"Roundheads and Ramblings"
Writing as Career
We've spent most of this month talking about the issues surrounding Amazon listings and Kindle edition because those problems are significantly important for self-published authors. They are NOT, however, the MOST important matters you need to think about. I was reminded of this again this morning when I read a blog by Jody Hedlund
on whether or not a novelist needs to have a blog.
Now, obviously, I've already made up my mind about blogging. I average six blogs a week. But Jody makes a good point in her article:
"I think it's really
important for fiction writers whether traditionally published or
self-published to keep blogging in perspective. The ingredients that
make a book take off are a fantastic, compelling book and word of mouth
by readers who are excited about that book. BLOGGING doesn't
significantly sell more books. Great BOOKS sell more books."
That statement, in turn, sent me back to this picture, which was a part of my original presentation on using the things Amazon has to offer. The point is a simple one: Authors look back at accomplishments; writers look forward to new goals.
You know you've met a real writer when you ask, "What are you going to do now that you've finished your book?" and the answer is "I'm already working on a novel about . . . "
It really doesn't matter whether you are distracted from writing by blogging, or sitting in a book store for a signing, or figuring out how to squeeze a few pennies more out of your Kindle sales. If you want to sell books, you have to keep writing.
More books = better writing
Better writing = more sales
More books = more sales
I’ve reached something of a milestone today. My next book, The Road to Frogmore, has gone
winging off to its production team to be formatted and given a sparkling
layout. Although much work lies ahead,
in terms of proof-reading, promotion, and marketing, it is now really out of my
hands. I’ve finished the manuscript. The
editing is done. It’s too late to think about major revisions or the story I
didn’t tell. I’ve sent it out into the world to take its chances.
Am I relieved? relaxed? satisfied? Nope, none of those. Someone once told me that there’s a big
difference between being an author and being a writer. Sure, I thought -- writers are still involved
in the process of creating a book; authors have finished. But that’s not the real difference, because
if you’re a writer, you’re never finished.
The real difference is this: an author looks backward at
what she has produced and says, “Look what I did! I wrote a book and somebody
published it!” A writer looks forward and says, “Where am I going next? What’s
the next book going to look like? What
kind of research do I need to do? How
can I make the next book better? Warm up the keyboard. Here we go again”
That’s where I am at the moment. First thing this morning, I looked back
through my files and discovered several projects waiting to for attention.
*There’s a writing
contest (sponsored by a men’s magazine,
but not “that kind”) challenging writers to tell a whole story in just 79
words. I have an entry sitting here,
waiting for a final polish. If I’m going
to do it, it needs to be sent off by tomorrow.
So that’s first on my list today.
After chugging through a 122,000-word manuscript for the past months,
this one should be a breeze – or will it? I’ll post the final product sometime,
but not until the contest is over, so you’ll have to wonder. Hint: the title is “Nimrod.”
*Several years ago, I wrote a children’s story about the
adventures of a lost teddy bear. Knowing me, you might guess that it was based
on a true story. I took photos to illustrate
it, which are still here, waiting. I
even sent out some query letters, but since at the time I knew less than
nothing about the art and business of publishing, the lack of response to my
query was deafening and devastating.
Maybe now I’m better prepared to try again. I at least want to think about it.
*Another folder on my desktop holds the genealogical research
I’ve done on my mother’s family. She was
the youngest of eight girls in a family not far-removed from pioneer status in
the hills of western Pennsylvania. Her
father was six years old at the start of the Civil War and died at the
beginning of the 20 century, leaving his German immigrant wife to
manage the farm and family. Their mother floundered under the need to provide
for those girls, and the sisters themselves chose eight very different paths to
survival. Their stories are the stuff of novels but they are in danger of being
lost through time. With the exception of
one male cousin, I am the last surviving member of a generation – the children
of the sisters. Moreover, I’m the only
one who knew 5 of the 8 sisters and all of their children. If I don’t attempt
to tell their stories, no one else will be able to do so.
So warm up the keyboard! Here we go again!
It’s Monday again, and things are piling up already. Somehow, obviously due to bad planning or
wildly over-estimating my juggling abilities, I have two books coming out. The
first, the reprint edition of my first book – The Dilemma of Arnulf of Lisieux
– should arrive today in its final proof form.
