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How to Build a Readership with Blogging
and Prepare for Publishing by Debby Gies
As writers who choose to self-publish, we must understand that we’ve chosen to be not only writers but publishers, marketers, and promoters of our work because these components are all essential parts of running a business. Yes, your business! If we intend to sell books, it’s in our best interests to learn about these things as well as building an author platform. If we don’t put in the time to promote our work, our books will surely sit and collect dust on the virtual shelves, lost in a sea of hundreds of thousands of other books.
Although we may be publishing in a digital world, our business is no different than if we opened our own brick and mortar store. We wouldn’t leave our doors unlocked and wares left unattended, would we? So, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of what’s involved in putting together a good book to gain wider readership.
Building an Author Platform with Blogging and Social Media Tools
If we prepare for our book launch well before publication, we’ll establish a presence as a writer and begin a following so we’ll have readers already eagerly interested in our book once it’s published. Remember – No readers = no sales.
Running a blog and creating a presence on social media are two important tools for gaining an audience. Using our blogs to write interesting articles to reflect on topics we write about in our books is a good way to develop a niche for our blogs. Some other suggestions to write about:
- Writing and publishing tips you come across which other writers may find helpful
- Book reviews – to share works of other writers to build rapport, which in turn will have others wanting to reciprocate and share our posts and books and reviews
- Personal posts to share with readers to give them some insight as to who we are as a person, inviting readers to get to know us
The point is to build relationships with our readers and showcase who we are. Don’t be the person who posts about their book all the time, because people don’t want to be hard sold to. And keep in mind, it’s important to always respond to comments because this is the engagement we strive to receive from readers. If they’ve taken the time to leave a comment, it’s our obligation to take the time to acknowledge them. It may take a while until we find our niche and target audience, but eventually, we’ll build our tribe.
Tip – Don’t forget to add share buttons under your blog for readers to share posts to their readers, which will bring new readers back to your blog. And don’t forget to add your social handles to these buttons when setting up your blogs so you get the credit to your name for the post.
Next, get active on social media. Yes, there are many sites out there, but many of them don’t have to constantly be babysat. You can auto send your blog posts to your social sites automatically by linking your posts to your social media sites at the very least. And eventually you will narrow down the few sites you most gravitate to by noticing where most of your reader engagement is happening, and those sites will become the ones you’ll want to focus more of your energies on. And again, when people respond by leaving comments on your social posts, make it a point to respond back. By engaging with potential readers on multiple platforms, you’ll give yourself a head start on creating interest about you and your writing, and by the time your books roll out, you’ve already created interested readership.
Now that we’ve established the importance of social presence and completed writing our first rough draft of our book, we can focus on the major parts of getting our book in shape for publishing.
Tip One: Editing
Before your book is anywhere near ready to go to an editor, re-writes and revisions begin for your rough draft. Even Hemingway said, “The first draft is shit.” This is the time to clean and polish your words, phrases, and structure of your story. At this time, you’ll experience a bit of pride, and a bit of, “What the hell was I thinking?” after you come across random run-on sentences, typos, and plot holes. You’ll need to read through the manuscript a few times to begin the polishing process. I recommend then to send your manuscript to beta readers for feedback and then weighing out the suggestions and making appropriate changes before sending off to the editor.
I always find it helpful to print out a copy to do another round of revising before sending my work to the editor because our eyes catch a lot more on paper than they do on the screen. Then I take my newly marked-up manuscript back to the computer for last round changes before it goes off to the editor. Yes, even editors need editors. And the cleaner your book goes to the editor, the less time and work it takes them to edit, resulting in less cost to you.
It’s important to seek out an editor you’re comfortable working with and fits reasonably in with your budget and your genre. Believe me, I know as writers our budgets are tight or practically nil, but have you ever heard of anyone who started a business for free? Your books need professional editing, and if you don’t believe me, go look at some books with bad reviews on Amazon because of lack of editing. Readers are discerning and will get angry for crappy, unedited work, and we can’t afford to piss off readers when we’re trying to gain them.
Editors charge by the page or the word count. A good editor will offer to edit a sample chapter from you to show you how they work. A good editor will also not strip your voice from your story.
Once your manuscript is returned, you’ll go through the editor’s suggested changes and revise, then send it back for a final proofread before it’s ready for formatting.
Tip Two: Formatting
Once the manuscript is ready for print, it needs to be made into a downloadable file for ebook form: a mobi file for Amazon, and an epub form for all other distributors, and a print file for POD (print on demand) if you should desire, but highly recommended.
Some authors have the know-how or the inclination to learn how to format, but I can tell you, I have neither. So, if you’re like me, you’ll want to hire a formatter to get your book into form for publishing. A good formatter knows all the specs entailed with creating the file, will find spacing and gap issues in the document, and most important, find leftover marks on your Word document that you may not even be aware of because they aren’t visible after making changes on your manuscript. Once the files are created, they’ll be sent back to you, ready for downloading to your retailers of choice.
*Note: There are many authors offering formatting services now. If you’re not well-versed in formatting and don’t wish to go through the hair-raising and often time-consuming process, you can get a book formatted for a reasonable price, many only charging as low as $25. I know it’s certainly worth my time to hire out.
Tip Three: Book Cover
The first thing to catch a reader’s eye is the book cover. A catchy cover is more apt to attract attention than a boring generic one. Think about how many times you’ve looked through books on Amazon and didn’t look twice at even reading the blurb because the cover didn’t grab you. No matter how great the book may be, it can become a missed opportunity for a book sale if readers aren’t attracted to the cover or if it’s difficult to read the title.
