Unpacking the “Character-Driven” Story—How to Make Your Story Sizzle

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Craig Sunter

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Craig Sunter

Today we are going to shift gears back to craft. Last week we talked about the single largest problem with most first-time novels. There must be a singular core story problem that is resolved in Act Three.

All good stories must have an overall goal.

Now, this of course doesn’t mean there are not a lot of subgoals along the way, but all tributaries eventually deposit into the same river (core plot problem). If they are not related to this problem? Likely you have a plot bunny (or ten) in need of caging.

Yet often emerging writers will toss around this word “character-driven story” when they really don’t understand what this term means. All too often they mistakenly believe it is a pass to skip plotting. Nope. Sorry. So today we are going to discuss what a “character-driven story” really is and what it isn’t.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-11-51-06-am

Now we all know there are all kinds of fiction and some genres naturally lean toward being “plot-driven”. We don’t want to read a mystery where we are never told whodunit and are instead exploring the detective’s fatal character flaw.

We want the killer uncovered and brought to justice. Thrillers? Same deal. Stop the SUPER BAD THING from happening (I.e. Militant vegans launching the super weapon that turns all bacon into tofu).

Now, this doesn’t mean these stories cannot also be character-driven. They just don’t necessarily have to be. Yet, often what will separate the forgettable detective book from, say a Harry Bosch book, is this added layer of character depth that just gives the story this delicious je ne sais quoi that leaves us wanting more.

We walk away from the story feeling as if we have bonded with living person, not just some writer’s imaginary friend. But the character-driven story must work in tandem with PLOT. Plot is the fire that heats the crucible. No fire? No test.

The World View

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-11-53-25-am

Whenever we begin with our protagonist, this character (like real living people) has a distinctive world view that is born of his/her backstory. This world view is created by millions of variables colliding to make one special distinct personality.

Who were the character’s parents? Was the character adopted? Abandoned? Abused? What did his parents do? What was their world view? Does the character share this view or is he opposed to it? What traumatic events forged this adult (or teen) personality?

Y’all get the gist.

A character who was born into a military family that moved every two years is likely going to hold a vastly different world view than a character born on a family farm in Iowa. Both will be different than a character raised by a grandmother in a Kentucky trailer park because dad died when his meth lab blew and mom is in prison.

Story Challenges then Smashes the World View

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-11-54-46-am

As Author God, we get to choose the protagonist’s world view, but THEN it is our job to then smash it. How do we smash it? We create the perfect problem (story) that is going to shatter what the character believes to be true.

For instance, let’s look at a mystery-suspense that is also a very character-driven story. In Connelly’s book The Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller is a rock star defense attorney. He is a product of his background with a famous lawyer father, a man so great in his field, Mickey is a mere shadow. As we can tell from this quote, Mickey is a product of his rearing…

“You know what my father said about innocent clients? … He said the scariest client a lawyer will ever have is an innocent client. Because if you fu*& up and he goes to prison, it’ll scar you for life … He said there is no in-between with an innocent client. No negotiation, no plea bargain, no middle ground. There’s only one verdict. You have to put an NG up on the scoreboard. There’s no other verdict but not guilty.”

Haller screwed up once. He defended an innocent man but the evidence to free the guy just wasn’t there and he lives with the guilt that he talked an innocent man into taking a plea bargain for life in prison because it was the only way to save him from the needle.

When the story begins? Mickey has no interest in guilt or innocence. He doesn’t want to know. And, better yet, to avoid innocent men? He actively courts the worst of the worst as clients—pimps, drug dealers, outlaw bikers, etc.

But then he takes the case for Louis Roulet and everything changes.

Roulet is not just any case. In the beginning, Mickey takes him on because he is rich. He really doesn’t care if the guy did the crime or not. That is not his purview. But then, as the plot unfolds, Mickey realizes that Roulet might be responsible for the crime his innocent client is now serving time for.

The PLOT PROBLEM challenges Mickey’s worldview. It forces him to change, to question who he is, what he stands for and what he really believes. Now, this book might have been fine as a straight up mystery suspense if we just cast a very different character and focused more on solving who really was beating and raping the victims.

But, what makes this book stand head and shoulders above other mysteries is we are there to witness the evolution of Mickey Haller. He begins as a man who claims justice doesn’t matter and evolves into a man willing to die to do what is right.

Connelly didn’t write a book where Haller spends 100,000 words questioning why his father never loved him, why he has a hole in his soul and feels nothing for his fellow man, why he isn’t a better man *queue violin* Why? Because that is not a story, that is self-indulgent tripe.

How a Character Can “Find Herself”

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-11-58-29-am

All right, but some of you might be yelling, But Kristen, this is still a mystery suspense and it partially plot-driven. What about my story? My protagonist wants to “FIND herself”.

Hold on. We are getting there.

Hate to tell you this, but this story will also have a core plot problem. There must be a challenge to the worldview that is eventually resolved. Seriously, no one wants to spend 15 hours reading navel-gazing. Even in these types of stories there is a core plot problem complete with stakes and a ticking clock.

A good example? The 1999 romantic comedy Runaway Bride.

Maggie Carpenter is a feisty, spirited woman who just cannot seem to have success in relationships. She has left three men at the altar already and had it not been for the plot problem? She very well could have left far more.

But what happens?

Columnist Homer Eisenhower Graham or “Ike” gets a scoop from a drunk at the bar about this woman who leaves all these men at the altar. Ike then writes a flaming tabloid about Maggie, but he screws up. He gets a lot of the facts wrong and is fired for not doing his research. He is given the opportunity to redeem his reputation by doing a follow-up story on Maggie.

Now, Maggie is lost, but she doesn’t realize she how lost she is until Ike, believing he yet again is missing the real story does some digging and talks to those who know her. He challenges her that she is running because she is mimicking the men she loves (as evidenced by the way she eats her eggs). She is morphing herself to be each fiancés dream girl and losing herself in the process.

Why hasn’t she pursued her dreams? Does she even know what they are? Does she even know who she is?

The story problem forces Maggie to confront the ugly truth about herself. Instead of risking failure reaching for her own dreams, she is hiding behind the men she dates. She is driven by fear.

The stakes are love. Will Maggie ever find love? When she uncovers who she really is, can she marry Ike (or anyone) as a distinctive and whole person?

But the core story question is, Will the Runaway Bride ever tie the knot? And since this is a romance, the question is (more specifically) Will the Runaway Bride tie the knot with Ike?

If our story merely ended with Maggie leaving for a yoga retreat in India on a journey of self-discovery? That is a crappy story. And again, there was a problem that forced this journey of self-discovery in the first place and this is a problem in need of a satisfying resolution.

