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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Don’t Worry, Write Anyway

In her book, Fierce on the Page, Sara Cohen  insists that authors be happy first no matter where they stand on the fame and fortune continuum.  This belies our whole tortured artist myth, that validation, and accidentally, happiness can only be achieved with publication the sharp spires of which beckon  as our own shinning  city on the hill.  This is about as true as black being flattering to all complexions.

You seem both shocked that contrary to fashion magazine claims, the little black dress isn’t universally perfect, and shocked that the end of the rainbow does not lead to a pot of gold, or happiness.  I understand.  When my first book published.  I felt satisfaction, pleasure, had a celebratory drink and immediately  had to get to work because promoting a published book is critical, required,  and lead  to increased crankiness.  Not happiness.

If that is true, how can a writer possibly be happy?

The first strategy is to understand our mythology.  Our favorite myth is that all writers want to be published.  And all published authors are happy.  More specifically, published authors are happier than YOU.   This myth perpetuates the erroneous idea that  all our work will be in vain if we don’t publish.  And not just any publisher, our work must be published by one of the big 5, 4, 3 – the only traditional publisher left.

What if the writing itself makes you happy?   

  Write HappyI am a life-long writer, can’t help it. The work may change, but the process stays very much the same because I love the process.  My goal for writing is that the work will increase in satisfaction and flow the more I do it.  I want the writing in my 80s to be even more satisfying than writing in my 50’s  which is considerably more satisfying than writing in my 20s was. In my twenties, I wanted to have written. I wanted the finished project and the imagined all the acclaim and satisfaction that a published book would bring.  In short, even though the actual process was miserable and difficult, I knew I would be happy once the damn thing was finished and published.

I ended up dropping the awful novel ( A romance. I am not a romance writer evidenced by the excruciating process) in favor of planning a trip to Europe.  Better use of my time.  I remember the trip, it made me happy.  The only thing I remember about that novel was the rejection letter.    

Concentrate on the process – the hours you will spend on creating your work.  Are you happy in those hours?  I’m betting you are.  That’s the happiness. That should be the goal: doing what makes you happy, not waiting in vain for validation from strangers.

So what will make you really happy?

Do you long to announce your book project at family dinners to show you are creative, erudite and introspective?

Will holding the title – Writer – make you more important?

Will adding writer to your Linked In account give you a thrill?

Will wearing the writer’s costume give you deep satisfaction?  (Note, the writer costume does not include a cape, rather it often consists of an old college sweatshirt and yoga pants covered in dog hair) (But being able to wear yoga pants all day confers on many of us, tremendous happiness).

Some writers are happy to have something to do while sipping their lattes at Starbucks, so an afternoon in a cafe noodling around on your laptop, feeling part of the tribe is time well spent.

If explaining the plot of your yet unwritten work delights you.  Then do that.

If endlessly editing your epic poem from 5:00 to 6:30 PM every weekday soothes your soul.  Do that.

If you can turn yourself into a writer who loves the process, and revels in the zone of writing, the doing of it, you will truly win this game.

Whatever you do, don’t believe that publication will lead you through to the beautiful sunset into which you will walk, sunlight streaming from your slender limbs, all troubles and cares erased from your now bright future.  It won’t.  Publication ends up being just one more damn thing to do.

Finding happiness in your work, in the beauty and wonder of putting words to the page, that will last forever.

So stop worrying and just keep writing.  That will make you happy.  Promise.

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Grinning Gargoyles and the Sensitive Artist

All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic.

Oscar Wilde

When Poetry goes GargoyleWhat if you wrote a beautiful poem and you feel strongly that this is the truth. It is the truth because it reflects exactly  what you felt at the time. It is the truth because it welled up from the very depths of your soul.

What if there was just one tiny catch.

The beautiful poem is one enormous, looming, unattractive, grinning cliche. A gargoyle perched on the edge of the cathedral, it’s soul-less purpose to channel rain and stream it out as  unfiltered liquid drenching unfortunate pedestrians below.

Most early writers don’t realize they’ve written a bad poem or a derivative novel.  And that’s okay, as long as the artist in question is willing to fix their work and channel all that creative flow back into making the work stronger.  But some aren’t.  Some remain gargoyles.

I’ve recently encountered two writers who embody this particular kind of gargoyle – the sensitive artist.

The teen who knows everything.

The poet who knows even more.

