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I have this analogy at Carrot Ranch: That the path to publishing a book is like a rodeo ride. My father, his father and his father were all bull-riders. My father gave it up after high school. I really wanted to ride bulls, coming from a family that did so. I rode training barrels, goats and steers. I never made it to the level of bulls. If I had, all I would have needed was one eight-second ride at a rodeo to prove my merit. I never got the chance.
Now it’s about writing novels. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, mostly publishing in newspapers, magazines and business publications. But I’ve trained to write novels. It’s a bit like my childhood, comparing my writing experience to that of training with goats and steers when I really want to ride bulls. Every lesser step matters though. It’s how you develop skills and practice your craft.
Also, other life experiences matter.
Parenting teaches you a certain kind of dedication that a job does not — you can always change jobs. Every job teaches you something of value, even if it is the recognition of what you don’t want to do. It can teach you the value of teamwork, negotiation, administrative skills. When you feel stumped about how to ride a bull, think back to what it was like to ride a goat or steer. Back up to what you know and look for connections from your experience to take you down an unknown path.
Publishing is the big dream. Think big. Dream big. Publish. However, it’s not quick and easy.
When I first set out, I was so certain I’d ride the biggest, baddest Brahma bull the rodeo had to offer. I would get published. Turns out, that requires getting an agent and the agent brokers the ride. It’s a long process. In the meantime, I kept writing. With my third WIP, I discovered that genre really does matter when it comes to getting published in the bigger arena. This means I won’t get my chance to ride until I finish revisions on my third. And just because a publisher is interested to read doesn’t mean it will get picked up. I have much anticipation on one ride, but it is a strategy and I’m committed to see it through to success or failure.
Well, no one can take from me what I’ve already written. If one ride doesn’t work out, there are plenty more rodeos to aim for. I will most likely consider a new strategy or shop it out to other publishers and agents. Then there is self-publishing.
Self-publishing has remained low on my list of rodeos to consider. To me, it’s like aiming for the county rodeo when I really want to ride at the Nationals. However, it can be a legitimate strategy for authors. Some start with the county rodeo with the intention to get picked up for the national ride. Others enjoy the county rodeo and that’s where they want to be. Many are successful there. It doesn’t matter which rodeo you want, as long as it fits the ride you seek.
While some might think self-publishing is an easy ride, they speak from a lack of experience. It requires a writer to provide more, and to understand book publishing regardless of your entry point. It’s one thing to know how to ride bulls, but do you know what each rodeo requires of you? Self-publishing requires specific skills and planning. It’s more than knowing how to upload a digital file. It requires every step that book publishers take. Thus the author becomes a publisher. It also puts your book into the same market. Thus the author becomes a distributor.
The P-word: planning. Not every author likes the p-word. In fact, a successful author I follow had a hard-truth-response to an author who said they’d self-publish and see what happens. C. Hope Clark, author of several mystery series and the weekly Funds for Writers, responded:
“I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. I encourage it, actually. I have no problem with people publishing as a hobby. I encourage that, too. But . . . when they hint that they do not have the time to do it right . . . when part-time is an excuse for not doing it thoroughly, I just want to get to a microphone someplace and rant!
Of course ranting to anyone is not the way to make them understand. I don’t want someone shaking their finger at me, either. So I try to educate.
1) A book not prepared with a professional eye, will not sell.
2) A book not edited hard by people other than the writer, will not sell.
3) A book placed on Amazon with no steady promotion, will not sell.
4) A book published without the author marketing herself, will not sell.
One gentleman threw those words at me, “and see what happens,” and I simply replied, “It won’t sell.” He looked like I’d slapped him.” (Read the full post, “I’ll Throw it Out There and See What Happens.”)
Planning is essential. I love the craft of writing, too; I love creation, to create, to dwell in the hum of creativity. But I want to ride bulls to make the purse. In other words, I want to publish what I write to earn a living. I’m not so ignorant of the state of this profession to not see how difficult that is. In fact, it’s why I equate publishing books to making a rodeo ride. But consider this: I have student loan debt for a writing degree; I worked in the trenches at newspapers, magazines and in marketing departments; I workshopped my craft on my dime each year and invested money in craft-related books. This isn’t a hobby for me. And just as I have nothing against those who do write for a hobby — I know and admire many who are on this path — I want to help myself and others who are serious to make writing a viable career.