Many new writers try to cut corners by making their own covers, and if they aren’t well-versed in the graphics department, to the discerning eye, it will look home-made. There are many elements involved in creating a good book cover. There is font, and font rules to beware of – size, color, and style elements. And you must be sure the cover is proportionately balanced with the font and picture elements in relation to the size of the book cover. Also, it’s important to know how that cover will look in thumbnail size because that’s how it will show on Amazon and other retail sites.
There are several places online you can find and hire book cover designers for a reasonable price. A good designer will know what’s involved in constructing an eye-catching cover. And of course, it will be up to you to tell them the concept of your book, share your ideas about what you’d like to essentially see on the cover, and you might want to send a few photos to the artist to give them an idea of what you’re after. You can search images at many photo sites to look for ideas of what you’d like on your cover. Artists don’t have time to read your manuscripts, so the more you can tell them about the book, the more ideas they can come up with as mockups to begin sending you for feedback and changes until the final masterpiece is created.
As you go through the process, you’ll be suggesting the changes you’d like, and a good artist will tell you if your suggestions for change will look balanced. For example: The rule of thumb is no more than 3 fonts on a cover because it becomes distracting to the reader. So, you may want your title in one font and your name in a font that you intend to keep as your branding for future books you will write. But you may have a subtitle requiring a third font because you don’t want it to blend into the title or look the same as the font used for your name. These are just a few pointers to take into consideration when creating a cover. I had no concept about all of this when I wrote my first book, so I subscribed to some of the pioneer Indie authors’ newsletters and learned a lot from their publications and links they provided on everything book publishing. I would highly recommend visiting www.thebookdesigner.com – Joel Friedlander’s site. He offers a wealth of information on everything about creating a book.
Tip Four: The Blurb
This is the book’s description, a crucial sales ad copy for your book to attract readers and entice them to buy it. The blurb will go under the product description on Amazon to dangle a carrot and intrigue readers into wanting to buy the book. If you’re making a print version of your book, this will go on the back cover.
Many writers will tell you that this can be a hair-tearing process to write. Finding the appropriate words and message for the blurb has been likened to – worse than writing a book. Why, you may be wondering? Because condensing your book into a mere 200-300 words to share the essence of your story, finding the right hook and not giving up spoilers, is hard work.
A blurb should contain – the protagonist, what they’re after, what the stakes are if they fail. It should create an emotional attachment, leaving the reader curious and wanting to read the book to find out what happens.
Blurb standard protocol:
- First line is where you hook the reader (what the stakes are)
- First paragraph is plot and conflict with the protagonist
- Second paragraph should leave the reader wondering what the resolution of conflict will be
- The last line should be a cliffhanger, causing an urgency in the reader to find out what happens
- You can add a third paragraph if it’s fitting, informing the reader what they can expect from reading the book, or by adding one or two quotes from an editorial you received from your book, inviting the reader to get insight as to how the book will make them feel
*Note: If the blurb is short you can condense the first and second paragraphs.
Here is a wonderful breakdown from Standoutbooks.com, on writing the blurb. This site is one of my favorite sites for learning and keeping up-to-date with everything about the writing industry.
I hope I’ve given you some points to ponder here today. These are the basic guidelines used to self-publish a book. As you get more comfortable publishing more books, you’ll come across many other tricks of the trade that you’ll find useful for incorporating into your own publishing purposes.
Debby Gies is a Canadian nonfiction/memoir author who writes under the pen name of D.G. Kaye. She was born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. Kaye writes about her life experiences, matters of the heart and women’s issues.
D.G. writes to inspire others. Her writing encompasses stories taken from events she encountered in her own life, and she shares the lessons taken from them. Her sunny outlook on life developed from learning to overcome challenges in her life, and finding the upside from those situations, while practicing gratitude for all the positives.
When Kaye isn’t writing intimate memoirs, she brings her natural sense of humor into her other works. She loves to laugh and self- medicate with a daily dose of humor.
Connect with her at:
Book by D.G Kaye available on Amazon.
Platform is a guest blog to discuss ideas or share tips for building and marketing a writer’s platform.
Ice crystals lace silver threads of intricate patterns across glass so thin I feel surrounded by frozen cellophane. Any minute I expect ice-spiders to skitter across the glass, adding more crystalline webbing. All I hear is the distant hum of a neighbor’s snowblower, chewing mounds of white drifts, recreating front lawns into winter parking lots.
Then snow crunches and squeaks, alerting me to the return of the Huskies to the top of the deck. The door handle is so cold I fumble several attempts to open it. Two dogs with enviable fur puff through the door, their breath froze in the moment, driftless and white. Everything is white, and this porch is officially below zero (Fahrenheit).
We all rush into the welcoming warmth of the kitchen, quickly closing the seeping snow and leaving the unseen ice-spiders to spin their webs until it warms or the earth shatters.
Lady Lake Superior holds us captive like a Winter Queen in a Fairy Tale. On her blustery days, she forces the lake upon us and I imagine drowning in snow. On Christmas Eve we drove out to a friends and family party, a local Finnish family’s tradition for so long that it’s become generational. Our gracious hostess, an artist of local renown, served us food as if she had painted a canvas or raku-fired pottery.
Many people came and went that night as we lingered close to the table with magic abilities to refill platters of meatballs, spinach puff pastries and bowls of salmon spread. My own offering of smoky twice-baked potatoes dwindled and our hostess proclaimed them delicious. It boosted my spirits to receive a nod from one artist to another.
