ever had a hater that propelled you to do great things? BRAG! Did you ever find yourself complaining and it taught you something that made you better? BRAG! Heck I did. I used to complain about not having enough tiiiime and it taught me to learn to manage my time. It showed me I was wasting my time. Again! BRAG!

And if you are feeling insecure about ANY of this, please take one of my classes (listed below). I have some amazing bundles that are not going to be available after this week. I have a Master’s series for Craft and a Master’s Series for social media and you LITERALLY get a free class (three classes for the price of TWO).

All you need to know to set 2017 ON FIRE. Don’t waste time griping social media doesn’t sell books. Come learn to do it well. The writers who make the most money have multiple titles. I can teach you how to be a plotting machine! Even the pantsers. Invest in you. I look forward to seeing you in class and a recording is provided with your purchase. All you need is an internet connection to attend.

I love hearing from you!

And 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).

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! 

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! APPROVED USE FOR CHRISTMAS MONEY!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

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

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Generation Author Snowflake & The High Cost of Instant

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of David Rogers

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of David Rogers

Technology always changes our reality and there are inevitable growing pains that go part and parcel with any innovation. Every meaningful advance always has social consequences.

Always.

From the Gutenberg Press to the Model-T to electric lighting humans have had to adjust, shift and learn to balance great benefits with never before encountered consequences.

With the digital age? Here we go again.

As I’ve mentioned before, as early as 2004 when I was puttering around a site called Gather, I saw what social media was going to evolve into, that we were looking at likely the largest shift in communication since the Gutenberg Press. I knew even then that this was likely going to be the end of publishing as we had known it for well over a hundred years.

But I would be lying if I said I didn’t have mixed emotions.

The Good

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Martin.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Martin.

By 2006, novelists were dying due to the predatory practices of mega-bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble (for more on why, go HERE). These businesses had made next to impossible for novelists to make a living wage. Their methods obliterated the author middle class and replaced a balanced economy with a Publishing Third World where most of the wealth was concentrated at the top with the super well-known brands.

Mid-list authors were leaving writing altogether and going back to “real” jobs like teaching. New authors were finding it increasingly difficult to “break out.”

The reason is that, to offer so many books so deeply discounted, books had a far shorter shelf life. Also, unlike say a B. Dalton, the mega stores didn’t carry backlist so a mid-list author was no longer making royalties off eight or ten or fifteen books, she was making royalties off of ONE. The backlist was pulled and essentially stuffed in storage.

The problem was that how platforms were traditionally built was by an author being able to offer multiple titles. Without multiple titles in circulation? Platforms dissolved or never formed at all.

If you were a new author, you had to hope for a proper alignment of stars and hope the book took off and made impact like a literary meteor strike. Because, if you didn’t? There was no good way to keep fan fires burning because older titles got pulled.

Enter social media….

I saw that it was now going to be possible for an emerging writer to cultivate an audience and fan base before the first book was ever published much the same way non-fiction authors could do. Additionally, authors now had a way to offer interaction and content with fans between books. 

When Amazon, Smash Words, etc. entered the scene with e-books? The future got brighter. Mid-list authors who were leaving publishing in defeat now could take that backlist and put it out with new life and power this engine using social media. Not only could they build and maintain a brand and platform with social interaction on, say, Twitter or Facebook, but they were back to having those multiple titles SO critical for any brand.

Authors who’d been driven practically into poverty now were making incomes unlike anything they’d seen before.

The Bad

Before sites like Amazon, writers had two choices. Legacy press or the pay-to-play vanity press. But the steep cost of vanity press acted as a sort of gatekeeper. Also, without social media, vanity press was pretty much a sure way to end up with $10,000 worth of books in our garage. This meant that 1) bad books never really made it into circulation and 2) writers had time to learn and grow and mature before their book was good enough to be accepted by a legacy press.

Granted, I am not saying everything NY accepted was great literature. Nor am I saying they didn’t reject some amazing works because of their business model. But, I think I am fairly safe saying that writers who had no plot (I mean NO plot), poor grammar and atrocious spelling likely didn’t make the cut.

So places like Amazon have been wonderful and have given us gems like Wool and The Martian and it has given new life to old series we wouldn’t have been able to buy unless we struck gold at a garage sale or used bookstore.

Even I have benefitted greatly. NY didn’t want a social media branding book. Even though they were insisting every one of their authors BE on social media, they refused to publish the manual on HOW to do it well.

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Yeah, I know. Go fig. But Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World would have been impossible without self-pub and writers would have had to figure everything out the hard way.

But one of the reasons I was not fully gung-ho on self-publishing is that I also saw it was going to bring a LOT of problems. The slush pile would be dumped in the reader’s lap and it would devalue what it meant to say, “I am a published author.” And, by giving any person who’d finished a book the title of “published author” it was going to be harder and harder to correct bad writing.

The Awful

You guys know I am all about writers being supportive of each other. We have a tough job and we already endure friends, family and the world knifing us, we don’t need to be doing it to each other. I have always had a policy on doing book reviews. If I can’t leave at least three stars, I don’t say anything at all.

But I am starting to have REAL internal conflict about this policy because…

Publishing is the New Participation Trophy

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We are drowning in a sea of participation trophies and this is problematic not only for readers, it is devastating to the writing community. Writers who were in no way ready to be published are, but because they are “published” this makes it all but impossible to offer meaningful correction so they can actually grow.

Social media only exacerbates this. Groups of writers band together to offer “support” by reading and reviewing but one of two things is happening. Since the writer is a “friend” others might be offering good reviews that simply were not earned in order to “help.”

Or, they remain silent.

By remaining silent, the author is given no meaningful feedback on how to get any better so the author is just going to keep putting out bad books only making the problem worse.

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Thank GOD it was before Amazon.

Then because the writer now is an “author” they are far harder to correct. I have had folks who have won my 20 page critique who sent in writing so bad I could barely make it through. When I red-penned it, I got ripped on how the work was already published and had “great reviews” (All my friends and family LOVE me so you are an idiot).

Failure to Thrive

We are seeing real problems with the millennial generation, and reaping the consequences of handing out participation trophies, banning any failed grades and making teachers use blue pens for grading because “red ink hurts feelings”. We have young people who are bright and passionate and who want to change the world, but they are vastly unrealistic and virtually impossible to correct.