So when you are looking at your protagonist, ask the hard questions. Who IS this character and what is his/her worldview. Then, craft a problem that will challenge and smash that view and replace it with a superior lens.

What are your thoughts? Does this help clear up the idea of “character-driven” stories?

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).

SIGN UP NOW FOR MY 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 CLASS!!!! How to Maximize Your Earning Potential as a Full-Time Author Learn from Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg in your HOME. This series is normally $400 but W.A.N.A. is offering it for $199.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors February 3rd, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies February 17th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character February 24th, 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

, , , , , , , ,

22 Comments

Generation Butthurt—How Being Constantly Offended (and Offensive) Costs BIG

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie.

Today we are going to dive back into social media because who we are on-line impacts the odds of our success. Whether we like it or not, engaging on social media and cultivating a following is going to massively impact our professional success (or lack thereof).

In sales we had a saying, Fish where the fish are. Well my darlings, the fish are schooling on social media. When we are online we are not only engaging with the readers of today, we are cultivating future readers. This applies as much to the pre-published newbie as it does the internationally best-selling author.

We are wise to remember that we now have entire generations glued to smart phones and LinkedInInstaSnap, and if we don’t learn how to navigate these waters? Bad juju.

This said. Social media is an extraordinarily powerful tool that is too often treated like a toy.

Would we do that with a chainsaw? Treat it like a toy? Not use safety gear and chase friends and neighbors and joggers with it and fling it around laughing without a care? No, likely not. But that chainsaw only has around sixty teeth when the Internet has MILLIONS of teeth.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Dave Hosford

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Dave Hosford

Social media is more dangerous than a chainsaw when we handle it recklessly. If you don’t believe me, I think there is a position open for a new SNL writer. The Internet is filled with stories of even regular people who acted thoughtlessly on social media whose lives were then upended. They lost jobs, destroyed their reputations, and even had to go into hiding.

Is it fair? No. But fair is a weather condition.

Does this mean we are to be afraid of social media? Well no more than we would be afraid of a chainsaw or a car or a power drill. We don’t need to be afraid of any of these tools, but we do need to respect their power.

Going PRO

Image courtesy of Flikr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Flikr Creative Commons

Whenever we decide we might one day sell our book, we are making a decision to be a professional. Being a professional comes with certain rules that don’t generally apply to regular people.

Additionally, all authors are in the business of sales and I can tell you that nothing helps sales like good old-fashioned networking. When I was in corporate sales, there was a reason we hobnobbed at golf events and cocktail parties and lunches. We were there to get to know one another on a more intimate level. Learn about each other, talk about topics of mutual interest (business or not and more often not).

It was these loose and casual connections that with time, became long-term business relationships and friendships. Our goal was to cultivate an atmosphere that left others saying, “I cannot wait to give her my business.” Or, even better, “I cannot wait to recommend her to others.”

Simple fact.

Most people buy from who they know and who they like.

They DO NOT buy from people who berate them and call them names.

Whouda thunk?

Social media is supposed to be social and it is governed by the same social rules as any in-person get-together. Feel free to ignore these rules, but they will have consequences.

If we are consistently name-calling, ranting, arguing and trolling, and posting stuff that creates a toxic atmosphere of anger and hysteria? Other people DO have the right to say, “No, not in my space.”

I love Facebook. I am friends with all kinds of people and have zero interest in living in an ideological echo chamber. I feel my diverse group of “friends” is what adds richness and depth to my life.

I enjoy seeing other viewpoints, even if I might not necessarily agree. I enjoy seeing people around me passionate in supporting what they love, even when it is a cause I don’t happen to share.

The problem is, we have become a culture addicted to outrage.

Generation Butthurt

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 10.18.36 AM

It has become more and more apparent over the past several years. Now? It is ridiculous. I see people who have no problem blasting others and going for the throats of anyone who dares have another opinion. Oh, but they all seem to have the skin of a grape.

They are offended all…the…time.

They have two speeds: Offensive and Offended.

So many people have just become a never-ending fountain of some new thing to be pissed off about. It never…frigging…stops.

I’m done.

Would we act this way in a workplace? You know, every day show up with petitions and corner people at the coffee machine and call them names? Utter insults so repugnant that bystanders cannot believe an adult actually said it?

And, if we did act this way, how long before we were fired?

If we were in sales, would be woo a potential client by screaming at him? By calling him a sexist pig?

If we owned a business, would we be able to grow that business if, every time a customer came in to see what we had to offer, we were enraged and yelling? Demanding they listen to our grievances?

Some of y’all might be laughing, but I see this all the time on social media. I just want to pull the author aside and tell them their FB page is their storefront and it is decorated with hate and hysteria. Is that what they were intending?

We all have a right to be offended and we should be offended. Being offended has its place and is it at the heart of all great social change. But offended all the time? Frankly, no one really wants to be around those people long-term. It costs us health, peace, friends and yes, even money. Most people won’t remember every detail of what we say or do, but…

People will always remember how we made them feel when in our company.

So when I post anything I always ask how that might make others feel. That is my litmus on-line.

My Feed is the Adult Table

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-11-50-19-am

In the ten years I have been on Facebook I had never unfriended anyone because of their beliefs, even those beliefs that are vastly different than mine. I still won’t. I love your uniqueness and have no interest in making you a clone of me.

The world can barely handle ONE of me, LOL.

But over the past couple of months? I have begun setting firmer boundaries. At first I will unfollow people who are just constantly negative (no matter their beliefs) and only unfriend if I can’t seem to escape any other way.

I don’t want that in my feed. I see too much of this junk already. I go to the gym and every treadmill faces a WALL of nonstop news. I don’t know whether my heart rate is up because I’m keeping a good pace running or if I am furious at the news.

Thus, when I get on social media? I don’t want to be surrounded by relentless rage, a constant stream of negativity and hate.

My FB is the adult table. Adults can discuss and debate and talk without coming emotionally unhinged. Adults talk on a variety of subjects. Children whine and complain. Adults can see something they disagree with and move on. Children rant and rave and stuff digital peas up their noses.

I used to befriend everyone who said they were a writer and still do. But, if this person is then consistently acting unprofessional?  I don’t have time for amateur hour. I am only interested in interacting with other authors who value their own reputation and the reason is simple. If they don’t respect their own name and reputation, why would they respect mine? We can’t give what we don’t have.

Now when anyone sends me a request? I look at their feed first and see if this is the kind of positive and professional energy I want to incorporate into my life.

We Need to GROW UP

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Joel Kramer

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Joel Kramer

I would love for every person using social media to do this, but every human on social media is not my concern. I am talking to authors who want to cultivate a platform filled with either readers, or at least with people who enrich their lives so they can write more books and better books.