My art, words upon a page, lately feel frozen, ink stuck in the nib. Tis only a season and this too shall pass. Yet like the hunter, I can’t stop. Maybe the rabbit hunt results in a small mouse, but that sustains me until I snag the rabbit. It’s possible I might cross paths with an elk, and as a hunter, I know that will only happen if I go out on the trail frozen and snow-blown as it is.
That evening I met a delightful artist in her 80s. She lives at the end of the Keweenaw at Copper Harbor. We spoke about mentors and how every artist needs one. She told me about her aunt who was trained back east and highly regarded. She was plucky. At age 15 she rode a bus to apply for a copy-writer job in downtown Chicago, lying about her age. She told me many stories that night, still feeling the tug of writing after decades of painting, and concluded, “Artists are weird.”
I laughed. I think the drive to create also drives us to take risks and experiment. Recently the New York Times published an article, “Why Trying New Things is So Hard to Do.” If artists are weird, then it’s because we go against the genetic code and try new things. As you can see, week after week, literary artists at Carrot Ranch can try to write one thing in a new way.
Flash fiction is an exploratory tool. Maybe it makes us weird, but it’s a response to the passion to create and tell stories.
After a jolly Christmas Eve, we left while Lady Lake Superior thrust her might upon the land. Have you ever been in a torrential downpour? Snowflakes pummeled existing drifts like pouring rain. To stand in pouring snow was awe-inspiring; to drive in it was terrifying. It fell so fast it covered all hints of the road and made looking out the windshield like staring into strobe lights. All I could see out of the corner of the windshield was the faintest hint of deeper piles to indicate the edge of the road.
Once back at the house in Hancock, I asked my kids how they navigate in such conditions. They both responded that you learn not to look forward but to the side to find the road’s edge. I had it right but found it frightening to drive snow-blind. Perhaps that is what it’s like to write — we navigate the page blind to all but one edge we follow.
If the stars ever return to the sky, when Lady Lake decides to pull back from dominating the terrain, I know I have one up there — my wishing star. Even covered, I know it guides me. And I think of this star on the cusp of one year to the next because I believe in activating my wish. You might call it a dream, but it’s not a goal — goals are what you set to attain your dream.
Pretend ice-spiders exist for a moment. Pretend Lady Lake is real and in a giving mood. She parts the veil of gray clouds to let the electric particles dance in sheets of apple-green and orchid-purple. The sky displays a light show and stars burn like diamonds on black velvet. She momentarily resets the night sky until one star, your star, shines brightest. She grants you a wish:
“Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.”
Don’t think, don’t blink, write it down now!
This wish holds meaning for you. Perhaps it’s obvious. Maybe you have to ponder its symbology. It’s a wish made when you thought anything possible. Now I want you to think about your calling as a writer, a literary artist, an educator, a philosopher, a traveler, a missionary. Pick or add what resonates with you. If you could call yourself anything, what would that be?
You now hold two hints to your vision.
Did you know that visioning is a process? It’s a business process and entails more than wishing upon stars. It sets a northern star in the sky over an organization to lead the way. Goals are like arrows aimed at this star. At times when you are not sure what is next for you, realign to your star, your vision. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, I trained with Ari Weinzweig and his team from Zing Train. From him, I learned how to train trainers, give great service and include visioning as part of planning.
“Begin with the end in mind,” Ari advises (you can read more in his book, A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building Great Business).
If you set goals, to what end? How will you know what success looks like? You probably already do this, but like your wish, it feels private and fanciful. But Ari calls visioning “positive futuring.” It’s a way to innovate and inspire the action you take. Zing Train is a division of Zingerman’s Deli (yes, a small college town deli cultivates business leaders). In 2007, NYT called them “The corner deli that dared to break out of the neighborhood.” And I’ve reworked the training I received and used in my own workplace to encourage writers to do something with that wish: vision.
Three years ago in the December 24, 2014 prompt I shared the following peek at my own vision:
Recalculations help redefine goals. Why set goals? Because if you have dreams, goals become a way to navigate to them. Your vision is like the north star, guiding you along the way. My vision is big and includes much more than successfully publishing novels. It includes creating literary spaces both physically and digitally–places to learn grow, create and recalculate. Collaboration is part of the vision.
Carrot Ranch fosters a literary space to practice craft, communicate ideas and read stimulating writing. Rough Writers are regulars or founding contributors, and Friends are our readers and commenters. We have many friends who pop in once in a while when inspired and others who faithfully read. Together we create a community that honors what literature is about–progressing the imagination to describe, define or experience life. Literature thrives in an open environment.
Join the dream. An open invitation to the Congress of Rough Writers & Friends:
- Help develop a Carrot Ranch Anthology (expanded shorts based on flash fiction, for example). It can be a fun way to explore collaboration and indie avenues from crowd-sourcing to publishing.
- Help develop a Christmas project for next year (what trouble can we write Rudolph into with his visits around the globe).
- Research a possible text or workshop based on how flash fiction can build skills and that college classes or writing groups can use.
Three years ago, I had no idea that my husband’s behavior was sign of cognitive demise, that my best friend had incurable cancer or that we’d ever leave Elmira Pond. I was expressing to the early writers at the Ranch my wish to do more than write my books. I wanted a literary community, writer collaboration, the opportunity to explore independent publishing, a fun event at the Ranch, and a way to teach flash fiction as a skill-building tool.