They are addicted to instant gratification and for being rewarded for “trying.” Because of social media, they also have the ability to surround themselves in an ideological echo chamber so anyone who challenges their beliefs or opinions can be “unfriended” and replaced with a more compliant “friend.” When they leave the university and enter the real world they are getting discouraged because creating a career is a long hard journey with lots of work and no one cares if you “tried.”

What is happening is that our intelligent and idealistic youth are suffering unprecedented rates of depression and they are giving up before they should, all because the world doesn’t match their skewed world view. We all are suffering because these kids DO have a tremendous amount to offer, but have been knee-capped by misguided benevolence.

They were not allowed to fail. And by not being allowed to fail, we stole the joy of authentic success. We devalued those who’d earned success. Failure is the best teacher. Humans are wired to learn from failure.

And while that is a whole other blog altogether, I am seeing what I feared back in 2004 happening to the writing world. The same crisis facing our millennials is devastating our writers.

We have created Generation Author Snowflake.

A title that once meant something is open to anyone with a computer. Not only does this discourage writers who did the hard work by handing rewards to those who skipped key parts, but it gives many writers a skewed sense of their abilities. Because failure has been removed from the equation, many writers keep putting out books that aren’t any better than the first bad book that really wasn’t ready to begin with.

I frequently tell writers the key to success is multiple titles (like above) but this is assuming the author is putting out quality material people want to read. Simply writing book after book with no plot or one-dimensional characters is only padding a virtual slush pile.

Additionally, benchmarks of success have been devalued. Years ago, there was a writer in my old writing group whose writing was SO horrible we felt like we were hostages, not critique partners. He never took a single suggestion even though we endured that terrible book for 18 months. When he invited me to his “book signing” at Barnes & Noble? I died a little inside. To this day a “book signing” means less because of this.

Ah, Feelings….

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of DualD Flip Flop

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of DualD Flip Flop

But it gets worse. Because we really don’t want to hurt feelings or suffer a backlash, those of us who might actually help a writer grow remain quiet. I recently tried to read a book that was unbelievably bad. But the author was popular, so I guess that is all that matters, right?

I really struggled.

If I wrote the scathing review the book deserved, then I am a jerk for publicly stabbing another writer (and risk tanking my brand for “being mean”). If I write an e-mail, then that would likely fall flat because so many others said the book was better than unicorn tears. But if I remain quiet, who really suffers?

One, the reader for being recommended a 5-star book that hardly earned the rating and for more reasons than simple subjective taste (no plot, repetitive words, bizarre body movements, flawed facts, etc). But the author never grows because the social media echo chamber of popularity is offering a distorted reality.

In the end, I have no good answer. I still can’t bring myself to write bad reviews but then am I contributing to Generation Author Snowflake?

I get messages from writers who have friends who published and, being a good friend, they bought and read the book then were are all, “W…T…H?”

This book is awful! Kristen, what do I do?

I got nothing. Sorry.

But this is the reason behind my post. One of the great benefits of social media is the hive mind. I am only so smart, can only have so many answers. But with you guys? Maybe we can figure out how to change things because I want to get better. I don’t want to get trolled, but I don’t want sunshine blown up my skirt, either. I want to believe I earned what I got and I don’t think I am alone.

I am so thrilled we have all the advantages of e-books and Amazon and blogs and social media. But there are some serious consequences we need to address and correct. Writers are getting discouraged and giving up. Their careers are lacking meaning and they feel like failures, much like the millennials who have corners filled with ribbons and medals they know they didn’t earn (but with no authentic feedback how to improve).

Maybe they really DO have talent, but because they have no correction it really never develops. Or, sad to say, maybe they just aren’t good writers and they need to treat writing as a hobby and stop hemorrhaging money in marketing because they lack what it takes to do this as a career.

No matter what way I look at it, this is bad. It need to change.

So what are your thoughts? Do you have writers around you who are less open to feedback because they are “published”? Do you struggle with reviews? Do you have any ideas or thoughts or suggestions? How do you handle it when a friend has a book that really wasn’t yet ready to be published? Do you find that old benchmarks mean less? Do book signings or book launches fall a bit flatter for you? Do your real successes mean less than they might have 15 years ago?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

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

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! 

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! APPROVED USE FOR CHRISTMAS MONEY!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

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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131 Comments

After the Dumpster Fire of 2016—How to Make 2017 ROCK!

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We are THANK GOD bringing a close to 2016. Though I’ve survived, I feel like I’ve dragged myself out of a Dumpster fire. Is it me or did 2016 actually last three years?

But as Robert H. Schuller once said…

Tough times never last but tough people do.

Many who read this blog desire to be professional authors and that is a great goal and it is attainable but there are some practical realities we need to appreciate. The road to becoming a pro is long and brutal and treacherous and this post is to help you prepare accordingly.

Think of it like this. If you wanted to take a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood with your dog and kids, would you pack MREs, gallons of fresh water, portable water filtration systems, tents, sleeping bags and a med kit? Would you hire a personal trainer to get you in pique condition for the journey? Would you hire a team of sherpas?

Likely not…unless you’re my husband but he just wants sherpas.

Conversely, if you wanted to summit Everest, would you just slip on the running shoes and leash the dog? You haven’t exercised since Paris Hilton was cool, but why not? Fresh air in the Himalayas might do you some good, right?

Unless you wanted a lonely frozen death on a mountain? Yeah. Again, NO.

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Yet sadly, a lot of writers fall into the secondary category. They have a dream of scaling one of the toughest goals in the Western World without fully appreciating what is required for such a journey. An idea only gets us so far and if we fail to properly prepare for what we are wanting to do, we are making an already long journey far longer and harder than is necessary.

I don’t think anyone who has ever summited Everest believes it was easy-peasy, but without the right planning, prep and gear it would surely have been impossible.

Unfortunately, I began my journey seventeen years ago with nothing more than BS and glitter and have done my share of falling off the mountain.