When I say OK, it automatically goes into production and appears for
sale on Amazon within hours.
That’s good, right? Well, maybe! But as I keep trying to
tell new authors – and myself – once the book is finished, the work is just
beginning. It will need promotion and
marketing. This book has an admittedly
limited audience, so I can’t hope that it will just reach out and grab readers. I’m going to be very busy letting the small
community of medieval historians and art historians know that it is now
available again after having been put on a back shelf by a press that did not
have the personnel or resources to keep promoting it.
And at the same time, my newest effort, The Road to
Frogmore, is entering its final pre-publication phase. I’ve finished revising
and polishing the front matter and back matter at the suggestion of my beta
readers. And I’m doing that
all-important final read-through. I’m up
to Chapter 13 out of 50 –with still a long way to go and a lot of spelling and
punctuation to check. It goes to print
just as soon as the last photo arrives from its archival source.
In between proofing chapters, I’m chatting with the very
talented woman who is creating the Frogmore book trailer. It’s looking gorgeous, and I’m dying to put
it out there on YouTube for everyone to see, but we both want it to be perfect
first. And in a related issue, I’m
trying to visualize a way to design a bookmark that will echo the appearance of
both the book cover and the trailer—no easy task!
There are promotional matters to think about in connection
with Frogmore, too. The story is set in
a very specific spot in South Carolina, and it is so tied to the history of
that region that I need to do some major marketing there. So I’m also juggling
plans to be in South Carolina in early November. Buy that only comes after two other required
trips –one to Tampa for a Lions meeting in September, and then just a week
later, to Ohio for the Military Writers Society of America Conference, where I’m
scheduled to participate in two panel discussions and present two other seminars
– all before the Awards Banquet where I have two nominations in contention.
Lesson of the day: Think before you say, “Sure! I can do that. No problem!”
|Continuing yesterday's post:
(6) There will always be camaraderie
I don’t think I could ever have written my first novel
without the support of my writing friends on Twitter and the NaNoWriMo
community. The camaraderie of other people in the same field is
indispensable to being a writer or an athlete. For who else understands
what we go through? Our partners, friends and family may smile and be
supportive but they cannot really know why the hell we do this. Pro
athletes need team-mates and so do writers. If you don’t have this yet,
get on with some networking!
(7) There will always be people trying to cheat and game the system, but authenticity wins through
Inevitably at the Olympics there are rumors of drug abuse and
cheating. Some people will get away with it and no one will ever know,
but many are caught out in the process. Everyone feels this is against
the spirit of the Olympics, and fair play in general. This is not what
we want as professionals.
Authenticity is far more important than trying to win by these other means.
So don’t bother following the latest ways to game the Amazon algorithms
or get fake reviews. Ignore the hyped so-called bestseller campaigns
and the promises of power-friending on the social networks. This is a
long journey and a little every day will get you there eventually with
your reputation intact. Understanding yourself and being authentic is
the only way to make it over the long haul.
(8) There are different sports for different people
Some people want to perpetuate the myth that we are all the same, but
in truth, we should celebrate our differences and how much we can all
achieve at different things. At the Olympics, beautiful black men will
inevitably win the running, both short and long distances (and isn’t it a
joy to watch Usain Bolt run?!) In the gymnastics, it will be petite
girls, most likely from China or Eastern Europe. There are body types
for different sports, and there are also preferences based on long term
passion for the chosen arena.
It’s the same for writers. Much as I’d love to write in the
top-selling genre of romance/erotica, it’s just not me. Perhaps you feel
the same way about sci-fi or fantasy, horror or thrillers. Thankfully writing isn’t based on body type, but it is about excelling within our chosen arena. Yes, some writers span multiple genres but would they win Olympic gold in all of them?
(9) Fans are the true gold
Individual effort is definitely worthwhile, but the support of fans
help an athlete, or a writer, excel further. I love to get emails from
people who enjoyed my books, and I love to get great reviews on the book
sites. It is said that an artist can make a living with 1000 true fans
who evangelize their work and ultimately buy whatever they do. We could
not pay the bills without our fans, so let’s celebrate them and be
grateful for them. In our turn, as fans of other writers, let’s buy
their books and leave reviews of books we love.