Here’s where I get goosebumps. Despite unexpected circumstances, my vision stayed constant. Carrot Ranch thrives, my books have progressed, we have our first anthology of flash fiction in Kindle, I know tons more about independent publishing and it’s altered my goals, Rudolph morphed into a Rodeo, and I now teach Wrangling Words as a community outreach course and will debut TUFF workshop in February. Retreats on Elmira Pond took me to bigger waters where I dream of one on Isle Royale and another on a cruise to New Zealand.
I’m dreaming big! Are you? Let it all out — in a journal, in an email to someone or no one, in a story, in a conversation. Dream out loud. Wish. And craft a vision for your northern star.
Like flash fiction, visioning has magical results; but also like flash fiction there’s science behind focusing an intention and writing down goals. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California found that you become 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis (“The Power of Writing Down Dreams and Goals” by Mary Morrissey).
As the year turns, set your goals pointing to a bright and shiny vision. Wishing you all a Happy New Year!
December 28, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a wishing star. It can be central to the story or used in a different way. You can have a character interact or not. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 2, 2018 to be included in the compilation (published January 3). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Shoveling Midnight Snow (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Wolves padded across the snowy field, mere shadows dappled by moonlight. Danni gripped the shovel and paused. As loudly as her own boots crunched the tight snow, the wolves passed in silence. Had she not turned to shovel the path to the barn she would have missed the pack. Before the last one merged with the cover of night, he stopped and cocked his head. A shooting star rolled across the sky like a snowball down a hill. Before Danni could make a wish both star and wolf vanished. Would her wish still count? Come home to me, Ike.
He told me he rode in wagons. Whatever faults I find in memory, that one has long held certainty for me. My Bumpa rode in wagons!
I can’t remember how old I was when my mother’s mother’s mother died of a final stroke. She was Mayme Ferreira Bundeson, born in 1888 Honolulu, Hawaii, and the wife of my Bumpa. He was born Marcus Bundeson in 1884 in Hollister, California where I was born. She was the daughter of a red-haired and green-eyed Flanders Portagee cast off from her home of Medaria, and married to a Brazilian ship’s interpreter. He was the son of poor Danish immigrants who planted apricot trees in California.
Bumpa went to the old folks home after his wife died. I don’t remember her at all. But I remember Bumpa at the home. Often, my mother dropped me off to visit with him while she went elsewhere. We played bingo with the other residents, and he told me about farming apricots and riding in a wagon. Maybe that’s why I felt a kinship later in childhood when I discovered the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder who also rode in wagons as a pioneer girl. Wagons were my entry point to a lifelong fascination with history. Bingo, Bumpa and wagons are all I know of my Danish heritage.
Until I read a curious article in the New York Times about Hygge.
Hygge is Danish for getting cozy. Evidently my predilection for cake, curling up with a blanket and a drink, and watching crime dramas (Peaky Blinders, Sherlock, Longmire) is part of my DNA. While Bumpa failed to mention this lovely Danish tradition, I’ve naturally been drawn to it, especially over the December holidays when winter is darkest and cold. Oh, yes, I’ve been in hygge-mode all week and plan to add Prosecco to my cozy nook to mark the New Year. After that, I’ll disrobe the fleece blanket and get to work on the ranch.
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. However, I believe in the power of written goals and taking time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you plan to go. As a writer and literary buckaroo, goals are important to me. Whether you experience set-backs or success, you can learn from examining and adjusting your goals. My long-term goal is to publish fiction about women of the west and build a synergistic writer’s platform. My short-term goals are the steps to get there. Those are the ones I examine and adjust.
One benefit to setting goals annually is that you can reflect on what you expected and compare it to what happened. 2016 has not been an easy year, and I’ve had to confront a personal crisis that continues to rock my goals. I can reflect with disappointment on the short-term goals that didn’t fruit. I can reflect with gratitude on the solidity of community at Carrot Ranch. I can reflect on breakthroughs I’ve had in understanding my own long-project writing process. With much reflection these past two months (November was a NaNoRanCho) I’m eager to move forward.
My writing completely shifted and now I’m revising two WIPs at once. Flash fiction has helped me find my way through bothprojects. I also wrote personal essays about military PTSD and homelessness — two subjects that now feature in one of my WIPs. When I do publish Miracle of Ducks, I’ll have a list of pitches on those subjects to write articles in vetted publications to reach my target readers. That’s the goal. And it’s a big one. The short-term goals are to maintain that pitch list, better define who is reading those topics, finish the revisions, work with beta readers, complete final edits with an editor, and find a publisher or outlet.
That’s another adjustment I’ve made — I’m more open to independent publishing. I better understand the benefits of different publishing paths and can make final decisions later. This year I have two publishing goals, including our Anthology Vol. 1. While the delay was unintended, it did give me time to reconsider publishing options. I’ve gained a greater respect for flash fiction in the development of raw literature. Next week, I will introduce a new guest series to explore what raw literature is, how we are participating in literary arts at Carrot Ranch, and how writers can participate in this greater discussion of what the writing process is.
This year, I’m cautious. Instead of wrapping my arms around all the opportunities that pop up, I’m focusing on specific short-term goals, and I’m writing them down and plugging them into a greater business plan. It’s my map. I will refine my vision, too. A vision is the northern star by which I’ll plot my map. Instead of expanding my schedule at once, I’m adding incrementally, and waiting until it’s solid before executing the next goal. Already I prepared the way by changing the challenge date, deadline and compilation publication. Tuesdays will be the raw literature guest series. The intended marketing series will follow after raw literature is established.