*long scream* *bounce bounce OUCH*

So here are some tips to help you with your journey into 2017 and though I am downloading a lot onto you, these fundamentals will make EVERYTHING work better, especially any New Year’s Resolutions…

Guard Your Dream

Often when we get a new shiny dream we are so excited and we want to go tell everyone so they can be super excited too. That is not always a good plan because humans are weird creatures who all have baggage (and not just carry-on).

When I was new, I thought others would be happy for what I wanted to achieve, that they would be supportive and we could do this together! And what I am about to say is going to be very unpopular, but it is unfortunately true.

Most people will settle for less than what they are truly capable of. But, here’s the kicker…

They really don’t want to believe they settled.

***Denial is more than a river in Africa 😉 .

These folks will have all kinds of good reasons they can’t do X, Y and Z and they will honestly believe them. So, when you come bee-bopping along all excited and start showing them they really could do better if they really wanted to? They are going to resent you. Just expect it.

Bear with me….

I want you to think back to every frigging group project you ever had to do in school. Be there. Think about it. Feel the emotions. Let the anger flow through you….

All right.

Now back to your writing dream. Do you really want it to be a group project?

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When I was new, I thought every person who said he/she wanted to be a successful writer really did. I stayed in writing groups for years with people who had no time to do any writing but plenty of time to start a lot of back-stabbing drama.

I kept trying to make it work because I really didn’t want to be alone. Being alone was terrifying. But the more I pressed and the harder I worked, the more pushback there was from those who should have been on my side (YES, even especially FAMILY).

I had to choose between pleasing others or reaching the goal I’d set out to attain.

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The problem with group dynamics is that water will find its level. If we are fortunate enough to find a group with similar aspirations and work ethic, that is wonderful. But make sure you are being honest about who you are surrounding yourself with.

Actions speak louder than words and sometimes, to summit? We need to cut some ropes.

NO Lies

One of the big lies you will hear from people (and maybe even yourself) is the I just can’t find the time lie. Here’s the deal. Time isn’t hiding in the couch cushions with the TV remote. We don’t find time, we make time. People make time for what they find important and if you don’t believe me here is an example.

You drop a buck on a lottery ticket on a whim and win twenty million dollars in the Power Ball. Would you really have to find time to go turn it in and get the cash?

So if you find yourself saying those words, “I can’t find the time” just be honest and say, “It isn’t important to me.”

Being a successful author will require time. The more time we invest, the quicker and the better the payoff. We need time to write, research, train, and build a brand. Compromise any of those and the goal is harder to reach. So be honest with yourself in 2017. If your writing dream is really important, then actions should reflect that.

***Goes for me, too 😉

Time to Write

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

We need to write. I have been running writing sprints every weekday morning on my Ning WANATribe for well over a year so that any writer willing to invest the time will get to write alongside me and experience a professional pace. I pay $70 a month out of my own pocket and out of almost 3,000 members, want to know how many regularly show to sprint?

Fewer than ten.

We do sprints 40 minutes at a time all morning every morning (sometimes all day). Even if a person did one sprint a day and only eked out a single page (250 words), that person would have a finished draft in less than a year. And while that seems like a long time to write a book, how many people have been futzing with the same novel for five or more years?

Never underestimate the power of simply showing up.

If our goal is to publish a book in 2017, we have to actually write it. I know. Hard stuff.

Time to Read

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Craig Sunter

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Craig Sunter

Reading is how we hone our skills and learn. I do a lot of editing and one of my biggest complaints with new writers is it is clear they do not read. They beat up a lot of the same words, the same tired descriptions and their dialogue sounds like a bad soap opera. Often I can tell in less than ten pages they have no plot.

But these are the same folks who will claim they have no time to read.

I read about three books a week. No I don’t sit with a nice hard back the way I would prefer. I listen to audio books and it isn’t my preference but it works with all I have to do. I can’t sit and leisurely page through while folding laundry. I can, however, listen to an audio book and with Kindle Unlimited and an Audible membership I can afford my habit.

No, not all writers are plotters, but I will be blunt. Pansters really are plotters but the reason they can get away with not sitting and outlining is they literally have read so many books that structure is hardwired into their brains and they can navigate a 60,000-110,000 word story intuitively.

Successful pantsers are extremely well read (plotters too but pantsers even more so).

If we don’t spend time reading, we will probably spend way more time with crappy drafts. Most people are not born writing savants. Stephen King didn’t become Stephen King without reading fiction and using others to refine his craft.

Time With Pros

Reading is our time with pros. We can see how J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman or whatever writing hero we have executed plot, character, tension, pacing, etc. We can also take classes or read books to shorten the learning curve instead of spending far more time figuring it out on our own.

You can spend ten years and three bad books figuring out all the intricacies of how to plot or take my class and get ten years of MY work in an hour.

Feel free to blog unsuccessfully for a couple years OR take one of my classes and I already did the hard work for you.

The thing is, you will spend time but there is a choice on how you spend it 😉 .

****New classes are listed below.

Time to Brand and Build a Platform

Lots of writers want to whine about social media and that it is too hard and it takes too much time. All right. But discoverability is an absolute nightmare and most people are not buying books at bookstores namely because bookstores are getting about as rare as unicorn tears. Of the remaining point of sale outlets only a small fraction of titles are available and for only short periods of time.

You really think Costco is going to let titles sit on their ONE table long enough to cultivate readers? No. They are only stocking authors who already cultivated readers. They are going for proven sellers and even those guys have a brief shelf life.

Barnes & Noble is dedicating more and more shelves for knick-knacks, toys, music and gadgets because they have a higher profitability. B&N, to me, has become less and less of a bookstore and more and more The Borg—a haphazard compilation of all the businesses their predatory behavior rendered extinct.

Just cobble a coffee shop a toy store a music store and a Hallmark together and sprinkle on some books and VOILA!

B&N 2.0.

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I know. Reality sucks. Reality dictates I can’t live on pizza and Ding-Dongs and be skinny. Reality dictates I can’t pay my power bill with my looks. When it comes to being a writer? Reality dictates we build a brand capable of driving sales and the brutal truth is this was ALWAYS the truth even before social media.