When we start writing, it’s all new.  Ah, this is love, this is hate, this is marvelous.  We write it down, it’s new and perfect.  But  maybe we don’t realize our brilliant metaphor, our story, has been done before.  Likely since Homer heard about it in an Athens cafe.

So where does that leave the artist, or rather, the emerging artist?

I would argue that great writers are always figuring out, learning, and improving their craft. What Was missing with my two emerging artists was the confidence that a person can be a great artist, yet still (always) benefit from feedback.

Also,  there is no such thing as a completely original thought. Get over it.  But there is such thing as your voice, your unique view of the world.  Your choice of words.  Just do a quick check to see exactly who went before you, be they bad, great or gargoyle.

For the whole fabulous article   

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Freebird, no wait, Freewrite

The Freewrite ships this month (March)

I heard about it from a friend who brought me the information about the Freewrite from CES.

The Freewrite I am fascinated by these products.  The Freewrite is a light typewriter with a handle (the portable typewriter I took to college also had a handle, and doubled as a resistance weights every time I hauled it onto a desk).  But it’s not all about the handle.  This new, new writing miracle also provides a  long battery life and “seamless cloud backups”  According to the postcard on my desk,  the key board has old fashion typewriter action.  But best of all “ this new product provides a minimalist, distraction free environment to help you write “now” and edit later.”

“Get back to the simplicity of writing without losing the benefits of modern technology.”

This is not the first word processor of it’s kind. I owned an AlphaSmart for a couple of years as an inexpensive alternative to my heavy lap top.  It worked pretty well on overseas trips, until I needed a lap top to keep up with my consulting work.   Oh, and my husband informed me that at 7:00 AM, the Alphasmart  key board was noisy.

There is another favorite in this category, The Pomera DM100, but apparently you must be gentle when using the key board.

I have broken keyboards, gentle is not my middle name.

The large, overriding feature of these  light typewriters is  they offer  a distraction free writing environment, or as   Mashable’s   Christina Warren and Karissa Bell  commented, more “pretentious hipster nonsense.”

Which is what is so darn interesting.  Why are we so distracted?  Why can’t we just write?

There are many laptop programs and apps available  that help with distraction free writing.  Timers, blocks, screens, all in the service of “distraction” free writing.  As if the refrigerator wasn’t doing its job.

Distraction free writing has its place.  I used to work at a beach cabin on the west coast: no wifi, no signals of any kind, include cell service.  Drove my friends nuts.  But I loved it.   It had the advantage of blocking all my distractions along with providing a spectacular view. That was distracting.

The advantage of working all connected is the ability to search for a word exactly when you need it.  You can also quickly confirm a place, historical note or name.

Here is the disadvantage:  It’s never quick.

Like I said in the research blog – research is fun, and often like falling into a rabbit hole.  And you want to write for heaven’s sake.

Enter, new machines for that very activity.

It’s like a Fit Bit for your word count:  Specific, new, expensive, hip(ster).

If you invest in one of these lovely machines I absolutely believe you will write more.  I also believe that the last blank pages of an old college notebook will also provide distraction free writing.  I also believe that, in a pinch, the back of a Costco receipt provides plenty of space for most poems due to it’s unavoidable length.

But in Freewrite’s defense, typing is the best way we have to keep up with our thoughts.  The words  travel directly from our brain to an editable  document. 

Go distraction free and double your word count, is what Freewrite promises.

Or drive to the coast.

Your Book Starts Here web siteTo learn more.
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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.

Your Book Starts Here web siteTo learn more.
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The (rocky, pot holed, traffic prone) Road to Publication

The Road To PublicationI am quite good at helping clients achieve their dream of publishing.  I have helped launch strong, successful writing careers which I follow with great satisfaction and even delight.

My own publishing story is different.

Maybe I should hire myself.

My publishing journey is not a three hour trip skimming over the smooth interstate of luck in a BMW convertible . My journey, so far, traverses over a a barely discernible track  through burned and denuded prairies.  My journey is more like riding in the back of a used Chevy through the Bonneiville flats with no AC while clutching a sticky Slurpee meant to last until Salt Lake City, but doesn’t.

If you want to feel better about your own rocky trip to publication, here is mine. Don’t compare, just know you aren’t alone.

The brief version of my trip so far: 

Two books, Future Girls and Future Run, were accepted by a local (to me) publisher Eternal Press.

Eternal Press then  sold to Caliburn Press (not local).

Caliburn Press’s publisher appeared on Newbie Writers Podcast.  Nice man, sincerely interested in doing the best he can by his authors.