So what is Carrot Ranch? “Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community online for those practicing craft, reading stories and discussing process.” The flash fiction challenges are the entry point, much like my Bumpa getting me excited about wagons, thus history. This is a place to get excited about writing. Your writing. And this post is to get you thinking about goals. Your goals. What you do matters to me, too. Together, we unite on the common ground where we are actively engaged in the literary arts. We create with words and craft with language. Whether we write YA, modern lit, historical fiction, humor, romance, children’s books or lessons, memoir, creative non-fiction, fusion rap, poetry, westerns or sci-fi we are all artists. Literary artists.
Take time to reflect. Even if it’s a hand written page or a post on your blog, write down your long-term goals and your short-term goals for 2017. But for now, it’s time to extend a bit more hygge with another holiday weekend approaching and a new year looming. Will you join me in a toast with something bubbly? Then get cozy.
December 29, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a cozy story. What is it to be cozy, to experience Danish hygge? It doesn’t need to be culture-specific, but it can be an interesting point of comparison or contrast. A character might long to feel cozy, or you might describe the perfect cozy scene. It may or may not include Prosecco.
Respond by January 3, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published January 4). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Homecoming (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Mary swept the hard-packed earthen floor. “Cobb, put my rocker by the hearth.”
“And the trunks, Wife?”
“Porch.” Her skirts flared as if she was dancing across a southern plantation ballroom. Children darted in and out the door, stew simmered on the hearth and Mary unpacked. She hung fresh calico curtains and made beds. By dark, tallow candles and stew in wooden bowls ended the day. It smelled like home. After three months of camping out of a creaking wagon, Mary felt a renewal of hope in her heart.
“Mary! Cobb! The new boys in the barn. They’re sick.”
Night Battle (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls
Danni sloshed her Prosecco the night they set off the M-80s.
Before the first explosion echoed through the river canyon, Ike rose from his sportsman’s chair. He set down his glass, poised for battle. He’d later say this was why he disliked bonfires — he needed night vision. Danni’s desire for marshmallows and warmth wouldn’t persuade Ike to risk night blindness. Her idea of cozy-camping never meshed with his need to stand guard between life and death.
He slipped into the dark. Danni almost felt sorry for the jerks who lit off fireworks near a former Army Ranger’s campsite.
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.
Mile marker 490 on Idaho State Highway 95 marks the spot where industry once built a town called Elmira. Throughout my two blogs, I’ve explored what remains of the town, mostly an iconic 1910 schoolhouse. I’ve guessed that the industry was logging or railroads based on what brought people to settle this area.
Last month, I got a writing gig with a new online magazine called, Go Idaho. It’s not yet live, but it will live up to its promise to be a magazine about amazing people and places in my state. You can sign up for the VIP List and I hope you subscribe. It’s an innovative magazine that forgoes advertising and generates revenue through subscription. And, it pays writers. I’ve freelanced for 22 years and watched the industry shift from robust regional publications to watered down global internet.
Yet, I still believe in the value of quality writing. Companies still need copy-writers who understand consumer engagement; readers still want good stories to read; and we all recognize top-shelf writing with appreciation. Making a living as a writer is not exactly the career path any school counselor would promote, but any industrious writer can make it work. You have to find a niche (business background, regional access, past experience, interests), an outlet and fair payment. If you are all about the literary writing, seek artist grants in your town or region, set up a plan to submit to contests with prizes or polish your work to submit to paying literary outlets.
Do the groundwork and keep writing.
Living way up north in the Panhandle gives me a regional writing niche. Funny thing is, my book editor got me in touch with the magazine editor, so be open to who others might know. It’s a perfect fit to my Elmira Pond voice, journalism profile background and content writing for internet. Your perfect fit is out there, too. Same goes for publishing a book. First you need to know what you want to achieve, then you have to find the right publishing partner. I believe that many rejections writers experience are due to poor fit. Get to know that agent or publisher or editor and study what interests them.
It’s why I know Elmira was a railroad and logging industry town — it fits the terrain.
One of my assignments for Go Idaho is a series about places and the traces of cultural diversity in its history. Naturally I began with Elmira. For fun I called up people (random neighbors) and asked each to complete the sentence, “They say Elmira was a ________ town.” I was trying to find the myths and compare it to historical record. For example, I’ve heard that Elmira was founded by Italian immigrant railroad workers. My neighbors gave me even juicer myths and history gave me a surprise. I will continue to write this series and have already explored Swede Island and have a spring trip planned to discover a Chinese burial ground known to some locals.
The magazine gig and a new client project has made me a naughty novel writer. I set my revision aside for a rest at Thanksgiving and, yes, it’s still resting. My goal this year is to discover something in between revision obsession and revision avoidance. Right now, I’m coming out of a holiday break that I can’t claim was adventurous, productive or reflective, but it was restful. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get industrious again.
Where to begin? Assessment. The turning of a new year is always a good time to reflect. Not all writers set goals, but I tend to be goal-oriented. I also have a vision for what “success” looks like for me as a writer. In fact, I shared that vision last year and mentioned my interest in hosting writing retreats in northern Idaho. Whether you have set goals, an idea of what success means to you, or you simply reflect on what has come to pass and what next, now is a good time to take stock.
2015 was not the year I expected. However, I didn’t let the setbacks derail me. In taking time to assess at various points throughout the year, I found it wise to shift priorities. Next week, after Longboarder returns to a more boisterous home and friends and I have in all my client submissions, I plan to plan. We have our first Anthology to craft and publish; Carrot Ranch is expanding to a live monthly writer’s support program at the local library; my Rock Creek revision deadline is the end of January; and I need to continue to source writing income.