Granted, I would love for every person who follows me on social media to buy my books, but selling books is not my sole purpose. I am on social media to reach out. To love and encourage and serve. To bring laughter and education. To brighten a dark day. I am also on social media to be fed and enriched and enlightened by others, but that only happens in the presence of respectful and thoughtful adults.

The same boundaries we place on children? Sadly, sometimes we need those on-line.

For those of you who might be feeling battered and war-weary on-line? You have a right to set boundaries. Gentle at first (unfollow) and if that doesn’t work? You do have the right to unfriend, to remove recalcitrant children and replace them with thoughtful grownups. We are authors not babysitters.

This is not censorship. Censorship is if we reported everyone we disagreed with to FB to get their page taken down. Setting boundaries is your right and it is necessary for emotional health.

Adults don’t mind posts here and there about politics, even when they disagree. They don’t mind a petition now and again. The DO mind a soap box getting planted on their heads every day. They are getting weary of armchair activists and they are quietly unfollowing and unfriending when we fail to be respectful.

I am so honored to serve all of you and I know each and every one of you will change the world. I hope you do and I can’t wait to see you do it!

What are your thoughts? I love hearing from you! What are your thoughts? Concerns?

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).

SIGN UP NOW FOR MY 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 CLASS!!!! How to Maximize Your Earning Potential as a Full-Time Author Learn from Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg in your HOME. This series is normally $400 but W.A.N.A. is offering it for $199.

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 28th

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

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

Blogging for Authors February 3rd

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

, , , , , , , ,

83 Comments

How to SELL Your Book—First, What IS It?

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-10-10-00-am

Before we get started, a quick announcement. I want to let you know that I begged, pleaded and bartered for Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg to offer a Master’s Series and being the AWESOME human being he is, he is doing How to Maximize Your Earning Potential as a Full-Time Writer just for us. This is three two-hour classes learning from a big name in Hollywood in your own home and it is recorded if you can’t make it live. He normally runs this series for $399, but he is super helpful and generous and giving it to us for $199.

The film industry is BOOMING and filmmakers need writers who can create excellent content. Joel is going to teach you how to tap into that massive emerging market.

Valentines Day gift. *wink wink* Just sayin’.

Okay, let’s sally forth…

One of the reasons I love blogging is I get an opportunity to have the crucial conversations with you guys that are going to make all the difference in your writing career. When I started out, I didn’t have such luxury and I bumbled around in the dark with what I “thought” professional writers did.

Back in 1999 I didn’t have the same access to experts as we all do today, so I had to wait almost four years until I could save enough money to attend conferences to get the dose of reality I needed if I hoped to go pro.

Last time we talked about basic, basic stuff. It seems so simple and yet it really isn’t. Most emerging writers don’t have a novel. They have a ton of pretty sentences and a lot of “stuff” happening, but they lack a core story problem. No core problem? No novel.

And again, if you are struggling with your book and you can’t whittle it down into ONE sentence, sign up for the Pitch Perfect class THIS SATURDAY (all you need is an internet connection and the recording comes with purchase).

I am teaching about query letters and how to write a synopsis, and this is a critical skill that can make sure you have a story and if you don’t? How to easily see what needs fixing so you aren’t wasting precious time repairing the wrong stuff. I will help you get that one sentence. I have a lot more practice doing this than you guys 😉 . It’ll be fun!

Anyway…

So once we have an idea for a story this is not enough, unless we are just writing for a hobby. If we actually one day hope to sell what we are writing we need to ask the hard questions.

What is the Genre?

All books have a genre. We must choose. Even folks who claim they don’t write “genre fiction” what they are meaning is they don’t write “commercial” fiction. Literary fiction IS a genre and it is going to have parameters and expectations we need to keep in mind while writing.

***And sure I guess there is “General Fiction” but how unsexy is that? Also, General Fiction is usually where literary is shelved and genre fiction misshelved. Seriously Goodreads? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is NOT general.

Some people don’t want to choose a genre. They shiver and feel it is base, that somehow by committing to a genre they are admitting their book might actually be like other books. How gauche! They will have to admit that is isn’t the world’s most unusual snowflake, a work that has never been seen before.

Hey, I used to be that person.

I felt that choosing a genre diminished my book, that it made it “like” others and thus somehow not “as good.” I was dead wrong. First of all, because I didn’t choose a genre, my book not only was NOT a special snowflake..it actually sucked pretty badly. I’d crafted some Frankenstein monster out of all genres to please (sell to) ALL readers. But, here’s the deal.

No one wants to read a “book by committee”.

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-10-06-59-am

Each genre has rules, guidelines and expectations. If you want a quick rundown on what they are, go to THIS POST.

Because I didn’t choose one genre? I was just mucking up every genre.

For instance, I get writers who come to me and they say they have a Romance BUT the core antagonist is the love interest. NOPE. Romance has rules and there must always be an HEA (happily ever after). Guy and girl must get together by the end. They must unite together to solve the problem greater than themselves (defeat the core antagonist).

If this doesn’t happen? Sorry it might be a good book, but romance it ain’t. And if the book is then placed in the wrong genre? That genre comes with an audience that has expectations the work has not met. So a book that might have gotten rave reviews as a Women’s Fiction gets slayed when shelved as a Romance.

Genre can impact everything from plot to character to word count. If my book is a 120,000 words and a High Fantasy? No problemo. If it is a YA? Going to be a seriously hard sell.

What are Audience Expectations?

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-10-05-27-am

Once we nail what genre our book is in, we then can keep audience expectations in mind when writing…THEN blow them away. Again, tending genre expectations is not “formulaic”. “Formulaic” has to do with execution.

For instance, if I go to a Mexican restaurant I have expectations. If they try to serve me schnitzel and lasagna not only am I going to be seriously confused, I might even get angry. Why? Because I did NOT expect schnitzel and lasagna at a Mexican food restaurant.

Now, I am a Texan and in Texas Mexican food has it’s own layer on the food pyramid. It can be a very simple cuisine. Lots of corn, beans, some kind of meat and cheese in various combinations and that is all great. Many Texans just want a plate of good old-fashioned cheese enchiladas with red sauce.

Yet, just because Mexican food carries expectations does NOT mean a chef cannot then mix up the rules and use a ton of imagination.

The chef knows we want enchiladas but instead of the tried and true versions? How about sweet potato enchiladas in blue corn tortillas with goat cheese and a mango chutney? Okay now I’m hungry.

But we are STILL within the expectations, just we are delivering an unexpected variation. Instead of alienating and potentially ticking off the patrons, we are WOWING them.