Go to any used bookstore and whose books do you really see? I mean REALLY see? Authors with multiple multiple titles. Don’t believe me? Blindfold yourself and spin around three times and see how many steps it takes to hit a James Patterson, Stephen King or Nora Roberts book.

In the olden days before social media, that was how an author became a household name. They wrote a crap ton of books.

Frankly? This is still how it is done, though social media and blogging can make name recognition that drives sales happen far sooner and with fewer titles. But branding and social media has to be done in an effective way.

There are no shortcuts. Book spam is NOT branding. Friending people on FB and spamming their wall is NOT branding. Blogging about your own book is NOT branding. Ranting about politics nonstop like a pit bull with Tourettes is NOT branding.

Well, it is. Kind of. It’s called negative branding and it is guaranteed to make people avoid us more than a Jehovah’s Witness who just joined Amway.

And I know the new trend is to buy into these services that promise newsletter nirvana but read my lips…

Without a brand it is only spam.

Authors who are successful with ads, Bookbub, newsletters, etc. are successful because they first took time to cultivate the audience.

They built a foundation with either multiple books and or meaningful social media branding. We skip that step at our own peril.

Trust me. I’ve been through all the fads. I was on Gather in 2004 when I first realized social media branding would eventually be crucial for authors. I was laughed at by agents and editors and tarred and feathered by traditional authors for years.

So I did something about it.

I very literally wrote the book on social media branding for authors, and I have stood the test of time through all the “experts” who’ve offered shortcuts. I withstood the 99 Cent Book Blizzard of 2010, the Free Book Free For All of 2011. The Triberr Tsunami of 2013, the Algorithm Alchemy of 2012-2013, the Automation Avalanche of 2013-2014 and on and on and on.

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So back to newsletters….

I’ve seen all the hype.

Forget Facebook! No blogging! No time required! Social media no longer works! A big newsletter mailing list is the ticket to fame and fortune! Build that list! We can HELP!

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No.

Just….stop.

Unsolicited offers from authors we don’t know? It’s called spam. Do newsletters work? YES. But only with a solid foundation. Without that? Mass numbers and blind luck.

So all of this goes back to my point to guard our time. Quick fixes are never quick so we buy into the Social Media Shake Weight at our own risk 😉 .

Make 2017 count and just ignore the fads. Consistent meaningful effort in small doses over time is far more effective than anything some guru will sell you. Need a manual? Pick up a copy of Rise of the Machines

My methods have literally sold tens of millions of books and even launched unpubbed newbies to NYT status. My methods aren’t fancy but they do work and they work on any social platform in any given year because my approach is not based on technology or gimmick or trickery. My approach is based on humans and humans don’t change.

I have zero interest in turning you guys into high-pressure salespeople or mega-marketers. Just be YOU and still have time to write.

Honest.

And yeah yeah I am promoting my book and classes. But I’ve also written over a thousand blogs and spent almost $6,000 of my own money maintaining WANATribe with NO fees and no ads, so I think it is safe to say I want to help you guys succeed 😀 .

So there you go! All you need to rock 2017. Guard your dreams and guard your time. Success is simple but it isn’t easy. We must spend time but if we spend it well and consistently, rewards are there.

What are your thoughts? Have you been bad about guarding your dreams? Have you allowed toxic friends, family, writing groups to drag you down? Do you get overwhelmed and forget that small actions do add up? Are you going to MAKE time in 2017?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

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

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! 

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! APPROVED USE FOR CHRISTMAS MONEY!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

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

Why the Reader Put That Book Down

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I do a ridiculous amount of reading because it is part of my job as a writer. My job in particular because I blog about craft. I read all genres and go through anywhere from 2-4 books a week. Audible will go bankrupt if I’m ever hit by an ice cream truck.

This said, I think I’m in a fairly good position to guide you guys on pitfalls to avoid from a reader’s POV. These are the mistakes that will have me railing at the heavens and throwing a book across the room…followed by depression because I can never get those wasted hours back.

I just returned a book so bad that I cannot believe I read as much of it as I did. It is a prime example why reviews can be misleading, even good ones.

I finally had to return it because there was just not enough blood pressure medicine in the world. I’m not a reviewer. It isn’t my brand so I’m not going to name names. Also, fiction is highly subjective so this is what pulled ME out of the story. But I’m hoping the thin silver lining from this dreadful experience is maybe I can use the flaws in this book as a cautionary tale.

Good Fiction is About Problems

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First and foremost good fiction is the path of greatest resistance. NOTHING should come easily for the protagonist. This is fiction, not a frigging Barbie Dream House for a writer to play out her dream life.

The protagonist had absolutely NO resistance whatsoever. After the death of her fiancé and childhood sweetheart, she decides to open a coffee shop. Magically she is gifted almost a quarter of a million dollars at the funeral. Okay. Plausible. Then she needed a space but her credit was bad…oh but magically mystically the owner of the space and a total plot puppet visits her house and gives her the lease and tells her he won’t charge rent until she opens and to take as long as she needs.

Oh-kay.

Then her friend—a premium designer—offers to redo the space gratis. And on and on and on. She never has a setback and the world is just bending over backward to hand her whatever she needs.

Now the book began sort of interesting. A psychic shows to the funeral to tell her her fiancé is alive. Okay, cool, that is a story. But does the protagonist pursue this? Ask any questions? Maybe fly to Mexico where the love of her life disappeared to check it out for herself? Even though she is flush with plenty of cash?

Nope.

We spend I kid you not, half the book of her essentially playing literary Barbies…including Sexy Photographer Ken who is every woman’s dream and who is willing to stop globe-hopping taking award-winning gallery quality shots….to be her barista for her gourmet coffee shop even though she refuses to date him.

Whenever we write fiction, of course we are injecting our fantasies into a book but we also need to make sure that everything isn’t going so smoothly that the reader is a Fly on the Wall of NOTHING FRIGGING HAPPENING.

Characters Who Are Too Dumb To Live

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As I mentioned, the book hooked early with the promise of a faked death and a psychic. But even after a vision of her love being in danger, in water, bullets whizzing by…the protagonist never pursues the question.

What is interesting is she (Barista Barbie) is happy to keep Photographer Ken waiting on the hook for TWO YEARS while she opens her Barbie Playhouse Gourmet Coffee Shop. The protagonist cannot date him because she still has questions whether or not her fiancé is still alive….