Vision. Goals. Plan. Assess. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
And above all, write. Writing is a combination of drafting, researching, arranging, revising, reading, inspiration and perhaps other activities such as plotting, people-watching, imagining, exploring. Writing is a hearty stew, not a single ingredient. And these days, if you publish — magazines, blogs, books — you need to add promoting to the mix. I’d like to get back to my platform building posts. Target audience is the biggest gap I see in our book publishing industry, and it’s a tricky one to deal with whether you publish independent, small press or with the big pillars.
Humans are industrious. Sometimes our industry is driven by greed — the desire to make money and be powerful through wealth — and sometimes it is driven by compassion — the desire to help others. I’m sure industrious people have a plethora of reasons for their efforts. Cobb McCanles came to Nebraska in March of 1859 and built a toll-bridge, dug a new well for pioneers, settled four ranches, operated a Pony Express relay station, traded with indigenous tribes, ran a stage coach stop, kept a wife and family and kept a former mistress. He was definitely industrious. The west often afforded such opportunity. In part, it’s what frustrated him about the southern economy based on plantation expansion and support of a slave trade. Only a few made wealth. Out west, a hard working man could make a living.
So could immigrants who came to America, believing in better opportunities for those clever and hard-working enough.
You see that picture up above for the flash fiction challenge? That’s a train of railroad cars all carrying steel rails for maintenance. I’ll give you the hint that Elmira was, and still is, a railroad maintenance hub. I see those rails parked outside and I think of the gandy dancers of men that once worked in teams to realign the rails before modern machinery. Were they Italian? Did they settle Elmira? Ah, you’ll have to read my story at Go Idaho!
December 30, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an industrious story. It can be about an industry or the efforts of a person or group of people. What does their industry reflect? Does hard work pay off? Are there risks or accidents?
Respond by January 5, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Prairie Industrialist by Charli Mills
Sarah knelt on the bank above, handing Cobb tools he needed. He waded the icy creek and directed the digging. The timbers he squared himself.
A small and curious crowd gathered. A few of the buffalo hunters pulled whiskey and crouched alongside several Ottowas. Many traded at the store. Her store. Well, Cobb’s store really, but she was running it.
“What’s he doing?”
Sarah looked up at the ranch wheelwright Cobb hired. “He’s building a toll-bridge to make a safer crossing at Rock Creek.”
“First spring flood’ll wipe it off the face of the earth.”
“Cobb’s a solid builder.”
Re-creation of the bridge Cobb built over Rock Creek at Rock Creek Nebraska State Park:
Half way up the narrow strip of road that winds in and out of carved gullies, I realize what determination miners have. Already we’ve forged access into a deep draw in the Cabinet Mountains of northern Idaho, following tens of thousands of years behind the wake of a massive glacier that gouged the bedrock and littered the canyon with boulders like giant gravel. The creek we cross is aptly named Boulder Creek. It’s difficult terrain and we have a 5-liter engine and 4WD. Yet miners came up here with horses, mules and oxen pulling wagons. What they lacked in trucks they made up for in guts.
The Hub shouts out loud, startled by the drop to his left. I cringe in response because he’s rarely rattled by a road.
“It’s not up here,” he tells me. Already we’ve found the town site of Boulder City. Ironic that in a region of nothing larger than a town the one place on the map that boldly states “city” is nothing more than rock-lined cellars and board rubble. What might have been a mine is now simply a large cement foundation that provides shelter for a rock campfire ring. If it was ever a city, it’s now a ghost town, and a faint apparition at best.
“It could be like Elkhorn. The cemetery was beyond the town and mines.” Elkhorn was my second stab at a historical novel and is also a silver mining ghost town. I worked on it as an independent project in college and wandered the buildings that still stand and the cemetery, wondering and imaging the life of a woman stranded in that town as a recent widow to an ill-fated miner. How would such a woman survive? I shelved the project after graduation when I went to work.
We continue to climb through a dark forest of cedar, larch and pine. It’s hard to discern boards of buildings from dead-fall of trees and amazing that anything can cling to these incredibly steep mountain slopes. Determination. Miners had to be to find silver in this place. The road opens up to a point on the ridge that overlooks the Kootenai River far below in the valley where Bonners Ferry is located.
To our left is a huge log from an old pine. The Hub perks up. We have our chainsaw and firewood permit and that 2-foot diameter log is fair game. I look around for some sign of a cemetery — fence, stones, crosses. Nothing but that log, a campfire ring and the road turning east toward Montana, paralleling the river from this mountaintop. I admit defeat and say he might be right. We could have missed the cemetery below, closer to the rubble and creek.
All the way down I look, hopeful. No headstones but a million boulders the size of giant pumpkins. At the creek we let the dogs run and swim in the crystalline water that reflects the blue of minerals, almost as if it were liquid silver. Maybe just my imagination. I poke around at a rock or two and Todd reads the forest service map where I saw the Boulder City Cemetery marked.
“You know, maybe it was by that log.”
I know the real reason he wants to go back up is to stick his Husquavarna in the wood of that huge pine. But looking at the map and where Boulder Creek meets the Kootenai, it is where the cemetery is marked. How likely is it to be 2,000 feet higher than this ore-bearing, glacial-scarred creek bottom?
Likely enough that I should have gotten out of the truck the first time. We find it — 4 marked graves, one anonymous and several indentations that hint at more. Only, the fence and markers are of the same gray wood of the fallen buildings and dead-fall of the forest. It blends in unlike cemeteries with wrought iron fences and granite markers.
