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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.
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?
Asking, when is it a book is a lot like asking when is your pile of logs going to be a structure. Last week we examined NaNoWriMo as a tool: your ax to chop down material. If you meet the challenge, you’ll have 50,000 words by the end of 30 days.
Some writers use the term WIP, as in a work-in-progress. I prefer the term project because it resonates with my experience with project management. I’ve learned to let go and write during NaNoWriMo, and I’m learning how to manage the result. It seems doable if I call it a project; daunting if I call it a book.
Yet some writers get to the end of their book and call it thus. First draft, and they publish. Why? Because they can. You don’t even need money to publish a book these days because you can forgo print, design your own cover, transfer your text into a template and hit publish as easy as tapping enter your keyboard.
Why do it? Well, people do have reasons. It is an accomplishment to craft 50,000 words into a story and the fundamental premise of NaNoWriMo is that everyone has a story. Some just want to share it among friends or family. I’ve met some WriMos in my region who only write in November and they love the activity as an annual hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Other writers mistakenly think that publishing a book is a quick way to make money. It’s less about what is shared or the story told and more about sales potential. I met such a writer. She drafted about 30,000 words, designed a cover and published it digitally. She didn’t want to create a writer’s platform (too much work) or work with an editor (too expensive). She said she’d “hire” those people after her book sold. It didn’t.
Then there are writers who dare. They dare to finish it. Dare to call it a book. They do the best they know how with the resources available. They revise according to feedback from beta readers. They find someone to edit. They publish the book both in print and digital and promote it along the platform they have built and continue to work. Reader reviews are mixed. But you know what? A writer has to start somewhere, and often those in this group learn from newbie mistakes, hire a better editor and write a stronger second book.
On the other end of the publishing rainbow is not necessarily a pot of gold, but a possible contract. Publishing houses range in size and benefits. One benefit is professional editing. It’s kind of like winning a game show where you get to select your prize behind one of three doors. It’s a mystery as to what you really have won.
But reputation and quality are a big deal to those writers who are career-minded, who want to publish books traditionally. It may take years to call a book a book. Revisions with an editor. Revisions with an agent. Revisions with a publishing house. Not to mention rejection letters in between.
Some writers try to fast-track the traditional route by investing in an MFA. It’s paramount to networking and puts in to question, are the best books truly from college educated writers or do they simply have the better connections? Often there’s a pretentiousness that is discouraging to writers outside the ivory towers.
With so many possibilities it is hard to answer, when is it a book. All I can offer are opinions. All I can say is that I have career goals. I’m not in an MFA program, but I feel like I’m apprenticing, trying to figure it out via workshops, blogs and writing mentors in a book. It’s an unpaid apprenticeship with no guarantee I’ll become a journeyman or ever a master.
So, we write. It is the best we can do. We have nothing without writing. Call it a book when you feel ready to put it out into the world. Do it justice. And we’ll talk about editing next week.
Fridays are tagged for Recipes From the Ranch. However, after mulling over a reader’s comment on contests I decided to post my reflection as I believe it has value for all writers, especially those considering contests as a means to build a writing presence.
Entering into the traditional book publishing industry is a new river for me to navigate (as if I were Huck Finn). There’s so much advice out there in the form of industry news, author interviews, publisher insights and, of course, tons of writers like me who are forging dreams of publishable novels. Entering your writing into contests is one of those venues for getting noticed if you are seeking an agent or traditional publisher.
Sylvestermouse posted a comment on my post, “A Question of Contests.” Her discussion is based on her own experiences and realizations. She was wise and confident enough at a young age to recognize the slippery slope of contests. The danger is that the scrutiny of judges, which is only the opinions of a few, can devastate budding creativity. After reading her comment, I sighed relief. She made me realize the discontent that had come over me. Instead of enjoying the productivity of my fellow contestants, I became hypercritical–of my writing, their writing, comments, the whole thing. And that is not what inspires me as a writer.
Each story selected, mine included, was a submission deemed worthy of publication in a contest by an editor. In that sense, all stories accepted are equalized as “winners.” But once the competition began, anxiety churned my gut. I’d rather read what writers craft than develop a pretentious sense of what is best. Different writers have different voices; different readers resonate to different stories. Best is subjective.