WTH?

YOU HAVE HAD TWO YEARS!!!!! So you keep Photographer Ken on the hook for two years because you are unsure if the psychic was right? That your love could be alive? But you NEVER look into it? IN TWO YEARS?

What…is…wrong….with…you?

Even more perplexing, what is wrong with Photographer Ken? Move on. She is a game-playing b$#@!.

Every mystery masquerading as tension was something easily remedied with a google search or a PHONE CALL. When there a deep nagging questions that can be remedied with a five minute conversation, and that conversation never happens?

*left eye twitches*

The entire premise of this book is that maybe her fiancé isn’t dead. NOT ONCE does she ever ask, “Hey those remains you found and that we buried? How did they identify it was him? Dental records? DNA?”

NOT ONCE.

*shoots self*

Dumb Factual Errors

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Right now I’m writing a Western Horror and historical is a totally new thing for me. I’m constantly stopping to research my facts and I know that one day when it is in print I will have some Curator of All Things Western probably nail me on some detail I botched. But, I tried. I did my due diligence. Thing is, we probably will all miss a fact here and there and that is all right. I really don’t mind that stuff.

But when an author has an error that could have a) been fixed with simply thinking for a minute and if still in doubt? b) GOOGLING IT…it ticks me off.

So after an absurd amount of time, protagonist FINALLY takes a break from baking and making frou frou coffees to check out Mexico and maybe see if the love of her life is still alive. What a peach! She lives in San Jose and it is a NINETEEN HOUR FLIGHT to Mexico?

Whisky Tango Hotel?

You don’t even need to be local to California to know that there is no way in hell that flight is NINETEEN HOURS. She could fly to New Zealand in THIRTEEN. This was actually the point I tapped out and gave up.

Seriously, the devil is in the details. It is too easy to get most of our facts correct in this day and age so when we bungle something that obvious? It frustrates the reader.

Word/Phrase Echoes

Again, this is something all of us do, though hopefully a good editor will help you remove them. Word echoes are my super power so I tend to be lenient when reading because I know I’m trained to see these things and so I’m tougher than most. I’ve learned to lighten up. But if we have a word or a phrase that we use to the point of distraction? It wrecks the reading experience.

When reading this book, I pondered making a drinking game out of it. You know, take a shot every time a character “rounded his eyes” (whatever that is—surprise?)…but I would have gotten alcohol poisoning in less than three chapters.

We need to mix it up and if you need help? Seriously, get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. 

In the end, any one of these oopses might not tank a book but these are at least some good things to keep in mind when writing and later editing.

What are your thoughts? What are your pet peeves? What makes you want to punch a book in the face?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

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

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! Fantastic as Christmas gifts *wink, wink, bid, nod*

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! IDEAL FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

 

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

 

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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113 Comments

FINISH THAT NOVEL—Tips to Help You Go the Distance

Inspired author biting crumpled paper

Today, Alex Limberg is with us again, and he is talking about one of the most important and tricky issues in writing: Endurance. It doesn’t matter how well we write, how pretty the prose or witty the dialogue. WE MUST FINISH.

No half-finished brilliant manuscript ever became a runaway best-seller but a lot of finished “meh” ones have.

Alex has some very effective tactics and practical examples to help you out.

Just look at his list and pick out the ones that work for you. And if you want to see how good your story really is or what it might be missing, definitely check out his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Post starts in 3… 2… 1… 0:

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Have you ever written an entire novel? If so, then you know that it takes a lot of stamina.

I’m not just talking about the really long ones, the brick-like ones you could kill a chicken with. Sometimes it seems like a mystery how Ayn Rand could write something like Atlas Shrugged or how Tolkien could ever complete Lord of the Rings.

I mean, did they never have to do the laundry or cut their toe nails, did life never get in the way?

Did they never get utterly frustrated by the sheer amount of pages they had to write – and by the fact they had to write them well?

I’m sure all of this did happen, but here is the important part: They didn’t let it stop them. They never ever quit. And neither should you.

Luckily, there are a couple of excellent tactics to help you if you are stuck. Here is what you can do if your writing project takes ages to come together and is starting to wear you down:

1. Maybe your story needs change

If something is fundamentally wrong with your story, no psychological recharging will help you; you would just end up frustrated anyways. Instead, your first step is to check if some elements of your novel want to be shuffled around.

Maybe there is one character too many or too few, or one of the figures is making decisions that don’t correspond to her personality.

Maybe the plot needs to be tightened or it needs more logic.

Maybe the point of view is off.

Take notes, think about it, and if you get the impression that there is something wrong with your story, try a different route.

To help you examine any wrong turns your story might have taken, you can download my free goodie about “44 Key Questions” to check your story. Use it to test your story for anything that could possibly go wrong.

2. Take a break

This one seems obvious, but you might not even see it if you are totally caught up in your novel: Leave your project alone for a couple of days or weeks and do things you normally wouldn’t do.

Take a hike, play the piano, do a bartending course; carve a sculpture, visit an origami exhibition, search for Bigfoot. After having your mind circle around your story all the time, any physical activity or mental change will feel refreshing.

Your body and mind will reenergize and open up to new ways of feeling and thinking.

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3. Don’t expect too much

When we want something really bad, we often put way too much pressure on ourselves. Then it can happen that we freeze in front of the task like a mouse in the face of a snake.

So take yourself aside for a word of clear, constructive self-talk: Reassure yourself it will be okay. No word you put on screen or paper is final. Nobody will ever see a single letter before you decide to release it into the world.

Finally, even the best writers sometimes produce garbage. Seriously, it’s all good. It’s just a learning process, like everything else in life.

But what do I hear from you? That it’s easier said than done?

True, so here is a practical exercise: Write one page of fiction, and on purpose make it as bad as you possibly can. Is it really cringeworthy? Great, you have succeeded. Hopefully you will be less outcome-dependent now.

4. Put yourself in a creative state of mind

What exactly is a “creative state of mind”?

Your creative self is celebrating its most reckless party when you feel both relaxed and playful at the same time. Again, when you get stuck with your novel, chances are you are worrying too much about getting it right.