Now I’m going to show you how a historical novelist makes the best use of a Cemetery Day.
- Take photos of markers to collect names and dates.
- Notice the age and gender.
- Look for any clues or anomalies.
What I notice is that the anonymous grave has several gifts from visitors — a couple of weathered animal figurines of modern make, a tarnished penny and faded plastic flowers. I leave a blue shard of glass that I found, sharing my treasure of the day. The names of the four marked graves read Last, First which is unusual and the Hub points out that it’s “military.” Those buried are not, but is it possible that this tiny resting place was preserved by the Civilian Conservation Corps? After all, it is on national forest service land.
I also note that the four died between 1918 and 1922. Here’s where imagination and history collide. I start thinking about what was going on in the greater world at that time — WWI, flu epidemic, women gain the right to vote. So what was life like in this steep canyon with homes barely wide enough to straddle land along mining claims? One grave is that of a baby, another a young woman with an interesting name — Mathilda Fatland. None of those buried are related. The other two are men, one aged 70 and the other 36.
Now I research. Some might research first before the outing, but I prefer the element of surprise. I want to discover connections or curiosities I might miss if I think I already “know” about the place or people. For research, I use local history websites, census records, Find A Grave and vital records. I subscribe to Ancestry.com to research their vast database of archives. For example, I can go there and search “Boulder City, Idaho, 1920 Census.” I search 1920 because of the death dates. I know the “city” was active in that enumeration year.
I discover that between January 2-6, 1920 Harold Askevald took census in Boulder “precinct” as is is listed (not “city”). He is also the first person listed on the census record, thus he lived there and I read that he is 52 years old, divorced and a native of Norway. He is a carpenter for the railroad. Could he have built some of the town? I note that his script is good penmanship, but that his printing is precise and square. Interesting. Maybe as a carpenter, he likes to square up things? Look! I already have the beginnings of a character profile.
Next, I want to know the population of Boulder. The census record is only three pages long. Counting what Harold did, there were 127 residents of Boulder in 1920.
Now I jump to Find A Grave. I want to see if they have recorded Boulder Cemetery (it’s a volunteer organization). I find Boulder Creek Cemetery listed! They claim that 12 people are interred on that point above the creek and Kootnai River. Of the 12, ten are men. That has me curious about the gender breakdown so I go back to the census record. Of 127 residents, 31 were women. What catches my eye is a 33-year-old widow who is making her way as a cook. This is similar to what I imagined of a character in Elkhorn. Her name is Margaret Buffmuen and she was born in Australia to a German father and an American mother. How did that happen, I wonder. She’s living in the household of Fred Schmidt who is a German immigrant and a lumber manufacturer. He must have the largest home in town because 12 men are boarding there. No wonder he needs Margaret to cook!
Yet, I see something interesting in the census record — the industry listed for occupations of the residents is predominantly “logging.” This was no mining town; it was a logging camp! Yet a mine is listed on the map. I’m fairly certain we saw the remains of Fred Schmidt’s boarding house and what I thought was a concrete mine feature, the Hub now thinks it was a foundation for a mill or even hooking logs down those steep slopes. As he points out, “You can use gravity to get those high mountain logs to the lumber mill in the valley below.”
So what about our cemetery and those who rest there? The first person buried is presumably John Gorman because he died in 1898. All I know of him is that he was “killed in an accident” in Leonia. What I’ve read locally about Boulder City is that it was founded in 1910 by J.M. Schnatterly, who owned Idaho Gold and Ruby Mine. He would bring investors to Bonners Ferry by train, up the Kootenai River by boat to Leonia, and up a private road by horse and buggy (buggy? on that road?). Yet someone from the river town below is buried on this mountaintop 12 years prior to its “founding” and 10 years after that, it’s a logging camp.
Back to the census records. Boulder existed in 1900 before it was “founded” by J.M. Schnatterly. It only had 52 residents and most worked for the railroad; three were miners; none were J.M. Schnatterly. Who is this guy, I wonder. I go to the 1910 census. He’s not there, nor are all the railroad workers. 60 residents and they are all “general farmers.” This is an evolving place! It reflects what we call the boom and bust cycle of the west — railroad provides good jobs and moves on; a mine opens up and closes; farms are bought and lost; logging camps cut until they move to another camp. And as to our founding father, I can’t locate him in the census record. I can follow up at the history center in Bonners Ferry and go over their collection of document archives.
Before I leave this town, I want to find out how long it survived. In 1930, the census shows a mix of farming, mining and logging with 160 residents. Maybe that’s maximum capacity for the canyon! In 1940 there’s 120 residents, mostly farming and logging. I’m not sure how anyone farmed that steep, rocky terrain. I see a few working for the CCC or forest service. Perhaps they are the ones who kept up the cemetery.
And of the four graves that remain marked and fenced?
Mathilda Fatland was born in 1898 in Washington state to Norwegian immigrants. In the 1920 census, the only Fatland living in Boulder is Annie Flatland and she’s 30 years old, single, living as a boarder and working as a laborer in the logging camp. Were they sisters, cousins? Mathilda’s parents lived for 30 years in Kitsap, Washington. How did these two Fatland women come to a place like Boulder? Why? How did Mathilda die at the age of 20?
Nothing else is revealed on those buried in the Boulder Creek Cemetery. This was just an initial look; a fun excursion to fill the well for ideas and local history. I’ll let it all stew and perhaps do some flash fiction and see what develops. Here’s a slide show of the day.