If you do plan, understand it can take years to come to fruition. I wrote a guest post for Rachel Poli about planning and how it’s part of establishing your writer’s platform. You can consider three different plans, all or one. A vision plan is great for all writers. It helps you understand what you want out of writing, an answer only you can give. Once you clearly see your vision, decide if you need a business or marketing plan. If you are having trouble keeping to your plan, adjust it.
Don’t beat yourself up every time you fall off the bull. You will fall off the bull 8,000 times, but you only need one eight-second ride.
You will fail to meet your plans. You will be rejected by others. You will fail to convey your ideas in words. You will experience disappointment. Don’t linger in disappointment (back in the 1850s, it was a common reason for getting committed to an insane asylum). Connect with other writers who are on similar paths. Study the rodeo rides of successful authors and absorb that the ride can be done. Find your voice and use it. Acknowledge your falls, but get back up and try again. You might even want to quit for a while until the itch to ride brings you back to the arena.
The purpose of this post is to give a backstory to posts to come. I’ve been working to define a writer’s platform as what you build from branding, community, credibility and audience. Currently, I’m stuck on audience building. It’s similar to building community, but often harder to make the connection. Community is getting to know your fellow bull riders. But say you had to fill the grandstands with rodeo attendees. Sure, a few bull riders might attend, but most are going to be in the arena with you. So, how do you find people to come watch the show, buy tickets and see your ride? That’s the same question every author has — how do I get people to find my writing, buy my book and read it?
I’m also exploring the world of publishing, specifically self-publishing. Currently the Congress of Rough Writers are collaborating on our first anthology. Sarah Brentyn is riding as Trail Boss; she’s our editor. Volume 1 will include flash fiction from our first year of writing at Carrot Ranch and will introduce several chapters of new work, including essays from our memoirists and longer stories from our featured fiction writers. Sarah Brentyn is also writing a chapter to make this anthology a teaching tool for book clubs, writers groups and classes. Several writers are assisting on teams to guide the processes involved. We plan to self-publish. As Lead Buckaroo, the planning is my task.
What I’m learning is that the marketing channels for traditionally published and self-published books are the same. The difference is what and how distribution is available. Another difference is that as self-publishing, I’m the publisher.
Subsequent posts will explain:
- the marketing channels,
- the role of authors,
- each publishing requirement,
- the process of planning,
- ideas on pricing,
- how a writer’s platform applies to the anthology.
An anthology is a way to explore at low risk. Each participant is risking little on this ride. If it’s successful, it benefits many. It it fails, it doesn’t take down any one writer’s hard work, like a full novel. If I fail, I learn from it. We can always try again. My hope is that the anthology becomes a practice arena of sorts. We can experiment with self-publishing, pricing, distribution, platform and even craft and content, which are all lessons we can individually apply to our greater individual rides. As a group, we have greater experience and skills to share, too.
Stay in the saddle! Once a week, I’ll post something new from what we are doing, learning or discussing. Feel free to add to discussion in the comments.
It’s Monday morning, 1 a.m. so technically, I think it’s Tuesday. But I have had a huge breakthrough, the one I needed. A mighty big THANK YOU to Geoff Le Pard who took time from his Nantholgy to review my research dilemma and explain it in clear terms that made sense. Not only did it make sense, but it led to a revelation.
Two secretes held by Sarah Shull — who shot Cobb McCanles and why was Cobb accused of absconding with taxpayer’s money in North Carolina. They both were intelligent. In fact, that’s the basis of their attraction. Mary was beautiful, a fine cook and loving mother and Cobb adored her, but he couldn’t resist his wicked urges or ambitions of the mind and body around Sarah.
The revelation is that the duo repeated their deed scheme in Nebraska. It’s been there all along in the documents and histories. No one has seen it for what it is. I even felt sorry for Cobb, thinking he kept selling land or bridges or wagons and having to collect them and sell them again to someone who would pay in full. But what if he never intended for anyone to pay in full? Geoff set off my realization when he said Cobb, as sheriff in North Carolina, would have kept the deeds in his dealings. So many historians have written about his selling terms which included…him keeping the deed. He’d get some money out of each buyer, but retain the deed and sell again to someone else. And all the while, Sarah kept his books.
I revised a scene tonight and feel like I have the right tone between the two. While this is a big breakthrough, revision continues to be daunting. Irene Waters said something last week about a page and a half a day; 179 to go! And I thought, that’s why this feels so intimidating — the mind only sees a mountain to climb when all we can do is muster a step or two, but have to reach the peak in an impossible stretch. To all fellow writers in edits and revisions and new drafts, stay the course!