And remember, like food, there are all kinds of fusions. It is easy to add Southwestern food to a Mexican food menu. They are cousins. Same with genres like mystery, thriller and suspense. It is easy to have a mystery thriller. Or even a romantic suspense. We know the rules of suspense, but also can expect a nice love story as well.

Christian Inspirational Erotica? Yeah, not so much. Kind of hits us like a Polish Mediterranean restaurant.

How to SELL What We Have Written

Another HUGE reason for choosing a genre before we write is…

Eventually we WILL have to choose a genre anyway.

So we might as well do it ahead of time. A big reason for genre is to help readers find our work. Where will the sucker get shelved? Once we upload the book onto Amazon, we will have to declare what genre it falls into so readers can find it. Also we WANT our book to be like other books. When anyone buys a book on Amazon, we get this…

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-9-53-31-am

Trust me, I WANT people who loved Gone Girl to see my book in the list of “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” I DON’T want to do this all myself. I WANT if someone is looking for Gone Girl they see MY book or vice versa. It means I am in good company.

Also remember that readers…wait for this…often buy more than one book. I KNOW! So when they finish that traditional mainstream novel, they are going to go back for another dose of what they love to consume and genre is going to help them find YOU.

Even if we want to traditionally publish, genre is a huge deal. First, how can we query? We need to look at what an agent is looking for then pitch THAT. Also if an agent likes the book, she is going to have to be able to know how to SELL that book. Granted, she might do some tweaking—pitch a suspense as a romantic suspense but you get the idea.

Sometimes agents will reject a book because the author didn’t settle on a genre and so the agent already knows she won’t be able to SELL it.

I hope this clears things up for you if you didn’t before understand them, which is OKAY. We are not born knowing this stuff! What are your thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Remember Pitch Perfect is on SATURDAY and my NEW class The Art of Character is TOMORROW! How to create layered and compelling characters. If you want to take both, seriously just treat yourself and sign up for the Craft Master’s Series and you get a FREE class (Plotting for Dummies) .

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).

SIGN UP NOW FOR MY 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 CLASS!!!! How to Maximize Your Earning Potential as a Full-Time Author Learn from Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg in your HOME. This series is normally $400 but W.A.N.A. is offering it for $199.

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 28th

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

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

Blogging for Authors February 3rd

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

, , , , , , ,

23 Comments

The Single Largest Problem of Most First Time Novels

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

All righty. So we have spent a couple of posts talking about getting our head right when it comes to doing this writing thing. Once we get our heads in the game, then the practical How To advice gets a heck of a lot more mileage. Today we are going to talk about the writing of the actual novel.

When I started out wanting to become a writer years ago, I was so clueless I didn’t even realize I was clueless. I had an overinflated ego from all those years making As in high school then college English. I believed I could write so when it came to reading craft books? I thumbed through them and decided I didn’t want my writing to be “formulaic” *flips hair*.

Trying to take a short cut cost me a lot of time and wasted words because I failed to appreciate that writing a work spanning 60K-100K words might just be a tad more difficult than that five page essay.

Once I realized how much I really didn’t know, I set about reading every craft book I could find, seeking out mentors, reading blogs and articles and taking classes until finally I actually became an expert.

In being an expert though, I run into a lot of writers who say the same things that I as a fledgling newbie said. I remember being utterly perplexed and most of the instructors I came in contact with had no good answer to my questions. Now in the position of teacher? I hope to give you what I had to find on my own.

You need to start in the action.

I did! How much more action do you need than blowing up a building with cyborg ninjas?

You don’t have any conflict.

Sure I do!

What is your book about?

Well, it isn’t about any one thing. Oh, but a lot of stuff happens to my character. She has a lot of issues.

What is your plot problem?

Oh, mine is a character-driven story.

Yeah.

This said, the single largest problem of most first time novels is there is simply no story. It really isn’t a novel, rather a collection of clever vignettes.

What is a STORY?

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? 🙂

Okay so one of the major problems I had when I started out is I was too narrowly focused on the pretty prose on the page. I had spent a lifetime being applauded for my brilliant use of language and since I was weak at structure, I relied on what I did well. BS and glitter. But the problem is that pretty prose does not a story make. A novel is not just a collection of cool sentences and witty dialogue. There must be a destination.

The destination is what the entire book is about.

Yes, this even applies to literary fiction so there is no copping out. In fact, when an emerging writer says, “Oh, my book is literary” or “My book is character-driven” I hear “I have no plot and really no clue how to create one.”

Bear with me…

All stories have a CORE SINGULAR PROBLEM that must be resolved in Act Three (or four or five—It doesn’t matter which structure we use, it is all basically Three Act Structure). So for the sake of simplicity, it needs to be resolved at the end.

And yeah yeah I am giving you “rules” but to break the rules we need to know and understand the rules. Yet on this one? Break it at your peril. We don’t want readers lost because we have failed to pick what our book “is about.” We also don’t want them getting all the way through the book then tossing it against the wall because we don’t understand story and thus delivered a frustrating and unsatisfying ending.

Me with sooooo many books.

Me with sooooo many books.

Back to the core problem…

Now, this core problem can have all kinds of subplots (and often does) but they are ALL tributaries feeding into the same river. For instance, in Lord of the Rings the core plot problem is to drop an evil ring into a specific volcano before a power hungry necromancer takes over Middle Earth.

Simple.

But there are all kinds of subplots (I.e. Aragorn no longer running, facing his failures and reclaiming his place as king. Arwen standing up to her father and sacrificing to be with the human she loves even though she is an elf and he is a human who has a lot of baggage with Dad).

But all of these smaller dramas impact the resolution of the story. If they don’t? They are plot bunnies that need to be caged.

Even in character-driven stories, there is a core plot problem. In The Road Man and Boy must make it to the ocean. If at the end, they are not at the ocean OR they are at the ocean but resorted to snacking on humans? They failed.

In The Joy Luck Club Jing-Mei (June) must make a decision whether or not to get on the boat to China to meet her missing twin sisters. If she doesn’t take the lessons from the stories, she will continue to hide and the sins of previous generations will continue. If she doesn’t get on the boat, it will mean she has failed to understand and thus forgive her mother. She fails.

Notice how even in these literary examples there is a physical representation that the character has succeeded—ocean and boat.

When there is an end-goal in mind, then it is far easier to deliver the character change. How the protagonist confronts the problem initially won’t work. The character will have to conquer inner demons and evolve into a hero in order to triumph.

This is why I STRONGLY recommend being able to write what our story is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do that? Houston, we have a problem.

Conflict Versus The “Bad” Situation

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.40.07 AM

If we do not have a plot problem it is impossible to generate authentic dramatic tension. I will give you an example.