Yes, the Hub tackled that pine and we went home with 1/2 a cord. I counted tree rings on that pine and it was over 250 years old. That means, it was witness to the city of Boulder in all its manifestations and stood sentinel over the cemetery until it died and blew over in a big wind. Now it will be firewood. I’m sure those who are buried by this tree will understand. After all, they were most likely loggers or lovers of such men. Determination lives on in this basin.
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:
Dusk dims visibility along the three-mile stretch between Samuel’s and home. I’m watching a rising blue moon over the Cabinets to the east, feeling satisfied from a Friday night fish, chips and clams dinner at the gas station. Best food and fuel around.
The Hub slows down. “Do you see the buck?”
He’s got the gaze of a sniper and the eyes of a 20-year old with perfect vision. He could have been a pilot. Instead he jumped from airplanes, an Army Ranger, then learned to turn wrenches on powerplants that drive aviation. 30 years later and he still has quick reflexes. Without over-braking, he slows down and we both watch the white-tailed buck trot into the obscurity of tall dry grass in low light.
We missed the other buck.
Well, not exactly missed him because we hit him with our red Ford Fusion, our James Bond car if you’ve seen Casino Royale. Neither one of us is licensed to kill anything. True, we have fishing licenses, but we fly-fish with barbless hooks, catch and release. Hitting a deer on the road is deadly for all involved.
As with most accidents, it happened like a flash of lightning. You wonder, was there really just a bolt of white electricity that reached from heaven to earth? Did we really just hit a deer? Did it fly into the air and scramble away? Oh, dear. The car, the insurance rates, the poor animal…is he okay?
Suddenly, dinner isn’t settled in my tummy. I’m sick with grief for the buck. I feel as though I reached out with my own fist and punched it senseless. I feel guilty. Responsible. And I wasn’t even driving. Riding shotgun, I’m often the early warning system, navigating my husband through a series of safety questions. Did you see that turn signal? There’s a curve up ahead, what’s your speed? Are you watching for deer? Moose? Elk? Do really think you can drive like Mr. Bond?
It’s human, this rush of emotion. In fact, it’s even common to want to rescue an injured deer along the road, according to an editor at the Tahoma Literary Review:
“One particularly surprising theme I’ve noticed gaining in popularity is ‘I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health.’ The idea here (and it’s not a bad one) is to create a metaphor for the protagonist’s desire to rescue his/her life by rescuing another’s. Unfortunately the premise of the story is common enough that an editor may turn it down just on that basis.”
What felt like an exceptional experience, smashing our hood and fender on the rump of a buck, turns out to be nothing more than a commonplace theme that fatigues literary journal editors. Oh…the editor sighs…another struck deer story…
But wait, Mr. Bored Editor. I have a gun.
Shock value? Does that get attention? It must. Last week writers ripped stories from the headlines and even common stories were led with shocking titles. It’s become so prevalent, these headlines, that even innocuous stories are using them to get attention. Consider the headline for the woman who makes dinner: “She went to the grocery store, bought food and you won’t believe what happened next!” The reason news headlines stand out is because they rely upon shock factor.
Does that mean our stories, books or novels need to shock? Put the fear of somebody’s god into another? Show gallbladders and guts on the first page? Guilt parents into sleepless nights? Spank a character silly? And all because editors are tired of common themes?
Here’s a thought. Apply imagination. Ultimately writers know how to retreat into both head and heart space, taking with them the everyday occurrences of life, and mixing it into a concoction that includes what-if scenarios, what-should-be-but-isn’t, characters with ability, characters with disability, ideas, emotion, places we’ve been to, and places we’ve never seen except within our own minds and dreams.
It’s not that we need to shock readers; we merely need to surprise them and for a purpose. Offer meaning. Get readers to understand the implications of themes that touch our lives. Really, those common themes are why classics have universal capacity. But authors of such classics have applied imagination. Go deep beneath the surface when you write and find your voice. It will be the one thing you have over a sea of writers all writing about the same things.
Voice will serve you better than shock value.
This week’s challenge is two-fold:
- August 5, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write the common premise: “I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health.”
- But before you write, daydream. Do something out of your normal routine for 10 minutes. Go outside, sit and stare into space. Rest in a meditative yoga pose. Lock yourself in the bathroom. Mow the lawn, or do the dishes. Let your mind wander to the story and daydream before you write it.
In the comments, state if this exercise had a profound effect or not. I look forward to your imagined commonplace stories. And as to our buck, we did go back and found no blood or deer. We hope he is merely sore and has an uncommon story to tell his herd. Our car, well, it may get totaled. We find out tomorrow.
Respond by August 11, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Be sure to check out the updates to the Bunkhouse Bookstore. We have three Rough Writers in the midst of launching novels: Anne Goodwin (Sugar and Snails), Geoff Le Pard (My Father and Other Liars), and Luccia Gray (Twelth Night at Eyre Hall). All three books are worth a read and a resounding yee-haw!
Good With Animals by Charli Mills
“Sylvia, darling, off to the store.” Mae pumped the gas pedal with her worn slipper until the truck engine rumbled. Lights on, she drove the backroads, carefully.
The store was closed. She had no money, anyhow. Mae drove back, watchful for deer. One smashed the front grill and lay panting on the pavement.
“Hush, now. I’m good with animals.” With a winch, Mae loaded the deer and returned home, dragging it to a barn stall of soft hay. She flicked on the light, illuminating hundreds of eyes.
Returning to the house, Sylvia asked Mae, “Did you get cat food?”
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?