(10) The human interest story will always capture people’s hearts
Who remembers the names of most of the athletes who competed, or won
gold, at the Sydney Olympics? I was there and I remember only a handful.
Perhaps you can name a few. But pretty much everyone who was there
remembers Eric the Eel, the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea
He had never even seen an Olympic sized pool before arriving and only
started swimming 8 months before the Olympics. He got in on a wildcard
draw and won his heat as the others were disqualified for false starts.
The story of the underdog always captures the media attention and indeed our hearts.
An easy win isn’t as satisfying as an emotional loss. As writers, we
need to keep this in mind for our manuscripts. No one wants to know
about the nameless masses, the fistfuls of gold. They want to know about
the stories behind the hype.
I'm already hooked on the Olympics -- even planning a special Olympic picnic to get us through the Opening Ceremonies. So while I'm cooking and staying glued to the TV for a couple of days, I'm borrowing parts of a related column from my friend Joanna Penn. (Needless to say I'm jealous that she's actually in London!) Half of this column will come today and the other half tomorrow:
The Olympics have started and London is in party mode!
city has been spruced up and now the hordes have arrived. I never
enjoyed mass sporting events until I attended the Sydney Olympics when
the penny finally dropped. It was a glorious, patriotic time and now I’m
a fan of these brilliant events. So I’ll be soaking up the Olympic vibe
as the city goes nuts.
But even if you’re not into sport, there’s still a lot writers can learn from the Olympics.
(1) Open with a hook
The opening ceremony has become a must-watch event showcasing the
national pride of the host nation, as well as the march of the
competitors around the main arena and the lighting of the Olympic
flame. London’s event is managed by Danny Boyle, famous for directing
Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting, among other movies. It promises
to be a grand spectacular. Our books need to open in the same way.
Not necessarily with a massive event, but with something that the
reader wants to be part of, that drives them to buy the book and stay
with us through the opening chapters. If a reader stays with us through
the length of an ebook sample, they are likely to buy the book.
(2) It takes years of practice behind the scenes to make it this far
Athletes don’t just wake up one day and compete in the Olympics. Many
of them will have been training for this since they were children. This
is not a hobby, this is a lifelong passion. It’s years of practice in
the cold, frosty mornings or the muggy heat of the afternoons, when your
friends are still in bed or in the bar. It’s practice over and over
again until the body knows the moves and then you push it just a little
I was at Thrillerfest a few weeks ago
and I was struck by how many years the big name authors have been
working to achieve the success they now have. Many of them wrote for
years before they ‘made it’, and before that, they worked for years to
get noticed. Practice over many years will take us all that far.
(3) It also takes discipline, hard work and professional habits
I recently read an article about the professional habits of Michael Phelps
the US swimmer who takes gold repeatedly, and no doubt will continue to
do so. His habits and discipline 7 days a week give him an edge over
I also wrote recently of how Steven Pressfield’s book ‘Turning Pro’ challenged me
with my own writing habits. Being an author is about mastery of the
craft but it’s also about writing the words and getting them out there –
that means we have to put in the time and the hard work. How
professional are your writing habits at the moment? How committed are
(4) Success is based on both individual effort and teamwork
Professional athletes don’t work on their own, even if the sport is
based on individual performance. There are coaches, team-mates, fans,
support crew. Without this team, the athlete cannot compete.
In the same way, writing is (generally) an individual pursuit but we also need a team behind us to succeed
. As independent authors
we need pro editors and cover designers, potentially help with
formatting and we certainly need our distributors and the marketing
platforms we use to spread the word. Traditionally published authors
have an agent, editors and the whole team at the publisher. We all need
the support of other writers, friends and family. I love to read the
dedication and acknowledgements in books, because it honors the support
of the team behind the writer.
(5) There will always be rivalry
Not everyone can win gold, even on the same team and so there will
always be rivalry. It’s hard not to look at other people’s success and
want it for yourself. Some people will even attack the winners and
savage their success. Writers see this happen on Amazon with some awful
reviews that often turn out to be from other writers.
We need to accept that there will always be some comparison, some
measuring. But then we need to celebrate each others success and use it
to spur our own efforts towards excellence.
There now. If, like me, you're taking a couple of days off to enjoy the London party, you at least have an excuse. You're taking lessons from the athletes!