And here’s a bonus scene from today’s revisions:
KATE SHELL by Charli Mills
“You need to go by another name.” Sarah McCanles, Leroy’s pinch-faced wife cleared the evening meal.
Sarah slowly rose to help and calmly replied, “My name is Sarah, too.”
“Leroy, honestly, it’s confusing, two Sarah’s living here and working in the store.” When Sarah McCandles’s voice pitched to the volume of a whine, Leroy grabbed a jug and indicated with a toss of his head to Cobb that they should go out on the front porch.
Sarah envied the men their retirement to the cool evening air. “Do you ever go by another name? Like Sally?”
The other woman frowned, creating creases in her forehead. “Sally. That’s for old ladies. My mother had an Aunt Sally. Oh, do please change your name!”
After the dinner dishes were washed and dried, Leroy’s wife shuffled the two little ones off to bed and Sarah slipped outside. Cobb made room for her on the rough hewed bench. Leroy leaned against the post, staring out into the darkness. “Mountains, that direction,” he said.
“Pining for mountains again, Brother?” Cobb pulled back on the jug and took a long swig.
Leroy turned around and noticed Sarah. “Ah, it’s Sare-Bear.”
“Sare-Bear?” Sarah smiled at the silly name.
Cobb looked at her, his eyes slightly glazed. Liquor or lust. “How about Bare Sarah?”
She poked him in the ribs. “Behave, Mr. McCanles.”
“I’m behaving,” said Leroy.
Sarah shook her head. If ever two brothers had matching mirthful grins, it was this pair when in each other’s company. Too much whiskey though and they were trouble.
“Kate!” Leroy’s wife stepped outside and all three turned perplexed looks her direction.
“Who’s Kate, Wife?”
“She is,” pointing at Sarah.
Cobb chuckled low in his chest. “You were a bonnie Scot in disguise all this time.”
“I don’t think so. No one seems to be confused. Traders respectfully call you Mrs. Leroy McCanles, and they call me Sarah.”
“I hate that! My name ain’t Leroy! You can be Kate and they can call me Sarah. Kate Shell. That’s your name and I’m going to tell everyone it is, that’s all there is to it.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, woman!”
Everyone turned to look at Leroy who seemed more surprised than any at what he just said. His wife, eyes wide and filling with tears, screeched and ran back into the cabin. Coyotes across the flat responded with yips.
“Leroy, there’s a reason our father always said never swear in front of the women folk. You might be sleeping in the barn tonight.”
Sarah covered her face with palms to hide her want to laugh.
“Damn it. I—” Leroy looked sideways at Sarah. “Sorry.”
Sarah couldn’t hold back and laughed loud.
Leroy reached for the jug, but Cobb held it back. “Think you had enough, already.” He joined Sarah in laughing. Leroy headed to the barn, muttering and a few words Sarah could distinctly detect as swearing.
Cobb walked her across the dark yard to the back of the stone structure that would be the post office soon. She stepped through the door and turned to face him, leaning against the frame. “Come in?”
He breathed deep like a man smelling dogwood blossoms. “Best get home to Mary.”
“Hey.” Cobb reached for her hand.
It felt small, gripped in his larger one. “Yes?” Her voice was breathy and inwardly she said a few of Leroy’s choice words.
“I’m thinking of selling the toll-bridge.” He kissed the palm of her hand.
“I wondered when we might get around to such.” She smiled like a real mistress.If she couldn’t have Cobb in her bed, she could have his clever ambitions to plan and hide.
“Think of some terms. Goodnight, Rosebud.”
Terms. Yes, there would be terms. Down payment. Deed, of course, she’d keep that filed. Difficult terms to meet. The new owners would never really own it. He who has the deed…it was her comforting thought as she readied for bed. Kate Shell. Maybe she could take an alias. No matter. Folk would be slow to catch on in this Territory. Rumors seeped out of North Carolina, but no one really understood how Cobb made off with the cold hard cash and left the bondsmen bickering over land deeds. It would take Weith years to sort it all out. Before turning down the covers she lightly tapped her fingers on the leather ledger.
No one knew Cobb like she did.
NanoReviSo is an acronym of my own making. It’s a nod to one of my favorite drafting tools, NaNoWriMo, which officially began yesterday, but acknowledgement of where I’m at in my writing process this November — revision.
Week 1 began with a bang; I might have broken my big toe. It’s swollen in all the wrong places and is a purple bloom of bruising. It’s my big toe on my left foot which has been my tripping toe for years. It’s the toe that I thought would cause me to break other bones, but ironically, I broke it and on the eve of NaNoReViSo.