That isn’t to say that contests aren’t for me, but I need to be more self-aware of how they can create inner turmoil for me and stay objective, but above all, kind. Writing is a business, but business professionals do not have to “win” to be successful at what they do. In fact, as professionals, we need to connect and learn from one another without creating barriers. When entering contests, keep a balanced perspective and acknowledge the accomplishment of being selected in the first place. You don’t have to wave the blue ribbon to have a solid portfolio piece.
In one form or another, contests will continue to be a part of the literary scene–you can even conclude that making the New York Best Seller’s List is a contest. For marketing and profitability, success will continue to have markers that seem like trophies. But for true success as a writer, I still say that finding your own voice and writing into your own truth is the greatest gift you can share with readers.
To any writers reading this, keep in mind that contests are a way to get noticed in the industry and a viable way to build credibility and a portfolio. However, it is merely one avenue. If you write, please continue to write beyond competition outcomes and develop your own special voice, discover your own inner truths and practice (practice, practice) your craft. Do not let a contest be the final judge on your work; do not succumb to discouragement or haughtiness. Be you. And write.
And if you are George R. R. Martin and by the very slim chance happen to be reading my blog…I’m waiting for the next installment of “Song of Fire and Ice.” Write, GRRM, write.
Insider Tips to Submitting Your Resume
If you have been seeking a career change or looking for a job, you are in good company. It is a competitive market for jobs. As former senior management, I’ve seen first-hand the mistakes applicants make. I’ve even reviewed over 300 resumes for a single job posting, but only selected 20 for consideration.
First of all, so many of the resumes sounded alike. If you are following a formula for building your resume, use it as the foundation. Be able to express how you are different from 300 other people applying for the same job. Also, many applicants made mistakes that they weren’t even aware of making. Here are five tips to help you stand out and avoid common mistakes:
- Follow directions. This seems simple enough, but cannot be overemphasized. If your first mistake is to submit your application any other way than specified by the hiring company, it will often be your last mistake. Applications or resumes submitted incorrectly often are never even reviewed. Read the directions when applying, and follow them specifically. If you have trouble making sense of the directions or difficulty with uploading documents, ask a friend or job service employee for help. A different perspective often helps. Calling the company will not.
- Proof before you send. Imagine the response your resume will get when you state that you have an “attention for detale.” Spell-check can help you proof on your computer, but some application systems do not offer spell-check. You can always copy and paste into Word for a quick review, however, some misspellings and word omissions will not be detected that way. When writing or changing your resume, print it and then proof it. Better yet, let someone else look at it for you, even your spouse or a friend. A second set of eyes will catch what you missed.
- Please PDF. As someone who has perused hundreds of resumes, it physically hurts my eyes when formatting is lost on a resume and I have to try to read garbled lines. On your computer, in your version of Microsoft Word, your resume looks beautiful. But not so in a different operating system. A PDF file will maintain the structural integrity of your resume.
- Know yourself. Some people are humble and have trouble naming their achievements. Others are not so humble and have trouble understanding their own flaws. The truth is that we are made up of both strengths and weaknesses. The key is to know what yours are. Your resume is the place to state your strengths. Even two people who have had the same job for the same number of years will have different strengths. This is how you can stand out. When interviewed, you may be asked about your weaknesses or failures. Counter those with honesty. Focus on how you overcame with your strengths. Ask your local job service if they offer any strengths finder tests or have books on the topic.
- Know the company. If you really want to land the job, be sure you learn all you can about the company offering the job. Company websites often have pages dedicated to who they are and what the culture of their service is like. Take a clue from repeated words like “pride” or “community.” If it fits who you are, it will be easy to stand out in your resume as a person who would fit in with the company. Tell them what your “pride” of workmanship has been or how you have served your “community” over the years.
If you are interested in having your resume reviewed, contact Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. My services are professional, strategic and affordable. Let me help you take your career in a new direction.
Phone or in person coaching available: firstname.lastname@example.org or 952.686.4532.