Kristen oversleeps through her alarm. Worse, when she wakes up, she steps into squishy carpet. The toilet has overflowed. Then she tries to clean that up and the power goes out. Since she has places to be she packs up her stuff to shower at the gym. But after showering and dressing at the gym, she is then caught in bumper to bumper traffic and only once she is an hour away from the house does she realize she has forgotten her purse and has no I.D. or money.

Sounds like a pretty bad day, right? On some level you sympathize. But here is the deal, since this is all happening sequentially with no larger context, it is just bad situation after bad situation. It sucks, but there is no conflict.

Now, let’s add in one little thing. The end goal.

Kristen’s goal was to make an international flight. She is flying to keynote in Australia and this is the make or break of her career. If she fails to make it on time to Australia, she not only forfeits her speaker fee, she will wreck her reputation and also have to pay back the $2,000 for the flight. On top of that an entire hotel of people who have paid for a conference to see her speak, now will have no keynote.

NOW when these setbacks happen, because we know the goal (and what is at stake) we are practically white with tension. We know this isn’t just any other day and that THIS day is vital and so is every decision Kristen makes.

Starting in the Action

Starting in the action has less to do with car chases and bombs and fight scenes and more to do with getting as close to the story problem as possible. Using my example above, we wouldn’t want to start our story with the day Kristen left paper sales to become a writer. No. We would start as close to the day she is leaving to keynote and kick off the problems there.

Obviously there is a lot more to this writing thing, but starting with a solid core plot problem will alleviate a lot of problems. It won’t matter how witty the dialogue, how bad the bad situation, how glorious the prose if all of these are not feeding into the same goal—RESOLVING THE CORE STORY PROBLEM.

If you are struggling with that, sign up for my class about query letters and synopses this Saturday. I will teach you how to whittle your plot to bare bones and find and fix weaknesses. Also, sign up for my Master’s Series (all listed below and recordings come with purchase). I have one for Craft and though the Plotting for Dummies has passed and you can’t attend live, you will get the recording. These Master’s Series give you three classes for the price of TWO. The social media series literally has ALL you need to know to build a brand.

I also have a TOTALLY new Master’s Series with Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg. Normally this sells for $400. It is three classes, two hours a piece and Joel is offering it through W.A.N.A. for only $199. How to Maximize Earning Potential as a Full-Time Writer. So hello? Valentine’s Day gift? *wink, wink*

So what are your thoughts? Do you struggle with plot? Do you find yourself drifting off after plot bunnies?

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).

SIGN UP NOW FOR MY 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 CLASS!!!! How to Maximize Your Earning Potential as a Full-Time Author Learn from Hollywood Producer Joel Eisenberg in your HOME. This series is normally $400 but W.A.N.A. is offering it for $199.

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 28th

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

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

Blogging for Authors February 3rd

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

, , , , , ,

36 Comments

FEAR—Is the Mind-Killer in Control of Your Life?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Noemi Galera.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Noemi Galera.

The single greatest challenge you will face in trying to accomplish anything great is FEAR. FEAR is nothing to be underestimated and we need to learn to manage it if we want to succeed. I remember being a kid and Dune was one of my favorite movies. At the age of ten I memorized Paul Atreides’ mantra:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

At the time I just thought it was a seriously cool movie line. It was only when I grew older that I began to truly understand how powerful these words were.

Fear IS the mind-killer. Remember last time we talked about how vital it is to make sure we have our heads in the right spot. Where the mind goes, the man follows and if we are scope-locked on all the stuff that overwhelms and terrifies us? We are doomed before we start. Our head is not in the game.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I find it so fascinating that Frank Herbert called it the “little-death” but isn’t it? Fear is not real. Fear is the work of imaginations and yet those small cracks are what can bring everything crashing down.

I will face my fear.

Words have tremendous power and we as writers are wise to appreciate this. We might be sinking into despair. We are anxious and can’t sleep. We can’t focus and so we say things like, “I am tired” or “I’m depressed” but by using these blanket statement copouts we are only feeding the very thing feeding on us. We need to face it. NAME IT.

It is okay to be afraid. It is okay to give that fear a name because until we know what it IS, we can’t fight back. What is the first thing any doctor does when we come into the ER? He finds the thing’s NAME. Sure our chest hurts and we are sweaty and dizzy and our blood pressure is wrong but that could be anything from cardiac arrest to a panic attack. NAMING what is going on is vital for any kind of treatment.

Do we really want a doctor cracking open our chest because we are having a panic attack? Conversely do we want the doctor to recommend yoga when we have a blocked artery?

I will permit my fear to pass over me and through me.

Feel the emotion. Don’t stuff it. No I don’t need a sandwich, a drink, a nap, a trip to the mall, or yet another pass through Facebook. I need to feel what is going on instead of self-medicating or avoiding it. It’s like a squall line. Just let it pass over and beyond.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Here is the deal, fear isn’t (often) real and even when it is? It isn’t permanent unless we permit it to stay. We will still be here.

So why do I talk about all of this? Because we have to face and conquer fear every single day and maybe you are experiencing symptoms of fear but you aren’t aware of it. Time to peer down that dark alley of the soul…

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commonse, via Pedro Rebeiro Simoes

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commonse, via Pedro Rebeiro Simoes

You Don’t Finish

I can raise my hand and attest I am guilty. I have too many things that I start and I don’t finish. Is this because I am lazy? Hardly. Is it because I don’t love what I do? Not at all. If I get really, really honest and make a list of all the things I have left undone, I can often see fear staring back at me.

A quick story to illustrate…

I remember being SO confident when I scored my mega-agent out of New York. He thought I was brilliant and fresh and my book was sheer genius. I was on CLOUD NINE and bulletproof. I was so sure that I’d have a book deal instantly because Russ was that powerful of an agent.

I remember when I signed with him talking on the phone and he said, “Okay, here is how it is going to go down. Once I get your proposal I am going to make a few calls and then things are going to happen very fast. Are you ready for this?”

GOD YES! Put me IN Coach!

So a month passes, then two, then six and all this time my confidence is leaking out like air from an overfilled balloon *Kristen’s ego makes long farting sound*. After a year and a half?

Nothing.

I had avoided talking to my agent because I just couldn’t bear being a failure. Finally, I had to do something so I emailed and he gave me the news I knew was coming but had avoided. NY didn’t want a social media book. They believed my teachings were the tip of the spear and were afraid of it.

And I know all of this sounds seriously weird because every publisher at the time was requiring social media for all of its authors. I had many long and grueling conversations with authors who are household names who’d come to me vexed out of their minds because their publishers wanted to know why they didn’t have a million FB fans. They were desperate for help.