It reminds me that I will revise Rock Creek by December 15, “no matter what.” No matter if I feel overwhelmed by the volume of material I have. No matter if I doubt my plot arc. No matter if I have holes in my history that I can’t find plausible answers for, including an entire year (1858) when none of my historical counterparts to my characters did anything. It’s like 1858 slunk into a fog. No matter. I’ll get this.
Even if I did break my toe.
What’s a big toe to a writer anyhow? Well, it can become a distraction. Distractions are why I’ve set an hourly increment to two vital processes, revising and reading. Revising is much messier than drafting. It’s parts of writing: part dismantling, part tinkering, part building up, part organizing, part tightening. When you are dealing with 70,000 words or more, it’s like looking at a Lego creation, one piece at a time strewn across the floor. Reading is yet another part. I need to find unanswered history questions, re-read vital primary documents, read chapters and scenes with a critical eye. Distractions easily upset the process.
Thus, I’m using hourly increments the way NaNoWriMo fights distraction through a daily word count.
I’m hoping to discover revision bliss. NaNoWriMo helped me discover that my drafting bliss occurs at word 900. It can feel like painful slogging to write a scene up to 900 words, but after that, the story takes shape or the characters reveal themselves through dialog and the remaining words flow. Will I find that with revision? I hope so!
My plan is to dive in and not be intimidated by the work I know I need to do. I have historical timelines to shore up and an arc to build from my idea of the original arc I wrote. I might have made this too complex, writing from multiple points of view (POV) and starting with a story timeline that weaves in and out of the 1930s and the 1850s, all headed to a final revelation of what really happened July 12, 1852 at Rock Creek Station in Nebraska Territory. I have to be prepared to defend my theories, my fiction that is rooted in fact and a plausible conclusion.
No distractions 5 hours a day while attending to other responsibilities and icing my purple toe. I prepared by creating to-do lists for the other responsibilities over the next six weeks and by designating a week off, even from those tasks. I prepared by finishing out the last of the firewood hauling from the mountains (and the weather agrees with my plan, it’s now to muddy and snow has hit the higher elevations). I prepared by cleaning my house, decorating with fall candles and leaves, shopping to stock up my pantry and freezer with groceries, and baking a cake.
It was in baking the cake (not hauling firewood) that I broke my toe. Who breaks their toe mixing batter for a yellow buttermilk cake? Me, apparently. I accidentally knocked over my heavy Pyrex measuring cup and it landed square on my big toe and felt like an iron rock. Kitchen accidents do happen, but they seem ridiculous. Sympathy withers when you say, “Oh, I did it baking a cake.” Was it somebody’s birthday? An anniversary?
No, it was just the start of NaNoReViSo.
To all my fellow writers doing (or not doing) NaNoWriMo and to my special NaNoReViSo buddy, Sherri Matthews, go punch someone in the gut! Make those readers feel your words! Stay the course, no matter what.
Little did I know that when I slung the “ranch open” sign on a literary project called Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge that I would find some of the best writers in the world. As a Rough Writer, Geoff Le Pard has been one of the most prolific flash fiction contributors, writing an entire saga week by week, 99-words at a time. His dedication and enthusiasm for craft is inspiring! He’s the author of two novels, and joins us today to discuss the importance of beta readers to his second novel, “My Father and Other Liars.”
Welcome guest blogger, Geoff Le Pard, to Carrot Ranch.
My beta readers have been critical to me: how did I find them and chose them and what does having informed and knowledgeable beta readers mean to me?
I learnt early that no book can be created in isolation. It needs to be read and read by people who haven’t lived, eaten and breathed it for months, years maybe. Even writing for yourself, you will not spot what doesn’t work, you will misdirect yourself over plot errors, character inconsistencies and unbelievable story lines. It is easier to suspend one’s own belief than have others do it for you.
That’s where Beta readers come in. And they are gold dust.
Let’s just get a definition out the way. Beta readers don’t edit. Sure they may spot typos, may be grammar nerds, may be brilliant at spotting clunky dialogue, fantastic at picking up continuity errors but, for me, this isn’t why you use them.
For me they do two things.
Firstly they replicate your final reader. They are the one time reader who needs to be drawn in, wants to turn the page and see the story with the clarity of a committed reader. Therefore asking someone who is a fantasy nut to read a piece of kitchen sink human drama is rather pointless. Clearly countless people read widely but they aren’t always available. Just be a bit careful who you choose because you want someone who has the chance to be engaged in your story.