Start by taking the pressure off yourself like outlined above. Then go play with your kids and their building blocks to bring out your playful side. If you don’t have kids, play a round of poker, tic-tac-toe or Dungeons & Dragons. Start a pillow fight. The more silly, childish and senseless you can get, the better… it will open up your carefree, curious side again. Creative people can learn a lot from how children treat the world.

Finally, start playing around with the elements of your story, just for the sake of it. Try absurd scenarios. How would that confession scene play out at a circus amongst clowns and dancing bears?

Don’t expect any results, but maybe fooling around will spark your passion for your story again. You might even come across new ideas about how to move it further along.

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5. Reward yourself

It’s also important to nurture your creative motor. Assign yourself little rewards in advance for reaching your writing goals.

Pick something you are really looking forward to. It might be a night at the movies for a chapter you finish, or a new iPad for finishing half of your novel.

6. Visualize your success

If you undergo the long, winding process of writing a book, chances are you feel a deep desire within yourself to see the finished result.

So use your desire and visualize that very satisfying outcome: What would it feel like to look at your finished novel, to know that you finally made it happen? How awesome would it be to read the best chapter aloud to your friends, how exciting to send it out to a couple of agents and publishers and see what happens?

Visualize these scenes of sweet victory. They will give you that extra boost you need to get your project done. And if you need a practical exercise, write a letter to yourself and describe what success will look like.

Also, what fascinated you so much about your story you had to start to write it in the first place? Was it a character, an idea, a scene? Remind yourself of what you found fascinating when you started your long and winding novel. Imagine that character or idea vividly before your mind’s eye.

These are a couple of tactics and tricks I found useful for my own writing. See which one of them works best for you. After all, everything you see here is just words on a screen; apply them, live them, finally stick with what really helps you and disregard the rest.

Soon enough your creative juices will be flowing again, and when you have finished your story, you will look at it and be immensely proud of yourself: You have gotten up, overcome all the obstacles and finally achieved your goal – congratulations, this is what makes you a real writer!

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Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Download his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to quickly detect any problems in your story and keep yourself motivated. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

So far, so good. Now we just need to do it.

Kristen here again. I have a couple of questions for you: Which techniques work best when you feel fatigue? What do we need to add to the list? Is it hard to be creative when everyday life is upon you? Does wearing a banana peel for a hat make you more creative? Could this fashion statement also be your reward for a finished novel?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

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

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! Fantastic as Christmas gifts *wink, wink, bid, nod*

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! IDEAL FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

 

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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45 Comments

The Blind Spot—Because DENIAL Makes for Excellent Fiction

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Last time we talked about The Wound and how this wound is what drives a character and his or her choices. But here is the thing, almost always the protagonist has no clue they even have a wound and that is because of the blind spot.

The blind spot is a critical reason most people read fiction. Fiction acts as almost a holodeck, playing out the human drama. Fiction is real life….only with the boring crap cut out. Self-actualization happens in less than 300 pages. It is why we dig stories.

We might see ourselves in a character and when the character finally notices the blind spot and sees and acknowledges the wound? They are doing it for us as well. We see how they struggle and then triumph and it gives us insight into ourselves. It gives us information, inspiration and maybe even some hope that we aren’t all lost causes.

****A note of irony. I wrote most of this post early this morning before the gym then as I was leaving? A guy backed into me because I was in his….wait for it….BLIND SPOT (my vehicle above). I can’t make this crap up. But hell we are writers so WE USE EVERYTHING!

Where were we? Oh yes….

The Protagonist DOES NOT SEE the Blind Spot

Namely because if the protagonist does see the blind spot? Then blind spot is a terrible name.

Most fiction is a journey to self awareness. We have a protagonist in his/her normal world. Everything is fine…but not really. There is a critical missing piece keeping the protagonist from being self-actualized. This is plainer to see when we realize that most beginnings and endings of novels (and movies/series) are actually bookends.

Normal world is their world with the wound festering and hidden. The denouement? The world is restored but whole.

All of us have blind spots. If we didn’t, therapists would go bankrupt and have to get a “real job.” Truth is, most therapists know exactly what our problem is the first day we sit in their office. Problem is there are all kinds of other emotions clouding our vision.

This is one of the reasons shrinks do a lot of listening, nodding and asking questions. And probably a lot of doodling and playing tic-tac-toe on their notepads to stave off the boredom while they wait for us to catch up to the obvious.

Our story problem in a sense is extreme therapy for the protagonist. Instead of our character spending years on a couch being probed with uncomfortable questions and given homework to write letters to her inner child? She is thrust into a bank heist, an alien invasion, or her family is incinerated by a dragon.

Namely because all writers are sadists.

Anyway, when we create the story problem, we as Author God aren’t giving the protagonist any problem, rather the perfect problem that will reveal the wound crouching in the blind spot.

The Hobbits are handed a ring to toss in a volcano. Luke Skywalker is given a Death Star. Sarah is handed a labyrinth. Different challenges for different blind spots.

The Blind Spot is the Boundary Between Protagonist and HERO

My favorite book on plotting is Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and every writer needs a copy of this book (Seriously, one of the best craft books EVER). For years I struggled with structure. It made sense when teachers wrote about three acts, but then when I went to write? It all fell out of my head. How could I distinguish one act from the others? Larry answered this critical question.

And since all roads that don’t lead to Star Wars obviously lead to Lord of the Rings….

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Normal World—-We establish how the protagonist lives on any other given day. We give a hint of the hidden character flaw.

The Shire. Birthday party. Setting off Gandalf’s fireworks prematurely. Griping about having a dull life devoid of adventure.

Inciting Incident—This is the moment when the core antagonist a.k.a. Big Boss Troublemaker‘s agenda (Sauron) directly intersects with the life of the protagonist and has the potential to interrupt the flow of his/her life.

WTH is this ring and why does it glow? What is that writing? (Note: Has not yet left Shire).

Turning Point Act One—The protagonist makes a decision that is directly reactive to the antagonist’s agenda.

Leaving The Shire for the first time ever to meet Gandalf at The Prancing Pony.