But these same publishers that were requiring social media, didn’t want the manual.

*head desk*

I was crushed. I didn’t want to be self-published. I wanted to be legit. I wanted to be a Random Penguin but it wasn’t in the cards. So, I gathered what was left of my ego and self-published Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World because my ego was not as important as you guys’ futures.

But how long did I sit on that book?

Too long. Too long would be the answer.

I was terrified of failing. I was terrified of being grouped in as “one of those self-published hacks” even though I knew (in my mind) that self-publishing was just as viable as legacy and in many ways MORE viable. My head and my heart just could not get on the same page because I was afraid.

So fast-forward a couple more years and I have finished this AMAZING romantic suspense. I send it to an agent friend and she loved it…but didn’t rep the genre. She told me the book was awesome and to just query publishers direct and she would handle the contract. I got rejected. Then a publisher accepted (then they were no longer financially solvent so I didn’t feel good about signing). Then another rejected. So about this point I am batting 500. 50% love the book and 50% don’t want it.

I couldn’t leave the book unpublished any longer even though it was tempting. All the voices were there.

You teach writing, so if your book sucks you are FINISHEEEEEED.

Why can’t you get a real publisher?

Maybe you should stick with social media.

And what did I do? Again, I sat on a great book…because I was afraid. I was afraid of failure, of you guys tossing digital tomatoes at my work. Even though I know there is NO way to write a perfect book. I have read reviews for every book I adored and thought was perfect and someone else hated it. I knew this. I know this. But I was still scared sh….. witless.

But I have learned that when I feel fear that 1) it is often BS and nothing to really be afraid of and 2) it is generally a good sign I am going in the right direction. So I made some more connections and now my book is with a new and amazing publisher who I think is a great fit. Maybe the book flops. I dunno. I won’t know until I put it out there.

I was afraid of failure but also afraid of success.

What if it does well and it is the only book in me? And I can’t do it AGAIN?

Yeah well we will cross that bridge when we get there.

So if you have things you are NOT finishing, ask yourself WHY? What are you afraid of? Then do it anyway.

You Fixate on What You Can’t Control

I can always tell when I am operating in a place of fear when I pay attention to what is on my mind. What am I constantly complaining about?

***Which first of all, ditch complaining. Complaining alone is a BIG RED FLAG something is wrong.

Often we will fixate on the things we can’t control at the expense of things we can because it offers us a handy excuse if everything craps the bed. If I spent my time moaning about how unfair it was NY didn’t want my book instead of hustling and figuring out how to unleash my book onto the world?

I’d still be complaining. Then, when I never published the book and my career as an expert withered and dried up, I would have someone to blame other than myself. I sure wouldn’t have the single most popular book on branding for authors.

Same with the fiction. I had a choice. Whine about the rejections and shelve the book and hide as a blogger or suck it up and step it up.

Well, I would have been a huge deal if only someone else had done X.

NOT TODAY!

You Can’t Make a Decision

Here’s the deal. No decision is still a decision. But often when we are scared we hem and we haw and we fail to ever decide because deep down we know if we put it off long enough? Someone else WILL decide for us. Then, if it goes badly, we have an out.

Early in my writing journey I bounced from genre to genre to genre. Maybe I was a romance writer, no a thriller writer, no science fiction. Notice how this looks a lot like never finishing. Decide and commit. Do it afraid.

There are a lot more symptoms of fear but these are the three BIGGIES. Remember that nothing great is ever going to happen in your comfort zone. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is doing X in spite of fear.

This business is really really hard and it requires us being so vulnerable and it is super easy to get kicked in the confidence. Rejection sucks. It hurts. But failure isn’t permanent. Neither is success. All of this will pass over us and through us and…

ONLY WE WILL REMAIN.

A huge way to combat fear is like I said, we gotta name it. Then we need to make a decision and if it still scares us? Get help. If you are afraid your book is crap? Hire a pro to look at it, be honest and tell you how to fix it. Heck, email me kristen at wana intl dot com. If branding scares you? Take a class. Got a bunch listed below and anyone who has taken my classes will tell you I move heaven and earth to help you. I can be that big badass sister you need to help you sleep at night.

Get a mentor to guide you.

I have a handful of things on the business side of publishing that are freaking me out right now. Why? Because I don’t yet UNDERSTAND them. Bookbub? How does it work? So what did I do? I called in favors from people on-line, people I have served and asked, “Hey I am freaked out. Can you help a Sistah OUT?”

WE ARE NOT ALONE.

What are your thoughts? I have been struggling with confidence lately. Off my game, out of my groove. I know it is because I am doing and trying new things in new areas where I am NOT the sole reigning diva and that scares me. But I am here. We are here. We have each other.

Do you succumb to your fear too easily? Maybe spend too much time with distractions? Or complain and whine about stuff you can’t change? Hey we ALL do it. No shame here, my kiddos. Write down what you fear. Here, in the comments and we can bond.

I fear that none of what I do matters. That I am really not making a difference and I really didn’t earn any of my success. It was all a fluke or an accident and one day people are going to wake up and see I have no idea what I am doing.

There, got you started 😀 .

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).

SIGN UP NOW FOR MY 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!

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 28th

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

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

Blogging for Authors February 3rd

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

, , , , , , , , , , ,

49 Comments

Never Tell Me the Odds—Getting Your Head Right for Success

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-05-04-am

I read a lot of books on business, sales, and success. I love motivational books and yes, even self-help. Why? Because so much of success is mental. Study the sports greats and the practice on the field is only one component of their overall performance. The truly great players spend countless hours getting their head right.

And this makes sense if we think about it. Take a horse for example. No matter how large that beast is, man can control the direction that animal goes with ONE thing…controlling the head. Where the head goes the rest will follow.

So I challenge you with this question each and every day…

Where is Your Head?

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-03-56-am

Granted, there are days, I don’t know if I could find my head. I have been down with a really bad cold for a week and I think I finally found my head in the couch cushions all sticky and plastered in dust bunnies and Cheerios. I am all over the place this morning, still foggy with cold medicine.

And guess what? That is okay…so long as I get my head cleaned off and put back on straight.

This is not an activity we do ONCE. Life is not static.

At times? Our head WILL fly off the wrong direction. It is just up to us to be aware of the fact that it needs to be put back right.

See we need to have a different kind of self-awareness when we decide to go pro at anything. We can’t afford the mindlessness of mediocrity. We can’t afford day after day of being reactive and permitting life to happen TO us.

We need to get our heads on straight.

Now, to do this, we have to adopt habits that are very different to the rest of the world and that might even seen a bit strange. And guess what? They are strange! Habits of the 5%ers are GOING to seem odd to regular people. Being excellent is going to force us where it is uncomfortable. In fact, the more uncomfortable it is, the better the results.