What you want is an honest appraisal. And that is difficult to give. People don’t want to offend. We read about a number of people who say they won’t post a review for an Indie author if it’s less than 4 stars. Which is fine and grand but would be useless in a Beta reader. For me at least. If it’s two stars I need to be told.
The people who can eviscerate my novel are perfect for me. Sure I don’t want gratuitous criticism but if it’s pointing out a failing I’m not that concerned if it’s wrapped up in brown paper or in nice jolly wrapping paper or unwrapped. I have between four and six people I’ve learnt to trust but with every book I try and involve someone new. You never know. And those who give it a try, often not sure if they’ll be any good, turn out to be excellent.
Because My Father and Other Liars has taken about five years to reach this point, it’s probably been read by upwards of ten people. Of those, four have given it a nod and nothing much more and the rest have done me the biggest favour someone can do a writer; they’ve given their work detailed attention and spent time articulating what they thought about it.
The second use for me, is the specialist reader. With My Father and Other Liars I have really needed expert help.
As I explained over at Annecdotal, there is a lot of science – and especially genetics, life sciences and biology – that underpin this book. I gave up biology in the second year, year 8 at school. When my children had biology homework I nodded in another’s direction. It was beyond me. But I researched and checked and read and listened and I thought I had it pretty clear. But still… Then the Vet mentioned one of her friends who was just finishing her Biology degree at Oxford. ‘Would she…?’ I wondered. Yes she would. Indeed a second Biology grad asked to read it. Between them I had several lectures, a deeper understanding and a much better book.
The second area, which I discussed over at The Daily Echo, was the subject of locations. I moved my story around, crossing the Atlantic. Washington, London, New York, Surrey, San Francisco and Northampton. I’ve been to these places, I’ve developed a sense of what they are like. I feel I can describe them with a degree of accuracy. But two locations caused me some trouble because in one case, I’ve not been and in a second I made the place up and stuck it in the back of beyond in Oklahoma!
Nicaragua was the first of these. It’s a Central American country and I used a real city, Leon. If people have been they may have questions for me that I may well not be able to answer. I’ve researched all I can; my son and his girlfriend visited and gave me great feedback, but at the end of the day it may sadly fall short. I hope not. People who have read the book and have a sense for Central America feel it passes muster but still I worry. A Nicaraguan beta reader would be marvellous (I still have one possibility, but that would be for the second edition!) You may ask ‘Why not change the story?’ ‘Take it somewhere you know about.’ Sadly the story demands a Central or South American setting and Nicaragua was perfect.
Sometimes you do your best and then hope some!
The second location and one I feared for most was the fictional town of Beaumont in Oklahoma. My fictitious Church needed a fictitious home and it needed to be remote, and in the Bible belt states in the US. On a metaphorical toss of the coin I came up with Oklahoma. I read about the state, I did all the usual Google earth stuff but still. I placed it close to the Panhandle and wrote away.
Months, nay years later and I’m asking for some beta readers. To my American friends I asked if anyone knew anyone who lived or had lived in Oklahoma. Charli, my host today pings back. Her fellow in-law – her daughter’s husband’s mother – hails from Oklahoma. Better still she grew up in a strict Baptist environment. Better than that she wanted to be a Beta reader. Joy and double somersaults all round. Paula not only gave me a sense of place but she pointed out timing fallacies, errors in how the local airports work in practice, the ubiquity of the red dirt and the language ticks as well as lots of good stuff around food that added nice little touches to the narrative.
There. The benefit of blogging to a writer in a nutshell. I’d never have found Paula Moyer without blogging, never have got the introduction. My Father and Other Liars is a tale that romps hither and yon; its pace defines it. Yet if something like the location descriptions, just as much as the language of the characters, jars with any of the audience, it’s like driving with the hand brake on. Possible but deeply unsatisfying.
I’m deeply grateful to each and every reader. Some gave me a few sentences but each of those are like rivers of nectar from the gods. Those who sent me pages of thoughts, or a manuscript dotted with tracked changes and comments, I’m both touched and emotional at the thought of the effort involved. You all are part of this project, every one of you. Thank you.
His first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle can be found here:
Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.
Be sure to catch more guest posts from Geoff Le Pard in Week 2 of his Blog Tour at these fine blogs:
When Anne Goodwin rode up to Carrot Ranch with her first flash fiction challenge, I knew she was competent in the saddle — Anne knows her craft. With 61 short stories published, it’s no surprise Inspired Quill picked up her debut novel. However, like many skilled writers, Ann was reluctant to promote her work. In her guest post, Anne addresses how she mastered the launch of her debut novel.