Act One—Protagonist is Running (COMPLETELY REACTIVE to antagonist’s agenda which he or she might not even yet be aware of—hitting at the dark)

Hobbits endure a series of ass kickings from the enemy namely because they are so naive they believe frying bacon on the side of a mountain at night while running from dead kings is a good plan.

Act Two—Protagonist as a Warrior (Protagonist starts to be PROACTIVE, yet still somewhat REACTIVE)

Frodo makes the decision to be the ring-bearer and Fellowship of the Ring created. Now understands Sauron behind all of this and there is an active plan that includes a party of allies.

Act Three—No longer a PROTAGONIST. Now a HERO. (FULLY PROACTIVE).

The naive innocent Hobbit has been transformed into a warrior who is willing to die to do what is right and destroy the ring and save Middle Earth (and The Shire).

Now, in the beginning of the story, had Gandalf said, “Okay, you want adventure. Cool. Well I am going to need to you toss a ring in a volcano and die there because there is no way back. Bad news is you’ll be dead but the good news is…WE WON’T BE! Isn’t that great?”

No one would want that deal.

So why do Frodo and Samwise accept this charge once on the side of Mount Doom? It is because they finally see past their blind spots, notice the wound and then triumph.

Once everything is stripped away, they see all they miss and took for granted. In their naive excitement, they diminished The Shire and how much, deep down they loved it. In the beginning, they couldn’t wait to cast it off and now? It’s all they want but will never have.

They accept they are going to die but now understand that The Shire is worth dying to save.

They did NOT see that in the beginning. It was firmly rooted in their blind spot and was part of the wound. They believed they were too little to make a BIG DIFFERENCE. The Shire’s worth was clouded by this inferiority complex. They couldn’t see what The Shire meant to them because they didn’t properly understand in the beginning 1) how much they took for granted and 2) that home might just not last forever and could be obliterated.

In their naiveté, they failed to respect the real danger they were in.

Yes, This is True in Character-Driven Stories, Too…

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Some of you might be saying, “This is all well and good for those *makes distasteful face* genre writers, but my work is more literary and character-driven. I don’t have a necromancer or a special volcano.”

True, but the blind spot—-hate to tell you—-is even MORE important for you guys. See in genre fiction, the character cog can be pretty much any size. Jack Reacher isn’t doing a whole lot of internal development as much as he is throat-punching bad guys and blowing $#!* up.

I read a lot of emerging writers who want a protagonist to go on and on and on about his inner turmoil and wax rhapsodic about inner demons and, speaking of throat-punching…that is pretty much all readers will want to do to that kind of character. Remember last time we talked about plot and character being cogs? Your character cog is larger, but the plot cog still needs to be there.

No one wants to read 300 pages of navel-gazing. We don’t like people who drone on about their inner struggles in person and we sure as hell don’t want to spend money and 15 hours of undivided attention to listen to self-indulgent tripe.

This is why that character needs a wound located in a blind spot that is eventually revealed when under pressure from a plot problem.

One of the best books I have ever read is A Man Called Ove and it is a great example of what I am talking about. Ove is a 59 year old man who just wants to die. He spends the entire book unsuccessfully trying to kill himself.

Who is the Big Boss Troublemaker? The government represented in the proxy of “Men in White Shirts.”

Ove has always been on the losing end when grappling with the power of the government. When he was a young man, “Men in White Shirts” stopped him from saving his home from burning, then different “Men in White Shirts” stole the land the house was built on. As an older man, more “Men in White Shirts” tried to take his wife after she was crippled in an accident. They also refused to build a wheelchair access ramp for her at the school where she taught (and Ove finally did it himself after he gave up fighting them).

Every time Ove has taken on any “Man in a White Shirt” he has failed.

But, the reason he has failed against the “Men in White Shirts” directly relates to the wound and the reason why Ove wants to die.

He is alone. To defeat the Men in White Shirts? He cannot win on his own and the core story problem (he finds out his neighbor and old friend is being forcibly put into a home by the state) is nothing he can conquer alone. But the problems thrust in his way serve to peel back what is wrong with Ove and make him come to understand that why he has always failed is because he keeps people at a distance and some battles need a team.

All good stories are a peeling back until the character finally sees what he or she has been missing all along. That is the purpose of PLOT even in a character-driven story. There must be an outside catalyst that disrupts the world, forces action, then generates change.

What are your thoughts? Other than POOR KRISTEN AND HER POOR CAR! LOL. It’s all good. The guy was nice and was just bad timing. But back to fiction, can you think of great stories and nail the blind spot covering the wound? Can you do this with your own writing?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

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

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! Fantastic as Christmas gifts *wink, wink, bid, nod*

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! IDEAL FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors December 9th, 2016

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

 

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

 

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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24 Comments

The Wound—Because Damaged People Make the BEST Stories

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Many emerging writers come to me when they find they are struggling with their WIP. I always begin with the same question, “What is your story about?” Often, I get this response, “Well, my story isn’t plot-driven. It is a character-driven story.”

Translation?

I have no plot…and please stop asking me because it makes me want to drink heavily.

There really is no such thing as a purely character-driven story. Character and plot are like two keyed cogs. One drives the other. The plot pushes the protagonist to grow and as the character grows, this in turn drives the plot.

For instance, in The Lord of the Rings the plot problem (Toss evil ring in a volcano before power-hungry necromancer takes over Middle Earth) is what forces the Hobbits to leave The Shire. Ah, but once they leave, how they respond to escalating threats determines plot.

For instance, they are barely out of The Shire when Merry and Pippin nearly get them all captured/killed by The Black Rider because they are running from an angry pitchfork-wielding farmer.

That is an ok place to begin, but what if they all remained the same reckless naive Hobbits they were in that scene? Their decisions would impact the story and they would fail.

To succeed, they must grow.

Granted, though we do have two cogs, depending on genre, this will impact the SIZE of each cog. In a Jack Reacher thriller? The plot cog is larger (but the character cog is still there). Similarly, in a literary fiction, this will reverse. In Cormac McCarty’s The Road there is still a plot objective (Make it to the ocean) but the character cog is larger because reaching the goal is far less important than HOW they reach the goal. If Man and Boy stop to snack on people? They fail. The torch of humanity is extinguished.