So to make y’all super uncomfortable…

Declare What is Untrue Until It BECOMES True

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-01-45-am

Did you know that the subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between truth and lie? It just believes what we tell it. Yet how many of us are in a habit of constantly talking about our faults? We are constantly declaring weakness and so the subconscious shrugs and says, “Okay, well if you are disorganized then I will make sure to put that important paper where you will never find it.”

Our subconscious mind dictates our unconscious habits. The mind and the body are connected and we need to appreciate this fact or we are doomed to self-defeating behaviors.

This is one of the reasons my left eye twitches when people declare they are “aspiring writers.” Go look up synonyms for “aspiring” and you will see words like “wishful” or “trying” or “longing” and so is it any wonder that writers groups across the world are filled with aspiring writers who never finish (let alone publish) anything?

By contrast look at synonyms for “professional” and you will see words like “efficient” and “skillful” and “competent.”

When we declare we are professionals, then our subconscious will 1) match our behavior with our words and/or 2) convict us when our behavior is out of line with what we have declared to be true.

We will get that niggling sinking feeling when we don’t do our job.

But guess what? Keep acting like a pro long enough and people see us as a pro and so guess who gets the paying work?

I keep a notepad where I constantly write things that are untrue and it has been shocking to me over the years how often reality has caught up with what I might have written off as a pipe-dream if I hadn’t known this trick.

Almost ten years ago when I was first starting out as a blogger and wanna-be expert, I was living with my mom and writing software instructions for a living *shoots self*. I was a total newbie with two regular commenters on my blog. If I didn’t have spam bots I wouldn’t have had a following at all. But I wrote:

I am the definitive voice in branding and social media for authors.

I didn’t even have a book finished. Now? I’ve written three and Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World is the definitive guide for branding for authors. I had a goal of writing a branding and social media book that would be evergreen and was told it was impossible.

Well, yeah about that 😉 .

I also wrote…

I am regularly invited to speak at conferences.

Then it happened. So I wrote something SO unrealistically big I erased it four times before I finally left it.

I am the keynote for the Romance Writers of New Zealand.

Guess where I am keynoting in August?

I have 55,000 subscribers to my blog.

Looking back? Maybe should have dreamed bigger but I wrote that when my mom was my only fan.

My writing heroes come to ME for advice.

And this still freaks me out when they do, LOL.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-06-11-am

Was this some sort of hoo-doo-voo-doo magic? Not really. It was getting my head on straight and focused on where I wanted to go. I listed out the habits and behaviors I needed to support these assertions. I blogged week after week after week even when no one read and there was no evidence to support what I had declared to be true.

This doesn’t mean I just kept posting crap. No, I studied other blogs, read books, read articles, asked questions, tried new things and above all I was consistent. Then once I reached my goals, I didn’t remain there. I dreamed bigger dreams, different dreams.

Now that social media has become part of our culture as I once envisioned, and I have provided the ONE manual necessary for owning that space. I’ve adjusted my goals back to fiction.

I am a #1 New York Times Best-Selling Author.

I am a #1 USA Today Best-Selling Author.

Is it true? Not yet 😀 . But guess what? If I keep declaring this it holds me accountable to WRITE THE BOOKS. I can’t become a best-selling anything with NO BOOKS. And since I want to hit these lists, not only do I have to write the books (finish the books), I also am wise to study what sells. When I am not writing, I am very literally reading the best-seller lists.

I have made my MISSION from these declarations.

So even though I might look silly to you claiming, I am a #1 NYTBSA! don’t you think my odds are vastly different because I have claimed this then adopted the behaviors of someone obsessed with this goal?

Head Trauma

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-07-15-am

I see so many writers out there focused on all the wrong things and they are psyching themselves out. Remember if we declare it to be true then it will be.

There is too much competition. My book can possibly be seen.

Okay.

People just don’t read anymore. 

As you wish.

No one makes money writing books anymore. At least I can do this as a hobby.

See where I am going here?

I know when people like me start talking about the power of the mind, folks start rolling their eyes but tell me this. When did you ever see a sports superstar who declared, I am the best basketball player in the world who then became successful without shooting any hoops? You know, he wrote out affirmations and went to positive thinking camps and watched inspiring movies and never had to get on the court but he still rose to become an MVP?

Yeah hadn’t heard of him either.

Conversely, show me any super star anything who constantly complained and declared failure who then succeeded. You know, he shot a thousand hoops a day and said, “I’m terrible. Look at all I missed. Why do I even bother? The odds of me playing pro basketball are the same as winning the lottery and being struck by lightning on the same day.”

Hell, I am depressing myself just writing that.

Being a successful writer has a lot of moving parts and is not for the faint of heart. But declare what is untrue until it becomes true. Align your actions with your mission. Yeah discoverability is a nightmare, so learn how to do social media, how to build a brand, how to do what it takes to overcome the odds. Hey, I got sick and had to move up the dates for two of my social media classes, so sign up and let me help you!

In the meantime, just say….

People might not read books, but they DO read MINE 😀 .

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-10-06-am

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself getting off track? Focused on all the wrong things and bogging your spirit down? Do you find yourself talking about all the things you aren’t instead of what you could be? Do you feel strange declaring success? Heck, I do. Feel like a loon. It’s okay to be crazy here. Do you find it easier to believe all the bad? Have you overcome being your own worst enemy/critic?

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).

SIGN UP NOW FOR MY 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!

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 28th

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

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

Blogging for Authors February 3rd

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

, , , , , , , , ,

49 Comments

Selling Books—The Struggle is REAL but Not New & What to DO!

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Lane Pearman

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Lane Pearman

I know a lot of authors feel overwhelmed in the digital age of publishing and that is perfectly understandable. But today I would like to pan back and maybe offer a refreshed perspective to keep you pressing.

Today we face the challenge of creating a brand. But you might be thinking, “What exactly is a brand?” There is a lot of misinformation floating around so that is a reasonable question to ask.

A brand is the power of a name to drive sales. Our name alone compels action.

No easy task. Overcoming inertia is critical for any author who wants to make a living doing this writing thing. In an age of instant? This is going to take a while, but hopefully I can help 😉 .

But first…

The Struggle is NOT New

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-10-33-15-am

Publishers have always struggled to help authors create a brand. This is NOT a new thing. I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. According to the BEA (Book Expo of America) statistics of 2004, writers had a 92% failure rate. Only one out of ten traditionally published authors ever saw another book in print. 92% of all books published sold less than a thousand copies (traditionally and nontraditionally published).