Anne Goodwin, Guest Blog:
I’ve enjoyed Charli’s posts on writer branding, even as I bristled at the idea of considering myself, or my output, a commodity. Yet now I have a genuine product to sell in the form of my debut novel, some of Charli’s expertise must’ve rubbed off on me, because I’m determined to do the best job I can in getting my book to readers. This is very much an idiot’s guide cobbled together from the things I’ve done, or wished I’d done, in the process, and is particularly targeted at the anxious writer who balks at the idea of self-promotion (i.e. most of us, at least in the beginning). I can’t guarantee that following these steps will result in phenomenal sales. I can’t guarantee that it will remove all discomfort from the process. But I do believe that by confronting and managing our anxieties as outlined here we can be confident we’ve given ourselves and our books the best possible chance of success.
1. Cultivate your communities
This isn’t about forging friendships to flog your books. Not only is that slimy and cynical, it’s probably ineffective. But, on the other hand, there’s no point being a shrinking violet. Your relationships, both on and off-line, are an important conflict between you and your readers. This doesn’t mean, as an introvert (as many writers are), you’ve got to transform yourself into a socialite. It’s more a matter of not neglecting those ordinary human qualities of generosity and friendship. I’m not a great networker, but it turns out I have sufficient social capital to generate a mammoth blog tour that’s now in its fourth week and two launch events with forty or more people at each. If I, with a little thought and preparation, can achieve that, just think what Charli Mills, lead buckaroo of the Congress of Rough Writers, could achieve with all the goodwill she’s generated through her support of other writers.
2. Edit your way to a book you can be proud of
Let’s assume you’ve written the best book you possibly can and have secured a publisher or made the decision to self-publish. Isn’t it strange that, no matter how many edits you’ve gone through already, as soon as publication flips from an impossible dream to impending reality, you notice all kinds of new problems with your novel? Now’s the time to bring all those niggles to light and address them, not only for the obvious reason of enhancing your readers’ enjoyment, but also because anything that makes you feel awkward or apologetic about your words will be a barrier to promotion.
So, whether you’re publishing yourself or traditionally, you need to make full use of your editor. Their role needn’t only be to point out what they think can be improved, but to help you sort out any areas with which you aren’t one hundred percent happy. In my own experience, my editor’s suggestions enabled me to look more critically at my novel and make cuts and amendments to sections where she hadn’t felt it necessary to wield her virtual red pen. My editor was also able to reassure me about sections I thought were perhaps a bit iffy; if you trust your editor (and if you don’t perhaps you should find another) it’s a marvellous boost to the ego to receive her enthusiastic endorsement of your words.
3. Work through the limitations
A thorough edit should lead to a text you can be proud of (at least for the moment; many authors report still finding fault with their novels years after publication). Yet perhaps there are still aspects that make you cringe when you think about it making its way in the world? You might worry that you’ve tackled a controversial issue in a way that might upset some readers. You might fear that certain experts will criticise the shallowness of your research. You might be anxious about the overlap between the events in your novel and your own life: will people misconstrue your fiction as autobiographical or will you struggle to keep the personal personal in discussing your book? You might just be concerned that your mother, your hairdresser or your next-door neighbour will think it’s a load of crap.
It’s important not to dismiss such concerns; if you deny or belittle them, they’re more likely to hold you back. Discuss your feelings with trusted friends, your editor, other writers, a therapist. Go to events and observe how more experienced authors manage these areas in relation to their own work. For example, I found it extremely helpful to watch local author, Eve Makis, respond to a question about Armenian history (featured in her novel, The Spice Box Letters) from a reader with an Armenian background (and to discuss the parallels with my own novel afterwards with a close friend).
Your book, especially if it’s fiction, is not the definitive take on a topic, and nor is it meant to be. (It just feels like that, because you’ve spent so much time absorbed within it.) Readers are free to take from it what they wish – and that’s a good thing. But it’s worth addressing your anxieties about creating the perfect book so that you can allow it to be different things to different people.
4. Identify your potential readership
Make a list of everybody who might be interested in reading your book – and I mean everyone! Don’t limit yourself to people you can be fairly sure will like it, or like you enough to pretend they do. Think big and, at this stage at least, don’t let thoughts about the awkwardness of contacting them get in the way. Potential readers include, but are not limited to, anyone who knows you, in whatever role (not only writing), or has known you in the past; people who read your genre; people local to you or to your novel’s setting; and, for an “issue” based novel like mine, communities with a personal interest. I’ve been surprised by pockets of support in places I didn’t expect it but, two and a half weeks post-publication, I’m still knocking on doors I thought would be easier to open.
