Posts Tagged Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World

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

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

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

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

Traditional Critique Groups

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

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

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

So where’s the problem?

Traditional critique groups lack perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, duh, of course they’re lost.

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

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

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

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

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

They can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

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

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

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

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

Traditional critique groups can offer a false sense of security.

Can get you in trouble...

Can get you in trouble…

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

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

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

You will know them by their fruits…

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

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

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

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

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

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

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74 Comments

Pen Names—Necessary Evil or Ticket to Crazyville?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of gaelx

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of gaelx

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

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

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

I Need a Pen Name for PRIVACY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Need a Pen Name to HIDE

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Need a Pen Name for Each Genre

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

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

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

Did anyone’s reality just fracture?

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

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

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

It Doesn’t Take Much to Implode an Identity

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

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

It only takes ONE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She thought I was kidding :D .

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

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

I Need a Pen Name Because Using My Name is Pretentious

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

Just own it.

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

It is YOUR Decision

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

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

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

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

Um, they don’t buy them?

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

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

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

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184 Comments

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

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros Like Validation But Don’t Require It 

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

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

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

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

Houston, I had a problem.

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

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*happy dance*

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

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

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

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

*weeps*

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

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

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

Below is an image of my blog stats.

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

Pros Don’t Find Time, They MAKE Time

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

Yet, I will posit this.

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

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

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

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

Pros Focus on What They Can Control

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

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

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

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

5%

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

5%

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

5%

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

5%

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

5%

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

5%

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

5%

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

Others whine, we work.

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

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

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

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195 Comments

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

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir...

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir…

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

Yes, ookey is a word.

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

Perhaps death threats, but not sales :D .

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

Why?

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

We Heard It the First 20 Times

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

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

Same with social media.

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

Then came the Internet and social media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, not creepy AT ALL.

Language Matters

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

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

Don’t be a personal space invader.

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

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

Why?

Because social norms regulate social media.

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

Why?

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

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

Let’s look at this scenario instead.

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

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

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

What To Do?

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

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

We just need to apply the Golden Rule here.

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

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

We’ve never gotten over the hurt.

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

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

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

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I’ve even memed him:

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

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

Interruption Marketing DOESN’T Work

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

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

How is this?

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

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

No one likes a personal space invader.

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

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

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

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

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

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

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

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100 Comments

What Makes a “Real” Writer?

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.52.53 AM

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

…that, and I don’t have a basement.

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

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

There is NO Aspiring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um? NO.

Writers Deserve RESPECT 

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

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

Me: We are writers.

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

Me: Yes.

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

Me: Yes.

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

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

Me: Well, what do you do?

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

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

GAB: Yes.

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

And THIS is why Kristen requires adult supervision :D

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

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

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

Stop Apologizing

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

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

It would be all pictures of cats.

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

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

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

Writing is More than Literacy

Help those with no voice!

Help those with no voice!

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

:D

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

Beware of Soap Dish

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

And THIS is the stuff writers think about :D .

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

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

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141 Comments

First World Problems—When Do We Have a Good Reason to Cry?

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We all have those moments when we feel like tapping out, but when should we complain and when are we being self-centered? I would love to say I have all the answers. Just get me talking (or typing) and I sometimes am good enough to fool myself. But I simply do not know.

I struggle with boundaries, with saying I need help or that I am having a rough time. Then what happens is because I didn’t acknowledge the small problems early? They pile up and hit me like an avalanche. *whiiiiinnnne*

Bear with me…

Last week was one of those that seemed to just KEEP COMING. It started out well enough, then sucker-punched me. It took three appointments to get the cat, Odin neutered. I’ve never had a cat I waited so long to neuter, but have learned some valuable lessons.

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Lesson #1 Never name your cat Odin. I think he might just have kept a few ice giants around because every time we had a vet appointment? Texas got smacked with another ice storm.

Lesson #2 Wait to neuter a cat too long and you will never sleep…ever. He will howl all night long bemoaning his lack of opposable thumbs to escape and find a girlfriend. He will wail how he hates you because you keep “forgetting” his Axe body spray.

Lesson #3 Revenge will happen. Expect it.

After ice storm early in the week, I finally got Odin into the vet to be neutered. Get him home and Spawn (my 5-year-old boy-child) and I get a simultaneous stomach flu. I’m so sick I can’t move. Meanwhile, Spawn managed to puke all over every surface of the home. Carpets, furniture and anywhere that was not a bucket, a toilet or TILE.

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By the way, Hubby now knows why you don’t buy red Gatorade for a sick kid.

Granted, Hubby was a ROCKSTAR and took care of both of us and didn’t sleep for days. But today? As I was gazing across the mountains of biohazards that used to be clean blankets, clothes, sheets, towels, pillows…I notice this bad smell that just has been around for days and so I go hunting.

Yeah…

Apparently, as some point during the fugue-like state of having a stomach bug, one of us must have shut the door to the guest room and not realized Odin was…in it.

*whimpers*

…with no litter box.

*cries*

Thus, today I am cleaning. Okay, right now I am screwing off and whining to you guys, but after this I am totally back to cleaning. I am Norwegian. I live in an apron. I’ve also now witnessed what my house looks like after I have been too weak to tidy for a few days and it ain’t pretty. I’m overwhelmed.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

I go to clean the carpet, but the sink is full of dishes we were too sick to wash. So I try to wash the dishes so I can fill the carpet cleaner but then I can’t find garbage bags, because I need to scrape off the leftovers. So I try to get a trash bag, but then the spice rack falls and breaks glass all over the floor. So I try to find the broom to sweep the glass and remember it is likely in the bathroom, where I find more clothes Spawn puked on, so I gather those into a…

*breaks down weeping*

Thus, the whole time I am in this spiral, I keep saying, “It isn’t cancer. It isn’t cancer. Breathe. Others have it far worse and you are so blessed.”

I guess the point of this blog is that I really didn’t want to clean the guest room and would rather hang out with y’all. Wait. Okay, a little too much honesty. No, really. I know I am usually the one offering advice, but today I am tired and my ponytail is crunchy :( .

I know I should focus on the good stuff. I am amazed at single parents. What a tough, tough job. I was so frightened when I was too ill to move. We don’t really have any family nearby and it could have ended really badly had we been alone. I am tremendously grateful I have a husband willing to hold my hair out of my face when I get sick. I am grateful that Spawn is well now and that it wasn’t as bad as Web MD said.

We DO NOT have Dengue Fever.

Whew!

But aside from all my “gratitude” I am more than a little ticked off that I was stupid enough to want to be a “grownup.” And yes, I do want some cheese with my whine. I am whining so badly today, I want to slap myself. But what is the fine point between whining and complaining or genuinely having a good reason to cry?

I can always think of someone having bigger problems than mine. Hey, be grateful you badly injured your leg in Jiu-Jitsu, some people don’t even have LEGS to INJURE. I can also think of events in my life that makes this seem ludicrous. Well, Kristen, at least your father isn’t DYING.

But when is this “attitude of gratitude” healthy and when is it just more than a little cray-cray? I try to not complain, but then how can other people change or correct what we don’t communicate? How can others offer help if they don’t know we are struggling?

How the hell did Spawn get Pepto all the way up THERE O_o ?

Anyway, when I am feeling myself having a pity party, I watch these to cheer me up and give me perspective.

I really DO want to hear from you because y’all are way smarter than me and I can put off cleaning for “work.” What are your thoughts on complaining versus having a real reason to be down? Do you have to remind yourself to get perspective? Or do you go a little too stoic-smiley and almost end up in Stepfordville?

What are some First World Problems you struggle with? I’d like to hear, before the battery on my Apple goes dead because I misplaced the charger in all the stuff I own…. :P

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

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110 Comments

The Doctrine of the Doers—5 Principles of Achievement

Same can be said about writing a book...

Same can be said about writing a book…

Success has a LOT of common denominators. Whether we want to be an excellent parent, run a thriving business, earn a promotion, have great friendships, become published, lose weight, one day have enough money to build a secret lab in the side of a mountain…? There are fundamentals we are wise to understand and apply.

Thus today, we are going to talk about 5 Principles of Achievement or The Doctrine of the Doers because I dig alliteration :D .

Principle #1—Understand What We are Doing is HARD

Pros make stuff look easy. I can listen to Donald Trump ten minutes and believe I, too, could be a financial genius. When I was four, I recall being allowed to watch Wonder Woman and she did these amazing handsprings. Well, pshaw! I totally could do that…or not.

And my cousin found me semi-conscious and confused why my arm was going the wrong way.

I made this mistake of not understanding I was seeing the END result of a lot of training. Outsiders make this mistake all the TIME. They see a thriving business or someone who drives a nice car and…that person must have “inherited money.”

When I was a teen, I was in marching band, the swim team and taught karate in the evenings. This meant I was up before dawn marching until 9 a.m. I then swam laps from 2 in the afternoon until 4:30 just in time to get home and pack up my gear so I could teach martial arts at the local recreation center.

One night, I was taking a break and a woman—holding a candy bar and a Pepsi—bemoaned how I was born so naturally fit. 

Really?

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Success is NOT natural. What’s natural? Entropy. Disorder. Chaos. Those who write a book, finish a book, have a thriving blog, a strong business, great kids, a clean house, a smoking hot body often worked hard for it. 

We must do what others are unwilling to do. We are not the AVERAGE. Even those of you who are just starting out. You are NOT the average. Most people never try.

We must always guard ourselves from thinking someone “better” than us achieved whatever easily. If we don’t, we will get discouraged and are more likely to give up. The other side of that is if we DO the hard work? Expect someone to believe whatever we achieved was purchased, inherited or the result of “magic.”

Principle #2—No Company Better Than Bad Company

Lions don’t hang with sheep. Show me your three closest friends and I’ll show you your future. Complaining, excuses, procrastination, laziness are contagious because they represent the natural order of the universe—ENTROPY. When I began as a writer, I had A LOT more “friends.” Now? Not so much.

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Even in martial arts, I don’t roll with people who are reckless and lazy. It’s a good way to get injured and it won’t make me better. I won’t spar with the guy who always shows up to class conveniently after the grueling warmup is over and who needs a water break every five seconds.

Choose people who are willing to do the hard stuff. If you’re a writer, hang out with people who WRITE, who are willing to read and take classes and are always pushing their skills to a higher level. Yes, there will be fewer of those, but it’s worth it.

Principle #3—Basics Trump Cleverness

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There are always people who want the shortcut. They want the Shake Weight Success and instead of being “successful” they look more like they are….ok, *leaves that to your imaginations*.

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From music to writing to business to parenting to marriage to martial arts, there are fundamentals we should master because they never outlive usefulness. From white belt to black belt, the Kimura is one of the most successful tactics in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu even though it’s one of the first we’re taught.

Writers? Proper grammar, punctuation and tight prose never go out of style. I see way too many new writers so busy trying to come up with a plot never written in HUMAN history and they do this at the expense of learning and mastering the essentials.

Principle #4—There Will Be BLOOD

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We live in a world that tells us we can have it all. NO. We can’t. That’s a lie designed to sell us stuff. We must choose and then focus and then sacrifice. Often, people see how much I write and think everything else is perfect in my life. Nope. I gave up the idea of having a Martha Stewart house a looooong time ago. Also haven’t had my hair done since last summer. I focus on family, writing and martial arts. Anything else? I’ll get to it.

*whimpers*

*whimpers*

Principle #5—Achievement is a PROCESS

It also never ends. We have to be careful we aren’t comparing the highlight reels of others to our own “behind-the-scenes.” When I started blogging, NO ONE cared except the man-part-enlargement bots. I was thrilled to pass 40 visits in a day.

I read a lot of other blogs to hone my skills and still do. And, even though it’s common for this blog to have triple digit comments and thousands of shares, I still read blogs with 27,000 or more shares and have to maintain perspective.

Whoever is getting those 27K shares didn’t get that Day One. Just like I blogged for over a year and a half before real humans started outnumbering the spammers who commented on my blog.

I so lick your blog. Wonderful poinsettias you make. I must tell my brother about you’re genius. What web browser do you use? Is there a grate spam filter?

Apparently not “grate” enough…

Have any idea how HARD it was not to delete these comments in the beginning? Um, maybe the commenter is writing English as a second language?

THIS is how blonde I was when I decided to blog. I started my WordPress site and posted…and immediately got MY FIRST COMMENT. Proof I was awesome! *does bad Cabbage Patch dance* It was a lovely and thoughtful comment from this dude named…Akismet?

What kind of name is that? Must be foreign.

Or an automatically generated message from the WORDPRESS SPAM-FILTERING software *head desk*.

What if I’d given up? We all start somewhere. Goals will always be shifting and evolving. We never cross a true finish line unless we decide to quit.

And we’ll need to remember to take that moment where we can enjoy our achievement, but new level? New devil. I was so STOKED when I earned my second stripe on my BJJ white belt. I felt bad@$$! Those two stripes cost me a broken nose, a few broken toes, sprains, strains, time and sweat. I was EPIC (in my own mind).

Double-rainbow all the WAY!

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***For those who don’t know, in BJJ you are a white belt FOREVER—okay, about a year to a year and a half. Four stripes and then blue belt. Most people QUIT.

I basked in my awesomeness until the next class when I got my tail beaten like a drum.

With writing? Finishing a book is life-altering? Publishing it? Holding it in your hands? OMG! Then you get the scathing review from someone who loved the book, but gave you two stars because there were four typos in 70,000 words.

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Also, once that book is out? It’s back to the beginning with the next book and the next. We are always starting over and reaching higher than the last time. It’s why we need a solid relationship with being a beginner ;) .

You can DO this! I know you can. Just remember baby steps are steps and the most valuable stuff in life, money can’t buy.

What are your thoughts? Ready to rule the world? Do you get frustrated with people believing what you do is easy? Or people who want the fruits without the work? Maybe people who dismiss all the sacrifices you’ve made? Do you find you do better if you keep revisiting these basics? I do. If it can be overcomplicated? I AM your GIRL!

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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