Thus, a literary work (character-driven story) might work like this…

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For genre fiction, it would reverse and, depending on the story and the style, the relative size of the cogs will change accordingly. Yet there will always be two cogs.

Regardless of genre, once we have an idea of what our story is about and have set the stage for the dramatic events that will unfold, we must remember that fiction is about PROBLEMS. Plain and simple. Furthermore, it is about PEOPLE who have problems. But not simply ANY problems. Very specific problems, which we will talk about in a sec 😉 .

I will say that plot is very important. Our characters are only as strong as the crucible. Ultimately, all stories are about people. We might not recall every detail of a plot, but we DO remember characters. Ah, but here’s the sticky wicket. WHY do we remember characters? Because of plot. Stories are more than about people.

Great stories are people overcoming great odds.

If we’re missing emotional connection between the audience and our characters, our story loses critical wattage. What are some ways we can help form that connection? Today…

The Wound

Real humans have wounds that drive our wants, needs, perceptions, and reactions and so should all our characters (even the Big Boss Troublemaker-Antagonist). Maybe your character is a control-freak. Perhaps he avoids. Maybe she is battling an addiction or is a loner or is a people-pleaser. Maybe he is a user or a manipulator.

My question is WHY?

Yes, genetics will have a role in forging our personality, but genes do not a good story make. Having a character be a certain way simply because we need them to be or act that way will work, but so will a heart with damaged valves.

Wounds drive how we perceive our world, what we believe we want, and how we will (or won’t) interact with others. This is critical for generating story tension and character arc.

I used the meme of Dr. House and his motto, Everybody lies. Yet, part of why that character was so successful is that we know something happened somewhere in the past that gave House that core belief.

This belief is what made him a superlative doctor, but it also hobbled every single relationship he ever had. We wonder about the wound because in every episode?

We see that wound in action.

Wounds are the NOTCH That Engages the GEAR

Back to my gear metaphor, but let’s expand it a bit. Think of plot like gears on a bicycle. So long as the gears are engaged and moving forward we have story momentum. Character is like the chain winding around those gears.

Some of you might be old enough to remember riding a ten-speed with the old shifters. You had to practice shifting gears to get the chain to engage a larger or smaller gear and if you didn’t get it right? The pedals spun and the bike just made weird noises. That’s because the chain has to be able to meet with the teeth of the gear via a space or a hole…or it won’t work.

Character functions similarly. We can have the gears (plot) and the chain (character) but if there is no notch (wound) that allows them to ever mesh and create tension? The story has no momentum and just makes weird sounds while we fruitlessly spin literary pedals.

Wounds are the sweet spot, that hole, that allows plot and character to merge into dramatic momentum.

Some writers start with characters and others start with plot. It doesn’t matter so long as you let either be forged with “the wound” in mind. If you have a mental snippet of a rebellious renegade bad@$$ heroine and want to put her in a story, then think of a plot situation that will make her utterly miserable. She can’t grow if she’s comfortable.

Maybe instead of chasing bad guys, she is forced to become the caretaker for her three young nephews after her sister dies. This PLOT is going to force her to be vulnerable, maybe have a softer side, and lighten up. Now, character (chain) and plot (gears) are linked.

Same if we go the opposite direction.

Maybe you have a great idea for a story. You want to take down a mob boss. Who can you cast that will be the most uncomfortable and thus grow the most? A former hit man who’s given up killing because he promised his wife before she died? An agoraphobic ex-cop who can’t leave her house? A sweet, naive soccer mom who believes that Bedazzling makes everything way more AWESOME?

Genre will dictate some of the casting, but note if we cast someone who would reach our story goal with relative ease, we risk having a one-dimensional talking head. We also diminish tension because remember, readers LOVE seemingly unbeatable odds. So, if we cast a highly decorated detective to take down our mob boss, make sure there is something about him (a wound) that puts the odds against him.

Wounds Don’t Have to Be Big to Be BIG

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Thomas Ricker.

Often, new writers will default to wounds like rape or death or some big tragedy to create the wound. To be clear, I am not saying these aren’t viable wounds, but never underestimate the “smaller” and more relatable emotional injuries. The more a reader can empathize with one or more characters, the deeper that connection becomes.

Not everyone has lost their family to a sudden alien invasion— 😉 — but they can empathize with maybe never living up to expectations, being bullied, or not fitting in. LOTR rests on a small band of Hobbits who believe they are too little to make a BIG difference.

Perhaps the character is the invisible middle child trying to forge an identity, the eldest trying to hold the world together, or the baby who “got away with murder” and “was handed everything.” Never underestimate family dynamics as sources for realistic and powerful psychic wounds.

Wounds Will Distort Happiness

Wounds generate illusions. Because I grew up poor and lived hand-to-mouth all through college, I “believed” that money and financial security would make me happy. At 27, I made more money than any person in their 20s should make…and I was miserable. I was eaten alive with emptiness. I’d achieved all that should have filled that hole—the college degree, the premium job and premium pay. And yet?

I was the person stranded in a desert gulping sand I believed was water from an oasis.

Am I "there" yet?

Am I “there” yet?

Character arc comes when a protagonist is placed in a problem strong enough to challenge the illusion and break it. The protagonist believes X=happiness/fulfillment. It is only through the story problem that the protagonist rises to become a hero, a person capable of realizing they were wrong and that they’d been coveting a shill at the expense of the gold.

Thus, when creating characters, keep the wound at the forefront of your mind.

How does it affect what he/she believes about their own identity? What do they believe will make them happy? What is it that you (Author God) know that’s really what will make them happy? What needs to change for that character to lose the blinders? What is the perfect problem (plot) to force the protagonist to see the hard truth of the unhealed wound?

What are your thoughts? Writing can be healing and therapeutic. Have you ever siphoned from your own hurt-reservoir to deepen your characters? Can you think of how even small hurts can become super-sized? What are some ways you’ve witnessed wounds driving people in wrong directions toward false happiness? Have you been there, done that and earned the t-shirt?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

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

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! Fantastic as Christmas gifts *wink, wink, bid, nod*

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! IDEAL FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors December 9th, 2016

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

 

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

 

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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64 Comments

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