Two more Future Girls books were accepted by the acquisition editor at Caliburn Press.

A year later – nothing.   

The books were not edited.  The books already published and purchased were not promoted. In fact the published books were no longer even available on Amazon.  It was like death.

Finally, the publisher offered to all the authors that he was willing to sell back our rights should we want to.

I wanted to.

Now I had four books with no where to go.

I sent off the descriptions to an agent, who respectfully declined.

I sent off the proposals to a service, Publishers Agents and Films.  For a fee they submit a proposal to a set number of publishers (I asked for publishers).

That is the current new route for Future Girls.

While I was waiting around for the hand off from publisher to publisher for one set of books,  I wrote a book with my podcast partner, Damien – Don’t Write Like We Talk.

This too was accepted for a new (some would say overly ambitious) imprint of Caliburn Press,  we were thrilled and even walked through a set of edits.

Yes, you guessed it because you already had looked up the destination on Google Maps.  Nothing happened.  We went no where.  Fast.

I bought back the rights to that manuscript as well.

What to do?

Agent?  Publisher?  It’s a writing book with a rather unique slant, where would it fit?

I stumbled upon a micro grant program called Awesome.  One of the grant chapters originated in Adelaide, home to my podcast partner.  I applied to the $1,000  grant program to pay for a book cover design, interior design and publication (ISBN, a small print run, Facebook and Pinterest ads). 

I just applied yesterday.

Some authors are lucky.  They take a hike, knock out a first draft, sell it to  Hollywood for tens of thousands and hit the book tour circuit delivering advice on how to write a best selling book. Their path is clear and free of axle bending potholes (shout out to Petaluma, CA).

I find publishing looks less like the Bat-mobile and more like the car  in Beverly Hillbillies.

This is the middle of the saga for a series of books and a single how-to book.  The process involved many hours of writing the books, managing the 217 episodes of the podcast, managing what seemed a dream collaboration that then disappeared.  Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Don’t feel bad if your first effort wasn’t greeted with a parade and a band.  If everyone you mentioned your project to said – meh -.  I’m here to tell you it just takes another try, a different angle, pursing another opportunity that is different than what you initially thought you wanted.  Take the detour, take the alternative route away from the traffic.

I know it works for my clients.  I’m working on taking my own advice and will let you know if the alternative route leads to if not my intended destination, at least a comfortable rest stop.

Your Book Starts Here web siteTo learn more.
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Social Media for Authors – Illustrated

Social Media helpI’ve had the privileged of speaking to a number of authors this month on Social Media.

Here is the summary of the talks and the Social Media Graph

Goodreads.  You must get yourself on Goodreads even before your book is published.  Make friends, create a list of your books, write reviews, join groups.  Participate a little each week and grow your presence.  Once your book is published – create a book give away to increase your book’s exposure.

Facebook: For an author the very first social media channel for your book is Facebook.   Millennials feel that FB is here to stay, they consider it an old established form of social.  Which is just fine by us.  For an author your best strategy is to create a FB Page so you can separate the information about your book from your own personal feed.

Pinterest is surprisingly good for authors.  Create boards and posts about your book, join other boards, post photos while you wait in line or are sitting as a car passenger.

Ideas:  Post photos and comments about where the book is set, what the characters are wearing, old photos.  Photos of film stars who resemble your book characters, stuff found in the book.

Both Pinterest and FB are great resources for ads.  But create the boards and pins first before launching into paid ads so you don’t appear inauthentic.

Paid ads are inexpensive and easily tracked.  Try a boosted post on Facebook for 20.00 and evaluate the results.  Try a boosted post on Pinterest and do the same.  You can refine and explore quickly and fairly easily.Social Media for authors

For a better version – I’ll trade you – sign up for my quarterly newsletter and I’ll send you a PDF version of the graph!

To learn more.
Visit us on ITunes – Newbie Writers Podcast –
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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Social Media for Authors

How to keep writing

I’m teaching a seminar on Social Media for Authors at the Sierra Writer’s Conference this January 21 in Nevada City, CA

One of the more overwhelming aspects of marketing your book is managing social media. Think of Social Media as an exponential tool: focus on creating 100 fans, and those fans will share with their 100 fans, and those fans will share . . . well, you get the idea.  Since there is no such thing as the best social media channel, learn which one will work best for you and your project.  We will also discuss what to say, how to say it, and most importantly – why do this at all? 

Sign up today!

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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.
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
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And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

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I Make Plans – Instagram Poem

Instagram poem