Why I like using 2004 statistics is this is two years before most of the major social media platforms gained traction. Facebook, You Tube and Twitter all emerged in roughly the same two year period.

But before social media? It was a nightmare for publishers to help authors create a brand (unless they were non-fiction authors). Nonfiction authors had far more access to platform building activities—public speaking, conferences, media, newsletters, or their own personal practices. The local news was far more likely to interview a doctor about his new weight loss program than they were to talk to a novelist about dragons or spaceships. Media was almost solely the domain of the NF expert.

Why this was so vital was that audiences suddenly had direct access to a writer who might be able to make his/her case and influence behavior. Maybe you weren’t normally a “reader” but that interview on NPR was so cool you just had to buy the book and learn how Hitler really escaped the bunker and the Russians lied about finding him.

Whatever.

But for fiction, more often than not publishers had to rely on some confluence of the stars to hope that a new book sold at least respectably. Sometimes writers could launch successful grassroots movements as was the case with The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. But, many writers tried this and most of them failed. Grassroots movements are lightning in a bottle even today.

But sometimes it worked. And that was cool because then publishers could offer the writer another contract and the brand slowly was built with a volume of titles. Go to any used bookstore and who takes up most of the shelf space? Writers with multiple multiple titles.

All of this to say that brands were excruciatingly difficult and slow to build.

Perspective

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-10-32-24-am

I know a lot of writers get discouraged today, but we must learn to balance reality and expectations. If we go back to the “good old days” what we have is this.

A book written on a typewriter. Revisions involved scissors and tape. Then we had to research at libraries. That little detail you need for your story? No opening a new tab and googling real quick. Nope. Back to the library. Want to learn about police procedurals? Yep, call the department you are writing about and see if you can schedule an interview. No tweeting, Anyone here Atlanta PD? I’m an author with a question #LEO

Then we had to buy a Writer’s Market every year and pray the information hadn’t changed, but most of the time it had. I swear agents changed agencies more than my mom changes her mind about where to eat lunch. Then we had to type out a stack of queries, put in mail…then wait.

Out of fifteen queries, likely five would be returned with, No longer at this agency. Three might come with No longer looking for X type of book. Another five just would never respond and the other two? Well one would probably be a form letter misspelling your name and the other would be a handwritten note suggesting we stop writing altogether.

Oh and every agent would demand “no simultaneous submissions”, but they could feel free to take six months to get back to us…if ever.

Just getting published was about as close to an act of God as we could get. And even then? That wasn’t the end of it. Generally it took about a year to eighteen months for the book to be in print. We got paid once, maybe twice a year.

If we add up the sheer volume of TIME involved in the old way, why are we griping that we have been self-published three years and aren’t yet J.K. Rowling?

I have mentioned the problems with Millennial Authors (these are writers who have “come of age” during the digital revolution and they could be 22 or 67). I know the “old way” wasn’t better, but it does lead me to believe that writers of the “old days” have better tenacity because they didn’t enter the profession in the Age of Instant.

Yes, our first book might only sell a handful of copies. But guess what? In the “old days” odds were we would only sell a small number of copies as well (refer to statistics above). But, unlike the “old days” we can keep writing more books. We can keep at it until something sticks or until we decide to move on.

Back to the Brand

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-10-34-04-am

Brands take time to build. Only now, with social media, the task is far easier than it used to be. We can build our own platforms and create our own brands and we don’t have to pray for lighting in a bottle the same way we used to. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we are still working toward that magic, only now we have more control.

We don’t have to pray our local paper writes about us, or we score a radio interview so the outside world can encounter us. We can start cultivating our audience on our own. Yet, we still have the challenge of creating a brand.

Remember, a brand is when our name alone compels action whether that action is buying a book, commenting on a blog, reading a blog, sharing a post, RTing a tweet. The more we can compel action on the part of others, the stronger our brand will grow.

Traditional marketing, advertising and direct mail operate linearly. I send X to Y. Best Buy doesn’t expect that when I get a coupon in the mail I will then share it with all my friends.

Social media, conversely, operates algorithmically using the power of exponentials. Content flies out along countless vectors as opposed to ONE (which is why it is all but impossible to measure efficacy of social media in the same detailed way).

Someone reads my blog and tweets or posts to FB and that post then travels along infinite vectors I may never see.

Why is this important? Because our goal is to have a dialogue with others, generate interest and excitement that compels others to share. The problem is that a lot of writers are treating social media the same way as direct mail.

Buy my book!

Please retweet!

Sign up for my newsletter!

Instead of giving, they are taking and we are frankly worn plum out from takers. Every one of us has an inbox filled with newsletters we didn’t sign up for, ads, marketing, and on and on and they all WANT something. We feel like we’ve fallen into some swamp pond and staggered out covered in leeches.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-10-35-09-am

Thus, if we default to generating self-serving content (ads, marketing, self-promotion), we shouldn’t be surprised when creating a brand feels like trying to perform brain surgery from space with an egg beater. If we engage in traditional marketing tactics, we have use of ONE vector (us to other party).

This means we are beholden to the same dismal ROI (return on investment) numbers of all direct mail which is about a 1%-5% ROI. This means we better have 100,000 twitter followers to get any traction since we have to reach those people directly instead of with the help of a network.

If we don’t want to be on every social site and spending our time building up massive numbers (instead of writing), then we need to go back to the content. We can create stuff others want to share because social media is basically Show and Tell for adults 😉 . If we do this, then reaching 100,000 people is far easier since we are not singlehandedly reaching them via one road. Additionally, content will be viewed at a far higher rate since it is “spoken for” by a third party people know, like and trust.

Do this long enough and your “following” might be smaller in overall numbers, but those followers will be engaged which will make all the difference in the world. These are the followers we have cultivated to look forward to hearing from us because we are a brand.

Ads, marketing and promotion have little momentum without the engine of the BRAND.

In the end, don’t get too frustrated. Publishing has always been a slow business. Only now? It’s just slower in different ways. It also feels slower because everything else (besides writing the actual book) is pretty close to instant. So make sure you aren’t being unreasonable in your expectations. It is a heck of a lot faster to publish that book on Create Space than it is going to be to build the audience dying to read it. Just keep improving and keep pressing and keep perspective.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we have gotten a little spoiled with instant? That maybe it makes us unreasonably hard on ourselves? Do you want to set fire to your e-mail?

If branding and blogging and all that jazz has you overwhelmed, please pick up a copy of Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World or check out the classes I have below. I even have a Social Media Master’s series where you get three classes for the price of TWO. All you need to know to ROCK your book brand.

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!

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 28th

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

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

Blogging for Authors February 3rd

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

, , , , , , , ,

36 Comments

%d bloggers like this: