You Are Not Alone – because you can’t be.

We all know the legend of Jack London the adventurer and prodigious writer.  He is held up to authors as the epitome of the writer’s work ethic, publishing 50 fiction and non-fiction books and hundreds of articles.  He made his living by writing and always, always writing at least a 1,000 words a day.  That is an impressive output not only for the number but for the consistency.  1,000 words!

Many people help bring a book to lifeOn first glance, London represents impossible goals. Fifty books!  But how could anyone match that?  You can.     

Recycle

Both Jack and his wife re-purposed their adventures into many version of essentially the same book.  The travels of the Snark inspired a number of related books all covering the same material including Charmaine London’s version provocatively titled:  Woman among the Head Hunters.  Like so many best-selling authors, London created many books from a single theme.

But still, he wrote and he sailed the adventures, he had the ideas.  All deserving of praise and acclaim.  I love his work, no question.  But I also don’t want any author to think that Jack woke up each morning at Beauty Ranch and simply created his literary success all by himself.

He did not.

Let’s begin with that 1,000 words a day.

Clear the Decks

No matter the guest count that week, no matter what the crisis at the ranch, no matter what was for breakfast, Jack wrote.

His work supported the whole enterprise of course, and writing was his job.  But do consider who made those 1,000 words a day possible:

His ranch manager.

The Staff

The ranch workers and their families

His wife.

The cook.

Someone took care of all the daily challenges that arise on a working ranch.  Someone make breakfast and cleaned up afterward.  His wife protected his time and entertained the weekend guests until Jack was finished.

Use a Typist

Jack could write, but not fast enough. He worked out his books long hand.  It was his wife, Charmaine who typed up the drafts of the manuscripts, editing along the way.   She was involved in his work from the start and wrote her own stories after his death.   

Even in the creation of his books, Jack was not working alone.

Now that I’ve thrown poor London under the bus, here are more people nestled in the anonymity of the acknowledgments page of most books.

Researchers

Research comes from volunteers, helpers, or paid professionals.  For authors, everyone and anyone is a resource.  Jack discovered those stories on the islands of the  South Pacific, and the bars in Alaska.  Some authors who write multiple books a year,  hire profession researchers.    If you are very lucky, you can exploit your own high school children as research assistants and pretend it’s an educational experience.

Room Of Your Own

Behind every great writer is a spouse keeping the children quiet, or a beloved aunt who left them enough cash to live on while they worked.   I have a husband who supports the arts.  We all have some kind of help.  Don’t think authors are doing this all on their own.   

Editors

There could be up to three people involved in the editorial process.  Authors need editors. From Beta Readers to Copy editors,  these wonderful people are critical.

Promotors/PR

A group or an individual needs to promote the author.  An author often does this work herself, but again, if you are published consistently enough, or are lucky to have a team at your disposal, a PR expert is key to the success of the book.

Social Media

First, you need to start up the social media projects, then if you are lucky and I mean that – lucky – you will collect rabid fans in the thousands who will spread the word about your project or book.  These fans are unsung and unacknowledged and increasingly, critical.

Agent

In Jack’s day, literary agents were more like a personal manager.  Agents protected the author, negotiated for better royalties, negotiated with the publishers and the press, sometimes advanced the author funds out of the agent’s own pocket and helped the author decide on the next book.   It’s different now, but also the same, successful authors have that team member.

Publisher

All authors need a delivery system for their books.   It can be done through one of the big New York publishers or the largest one of all – Amazon –  but again, people behind the scenes are assembling your book and shipping it out and sending you money.

Booksellers   

If your book is featured in a bricks and mortar store, the owner and staff of that store will help sell your book.  Smart authors do not forget this.   In Powells (Portland), there was a note tacked onto the end of a bookshelf –   a  card from Sue Grafton.  T is for Thank You.

Artists

Can you design your own book cover?  Canva options aside, no you can’t.  Get help.  Those beautiful book covers illuminating pages of Amazon offerings?  All professionally done.

A section in Poets and Writers magazine lists new and noteworthy books.  The listing includes the first line of the book, then the top people involved in bringing that book to readers:   Publisher – Author – Agent – Editor – Publicist.  It takes a team, or even in some cases, a village.

London had a village.  Virginia Woolf had a village.

It takes a rather large population to bring a book to market.  We think of writing as a solitary affair and the American myth of complete self-sufficiency is still very powerful particularly when it comes to writing.  But the myth is wrong.  Authors not only need to be competent at their work, careful in their craft but also able to coordinate the multitude it will take to bring a book to market.

It’s daunting but nice to know we are not alone.

This first appeared in Writer’s Fun Zone.

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The Fun of Fake Research and How to Avoid It

We know what we believe and no pile of facts or expert opinions will propel us out of our comfortable Lazy-Boy of certitude.

But we are missing one of the greatest joys of writing: research.research in times of Fake News

Even if you disagree with every fact you uncover, research is fun, researching for a book or article can become the project itself, every bit as agreeable as an afternoon spent on Pinterest.

Oh look, puppies!

I teach a class on critical thinking and writing so much of my rant about research and the veracity there in, is to prevent students from  quoting urban legends or common wisdom, or FOX news.  Yes, you say, still seated comfortably, perhaps pulling a beer from the cooler embedded into the chair arm, but research is just for academics, I write fiction, no need to research, it’s my world building against yours.

That was BG.  Before Google.  In the happy past, women knew their place, white men made a living wage tightening wing nuts and  fiction writers used to be more or less exempt from research, it was our world after all, get over it.  But like the wing-nut tightening business, the industry changed.     

Everyone can look up everything.  Which means that you, the author, need to be more diligent with your facts and claims and yes, do more research, which will lead to the problem stated above, the more you love the research, the fewer words will end up in your final book.

So we have two challenges:  You need to do research, but  the research will quickly take on a life of its own through no fault of yours (puppies).

What to do?

  1. Haul yourself out of the recliner.
  2. Limit the research to three credible sources.
  3. Look for consensus and then just write from there.

Credible?  How the heck can I know what is credible?

Ask a couple of questions about the site, or journal, or white paper you’ve just encountered on your digging search:

Commercial or Academic? 

Is the information you found   just advertising copy?  Double check against another site to be sure.    

Links to corroborating sites.

Look for links to other sites – often academic and legitimate sites cheerfully link to more information or to deeper sources.  Flow the links from  one site to the next to next.

For an academic paper your goal is to find the original sources, kind of like finding the source of the Amazon.  Sometimes it feels like it takes that long as well but it’s worth it, just to be very clear.

Can you find the original article? ( I’m looking at you Huffington Post.)

Dig deep and find the original article or journal rather than just believing, and quoting, the first time you see the comment.   

Yes, you can start with Wikipedia

Believe it or not, as much as academic denigrate Wikipedia  Wikipedia isn’t a bad way to start  your research.  Just don’t end there.  Ever.  Yet, the OED was essentially crowd sourced, and Wikipedia is gaining legitimacy.  However, I’m still a fan of digging deeper.

Contact the author.

Is there an email?  Can you contact the author of the web site or journal article?  Can you ask them a direct question about what you need to know?  Probably. Give it a try. You know yourself that you love to be considered an expert in your field, give that compliment to another author, they may respond with   great information.   

Or did the author of the web site post  a selfie  wearing a colander covered in tin foil? A professional tip: don’t reference that site.

If you are writing  fiction, you may want to write the novel first, then research only what you need to research. That will help narrow your search and allow you time to actually write, rather than  just research as fun as it is.

Oh, and did you know you can create pin boards that track your research, discuss your work in progress and are all about your book?   Sorry.  Now you’ll never get that book started . . . But aren’t the puppies cute?  Make a Pinterest board.

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The Agent Pitch

How to pitch to an agentI had requests to post the notes from the workshop I just gave for Agent’s Pitch Day.  Here they are.

Congratulations, you are here to move your book forward – this is exciting and a wonderful opportunity. And nerve wracking.
I am here to help you make the most effective use of your five minutes with these lovely agents and publishers.
They are here to find great ideas, great books and great authors. Remember this is a business. They want to be able to sell you and your book to it’s specific public.

They are looking for the right fit.

So know, right now, that this isn’t a beauty contest. This is not a win/lose activity. If there is a fit – celebrate! If there are no fits, you’ve learned valuable information and can make more choices for your book publication life later this afternoon. After dinner. Maybe after a bottle of wine.

Here, from Andy Ross, is what these Agents and Editors would rather not hear

• Reading from Note Cards
• Presenting a memorized talk
• Explaining the entire plot of the book
• Telling the agent that this is the next best seller
• Telling the agent that your book will make a great film.

Here is what we will help you with.
• Figuring out and delivering what your book is about which is different than the plot
• Delivering that essence of the book and your platform in a few words.
• Expressing why you are uniquely qualified to write this book – your qualifications.
• Creating an answer for promotion.

Don’t worry about perfection, that’s not the point

Agents are here because they want to see you in person, so as much as you can, be yourself.

Just in case you end up before an editor who did not list your subject in their “want” list, talk to them anyway. Use your 5 minutes to ask them what they are looking for. What is selling? What genre is hot and what is the up and coming genre? Do they know anyone who would be interested in your book?
Tell them a bit about your book anyway.
Breathe.

What is the book about?
Social justice?
Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll?
The clash between expectations and reality?

Rather than list off plot points in chronological order, what is the book’s essence?
There is a reason films cycle around a single idea or protagonist. We can say, Oh Spiderman, and we are done.
How can your idea and book fit into that tiny frame?

Who are you? Have you won awards? Hiked through the desert?
Do you have a massive Social Media following?
Why are you uniquely qualified to write this book?

Platform, this is the overall reason you wrote a book. Platform is also something on which to build a promotional campaign.

Elements of a good pitch
Hi my name is XXXX and I have written a novel based on my experience doing or being XXXX the novel is about a boy, a girl and social enlightenment and will appeal primarily to female readers who buy both e-books and hard copy novels. I already have a following of 10,000 on my blog of the same name. Would you like to hear more?

Hi, my name is Catharine and I’ve written a YA Science Fiction Time travel book series Future Girls featuring female heroines who escape to the past to change their future. I am passionate about delivering the message that teens can change their future by what they do right now.

I am a college professor with two degrees in English and am growing my Facebook Instagram and Pinterest following using both organic and paid advertising in order to increase interest in these books.

To learn more.
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How to Start Writing A Book

Don’t Write Like You Talk
What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poetsStarting Your book by Catharine Bramkamp

Just start.  Sometimes we get caught up in the promotion and the expectations for our books, because they are like children.  We incubate the tiny human for nine months, they are painfully born and here they are!  And before we’ve spent any time at all getting acquainted, we think, ah, this child will be a police officer, construction worker, cowboy or Indian chief.  And we will be so proud.  You picture the graduations from multiple universities. You picture yourself bragging to your friends about your wonderful child who is wonderful because you are the perfect parent.

This child will live all the dreams you were forced to defer.

This child will make the income that eluded you.

This child will take advantage of new technologies, new attitudes, and better fashion.

And on her second birthday, the child will demonstrate that no, no she will not.  And all  you are left with  is sixteen years to get used to your dissapointment.

Yeah, writing a book is just like that. All those expectations about publishing?  Like as soon as your book is published you will become younger, thiner, and richer?  May not pan out.  All those hopes for a transformative experience the minute the book is accepted for publication?  You still must do the laundry.

And all those  accolades?   People don’t really care that much, they don’t understand the process or the effort.  Oh, you wrote a book.  I just won third place in the local rodeo for roping tanks.  And the both of you stand there and you think, my kid said something about wanting to rope inanimate objects. 

You cannot control the outcomes. Not for your book and not for your child.  But as you know, you can control the daily interaction.  You can listen to your child, you can take them out on adventures, you can love them.

You can be in every moment possible.

That’s how you manage any great big huge project.

Once you let go of the outcome (I know, sounds kind of zen, and it kind of is), then you can concentrate on the work.  Decide what you want from the writing experience.  Do you have something to say?  Begin by saying it.  Do you have  a beef against the small cowboy child who yesterday  roped  the  full coffee maker?  Write about that.    

You start because there is something about doing that will feed your soul.  You begin because you are essentially raising a book and it’s all about the daily tasks and efforts.

Think of book  publication as  High School Graduation.  You are finished with all the daily work, all the moments, all the concentration, all the homework.  And now the child and the book have graduated – it’s official. 

I would like to say that now the work is done.  But it’s not. The work has just changed.

Believe me, it’s more fun to do the first phase, the writing phase, than the second, the post publication phase.  As my friend commented, the hardest years for raising a boy is between 18 and 23, because all you can do is take the call that starts with “I’m okay”.

To learn more.
Visit us on ITunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
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First Step towards Writing a Book

Don’t Write Like You Talk
What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

Clients often ask, what are the steps to writing a book?

There are steps and there are steps.  Writing is personal and interesting and quirky. That is why there are so many books about writing, that is why there are so many suggestions, that is why I’m part of the problem.Article on the first step to writing a book

When you are stuck writing – and if you’re reading this, you are, mosey over to Pinterest.  There are countless Pinterest boards devoted to writing – from pithy quotes to fabulous infographics on how, what, who, colors, better words that “said”, better words that “you”.  A nice selection of information and help.  I have Pinterest Boards on writing so you can check them out. But I’m not the only writer on Pinterest.

In case those  nifty infographics do not inspire –  here is the first basic writing step.

(Just to continue the metaphor – no one learns to walk without falling down. A lot.

Remember that as you take those steps towards your writing project.)

Step 1 – start small with embarrassingly low stakes, goals and expectations.

I’m not kidding. 

Examples of good first step goals.

  • Today I’m going to think about my writing for ten minutes while standing in the shower
  • This month I will write for 1/2 hour.
  • I will stop talking about my novel (since I suspect my friends are bored with the plot already) and instead write down all the ideas that I like to discuss when well into my fourth handcrafted stout.

You may think, that’s just insane, those aren’t real goals, I have never seen an infographic listing goals like that.

Yes they are. Any activity that gets  words out of your head, out of your summary speech for the academy awards which you know by heart, and onto paper, is a good activity.

Start there – take an initial step, clutch the back of a chair for support.  Then tune in for additional steps right here.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
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Inspiration for Writers

Writing inspiration Catharine BramkampDon’t Write Like You Talk

What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

Some people work with prompts to start their ten minute write.  Which I think is a wonderful idea, it’s like warming up before a run, or something.  I don’t run.  Don’t listen to me.

In Don’t Write Like We Talk, we include a prompt in every show.  To stream line the process, here are a few writing prompts.  Feel free to print them out, share them, use them.   

  • Writer’s Block:  When your imaginary friends won’t talk to you.
  • Write about writer’s block.  Believe it or not, when you are really stuck in your work, try writing:  I am really stuck, over and over.  Or try writing non-stop for ten minutes.  The act alone can help you break through.
  • I love holiday letters that chronicle perfect families,  wonderful lives, but gloss over some of the rough parts: the latest arrest, another  job loss, the school record for detentions served.
  • What would happen if we sent our friends and family holiday cards that spoke the absolute truth? Would our year look different from what  we post on Facebook?  Would our holiday missives sound  different if they weren’t mailed to elderly aunts and cousins we still want to impress?
  • What does that look like?
  • Write a holiday letter that only tells the truth.
  • Don’t mail it.
  • Have you ever not said something and were later glad you didn’t?
  • Write about the times you wished you kept your mouth shut.
  • If you need to increase the tension in a fiction  chapter or lift a sagging story line, allow your  character to blurt out some inconvenient truth to the wrong person.  It will keep things lively.
  • Ever do that yourself?
  • What is the worst job you’ve ever had? What was the worst job your character ever had. How did it shape her character, how did it shape yours?
  • Write down a memory from your grandparents.  Did they have a story they told and re-told?  And your initial reaction was “not the story about Grandpa and the bear again”.  This time, remember that old story and write it down.  See what happens from there.  I know, maybe nothing.
  • What have you done recently that was memorable but has no accompanying photos?
  • is it possible to experience something and not have a photo of it?
  • Write about an adventure that managed to happen without any photos.
  • Write out your favorite joke. Now write it as if it went horribly wrong.  Wrong set up, wrong punch like,  just wrong.  If that too funny?  Or just horrible?  Write a story about someone telling a joke badly.  Or someone telling a bad joke.
  • What is stored in the garage right now, gathering dust?
  • What part of your life does it represent?
Visit us on iTunes  – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually.  All you need to do is wait . . .  Like us.
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Why Inspiration is So Difficult

 

Inspiration for writingDon’t Write Like You Talk
What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

How do you get inspired?  And why is it so difficult to wrestle that inspiration into words let alone into something as coherent as a poem or a novel or a self-help book?  And how do you court inspiration?

Part of the problem we have with inspiration  is that inspiration is often depicted in cartoons or novels or film  as fun, fast and fantastic.  The lightbulb pops up over a character’s head at exactly the right time (thus moving the plot along).  It is delivered in a song, it floats down to characters during a dreamy afternoon paddling on a lake, it is easy.

So what the heck right?  What if we don’t  sing, and there is no lake nearby, and the only light bulb I have access to is on my emoji keyboard.

Inspiration does not necessarily work like magic. But it does work.

Inspiration, delivered by  a perverse Muse often arrives at seriously  inconvenient times, like when you are driving.

Or when you are scrubbing the toilet.

Here’s the good news:  We all drive and we all have toilets.

Inspiration is often not up to you, it is, I believe, a product of successful courting of the capricious  Muse.  Inspiration is often a result of input: books, films, theater, conversation. 

Inspiration comes when you’ve learned so much, the material finally reaches critical mass and you get inspired.   

While you are negotiating heavy traffic.

And you think – now?  Now you visit me oh Muse who is not paying attention to my daily schedule.

And the Muse puts her hands on her hips and says “well do you want it or not?  Because there’s a guy in the lane behind you who will take this great idea and run with it if you are too lazy to pull out a napkin from Starbucks and that pencil stub from yesterday’s golf game and scribble this down.

And so you do.

And because you stuffed your brain with images and ideas and both good literature, great literature and bad literature, you are prepared to know what it is, what the difference is, and you see that yes, yes it’s original and wonderful and inspired.

That’s often how it works.  So read something, watch something.  Go scrub the toilet.  If you don’t get inspired for your writing – at least the bathroom is clean.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually. All you need to do is wait . . . Like us.
Subscribe to this blog
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

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