5. Identify ways of connecting with your readership
If you’ve done Step 1 and cultivated your communities and Steps 2 and 3 to produce a book that people will be happy to champion, you will have a lot of people who genuinely want to get the word out. But going beyond your immediate circles takes a little more courage. To get author and expert endorsements, you need to make contact well in advance of publication and to risk (as with those initial submissions) them telling you they don’t like your book. To get reviews, you need to approach reviewers in a courteous manner and accept that they’ll tell the world what they don’t like about your baby, as well as what they do. If you’re self-published, or with a small press like me, it’s amazingly difficult to get your books into bookshops, but often worth approaching your local favourites to give it a try. If they won’t stock your books, they might host you for a signing session, although with the big chains, even this is proving difficult. Some libraries are more amenable, however, especially if you’re doing author events. Don’t forget the local media, both print and radio. They are always pleased to celebrate an achievement, especially if you can demonstrate some connection with the area. I’m expecting to be in my local newspaper this week, in time for a library event the following Tuesday. I also had a feature in a newspaper that had previously published my short stories as part of a regional competition.
6. Make those connections in as pleasurable away as possible
You won’t be able to do everything, so you need to prioritise. If you’re time poor, you might feel it’s not worth your while to write lots of guest blog posts, as I’ve done. On the other hand, if you enjoy writing articles, or want the opportunity to develop your skills in this area, it might be something to invest in. For the things I found tedious (e.g. contacting a local printer to produce some flyers for my launch events) or scary (having a slot on local radio) I focused on the learning opportunities afforded rather than enjoying it or doing it well.
If you’re particularly daunted by the whole thing, perhaps you should go for quick wins to build your confidence. A launch party is great fun, even for shrinking violets, and I was touched how far my guest had travelled and how pleased they were to have been invited to mine.
Making it pleasurable for your supporters is bound to pay dividends. Write good content for those guest posts (obviously, this one is an aberration). Respond promptly to any queries and thank them for their contribution, however small. Because after all, a writer needs her readers. And you might want to do the whole thing again with your next book.
What strategies have you found most useful in promoting your work? What has been most difficult?
Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published last month by Inspired Quill. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.
As a writer riding the rodeo circuit to get published, my recalculations are not always because of missed turns or errors. Sometimes, I see a new opportunity or connection. I tend to grab the bull by the horns, but often find I have a corral full of bulls and have to figure out what next.
My corral is full at the moment, and for a pantser, that feels good. I like the energy of having multiple projects in the works. My overarching goal to publish books is always my priority. My motivation remains high when I feel inspired and connected.
However, my friend Kate, who despite having terminal cancer, remains a wise council for me. She pointed out that while I write down my goals, I should also write out my full plan. Another friend also once advised me to create an individual business plan for each of my books. I certainly know how, but as a pantser I tend to balance it all in my head. To that, Kate reminded me that when you write it down, you have a better chance of succeeding.
“Goals in writing are dreams with a deadline.” ~Brian Tracy
While I balk at self-imposed deadlines, I do know that I want my goals to come to fruition. I have several written down beneath my overarching goal of publishing, but perhaps it is time to plot more deeply. After all, that is a recalculation I do in my writing process: I draft freely like a pantser, but buckle down and revise like a plotter.
“Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor.” ~Brian Tracy
And change is blowing across the prairie, nudging me to change direction. My goal stands, but my tactics need recalculating because of recent opportunities. This is why I like having a corral full of bulls — more bulls, more rides and a better chance to make the ride I need.
I intended to publish Miracle of Ducks first. It makes sense; it’s complete, professionally edited and my first manuscript. I took it to LA, met with a publisher who advised me to find an agent, and met with an agent who declined. I messed up my first submission, uploading an earlier draft and was told that I didn’t have enough social media. I’ve not heard back from any agents since.
So weird thing happened on the way to the rodeo…a publisher answered an email I sent seven months ago. She asked if I was still working on the project, Rock Creek, which is my current WIP still in draft form, awaiting research for gaps I discovered in the writing. She expressed interest and advised me on how to submit the manuscript.
You might be wondering why I was contacting publishers about an unfinished manuscript. It began as a call to an editor of a western history magazine to ask if she’d be interested in research that I had from a distant cousin. I thought I could pitch the copious amounts of research I have on the topic of the shoot-out at Rock Creek, Nebraska. She was clear in what her magazine publishers wanted and I filed it away for the day I could pitch it as an author because magazine articles in big publications can help promote one’s book.
But first one must publish (write!) the book.
The editor also gave me two great leads in regards to my writing: one was for an association called Women Write the West and the other was for a publisher who is looking for new women’s voices in the genre of western historical. I wasn’t sure about signing up for the association until I was further along on my western book, but I took the opportunity to write the publisher.
In my mind, I hear Garmin stating, “Recalculating…”
No hard fast rule says my first novel has to be my first manuscript. Over the past two weeks, I’ve played out several what-if scenarios in my mind. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to get Rock Creek finished and reviewed by an interested publisher. I could join the association, pitch my research articles and opt the manuscript movie rights to an interested feature writer and director. Um, yeah, about that…
While posting the flash fiction that got me started down the road to write Rock Creek as a novel, I was contacted by a feature writer and director who was working on an undisclosed television project that included the life of Wild Bill Hickock. The producers wanted to include the Rock Creek incident as a turning point in Hickok’s life. The feature writer found Carrot Ranch because I had tagged both the place and the gunfighter’s name.
As of last week, I now know the name of the series with which I shared my research. I’m not a conservative so it stunned me to realize that I shared with Fox News! The show is Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: Into the West. The episode about Hickok is called, “Plains Justice.” I already know that the producer’s goal was to show Hickok in a white hat and McCandles in a black one, so the outcome will not surprise me. The good news is that there remains much interest in Hickok in general and in what happened at Rock Creek.
My contact on the project told me:
“This is all very interesting. During my research, the Rock Creek incident is the most cloudy and confusing. After every email and phone call with you, it seems to gain clarity. You are at the forefront of knowledge of the subjects involved and what really happened that day. Keep tackling and uncovering, Charli!”
It seems the stars are aligning over Rock Creek.
So what is holding me back? I wanted to publish a novel before Rock Creek because I feel the need to build my credibility, after all I’ve not published a book before. Without a book, I feel like everyone is excited over my idea, but they might think my novel-writing skills are less than expected; they are unproven, and that creates the doubt I’m battling.
Also, I feel an odd sense of disloyalty to Miracle of Ducks. I know I’m not abandoning it, but I would shelve it. Instead of finding an agent for generalized women’s fiction, I would have a publisher in a genre I love. I could always self-publish Miracle of Ducks after I build up a better author name, or if I fail at Rock Creek, I could return to my original plan.
As I recalculate, is there any sage advise for me to consider?
We tend to stick close to familiar territory. When I was a little buckaroo riding at the Bolado Rodeo and Saddle Show, I knew every inch of the arena at Bolado Park. I knew the back ways, where the stables were located and how to find my cousins to share a can of Coke. When I rode there, I felt at ease.
As a teenager, I entered a horse event with my friend who lived in Carson City, NV. I couldn’t trailer my horse so I rode one unfamiliar to me. The event was new and so was the arena. Trying to find where we were to queue up for a parade entry, we trotted our horses past a camel that spit at us. I felt unsettled.
My ride to get published has pushed beyond my familiar arenas. Anytime I read posts about marketing I feel connected. Marketing is familiar. But when I read posts abut the book publishing industry, my eyes boggle in my head. The temptation is to pass and bookmark such posts or articles for later.
But later is now. I need to get familiar with the different arenas of traditional, hybrid and independent publishing. Traditional is my first choice. So is riding my own horse. But sometimes our first choice is not what we get. The more familiar we can become with different arenas, the better.
In my own newness, I don’t have much to say about Amazon. I know it is the number one retailer of books. I’ve read posts on rankings and reviews. I buy lots of books from Amazon and I’m researching how to become an affiliate to boost the sales of books from the writers I know in my Bunkhouse Bookstore. Yet, not everyone likes or sells on Amazon. But that’s about the extent of my knowledge.
So I want to share an important post that I read today; one that gave me greater insight. You see, when we know more about the arena where we might ride, we feel more at ease. I hope you will find this post informative. It’s called, The Top 10 Things All Authors Should Know About Amazon by Brooke Warner.
Also, I’m researching Bibliocrunch, which is a platform that helps authors publish books by connecting them with pre-screened publishing professionals. One of my writing mentors sent out a letter from the CEO of Bibliocrunch announcing free downloads and books for authors through the first week of March. You do need to create a Bibliocrunch account to get these free books:
What insights do you have to share on the arena we call Amazon?