Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Enrico Petrarolo

All right, so Monday we talked about The Single Best Way to Become a Mega-Author, which is—in a nutshell—write a LOT of (good) books. They key is being prolific and this applies no matter what type of publishing we choose. If you go browse a local used bookstore (which is almost pure legacy press) trust me, you will see the same names over and over and over and over.

Readers have always had a tendency to be parochial when it comes to their reading choices. We tend to find a writer we like and stick like glue until we have exhausted their titles. Why? Because reading a book is a HUGE investment of our most precious commodity—TIME.

We don’t want to spend an average of 12-15 hours of undivided attention with just anyone. We also are in an age where we are inundated with choices, which tends to short circuit the brain cells.

But many writers want the magic for selling a lot of books and frankly, that doesn’t exist. Huge success with such a subjective commodity is still, to an extent, trying to capture lighting in a bottle.

Ah, but we can improve our odds. First with, as mentioned, multiple good books. Then there is social media and building a platform.

Our Foundation Matters

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Carlpenergy

The foundation for all goods and services (brands) is the relationship. Nothing sells without establishing, building and improving the relationship. Relationships take time, effort, energy, prayer and patience. They can take years to build and moments to destroy, so we must always value that relationship.

This is ALL commodities from restaurants to grocery stores to soap to shoes to electronics. Samsung was and is a strong brand, but how much damage did the Galaxy 7’s exploding battery do? Consumers no longer could trust the product so they lost faith in the brand.

The same goes for authors. One of the many reasons I love for authors to have a blog is that it is an excellent way to create a relationship and build trust. You guys come to this blog because you trust that you will be educated, enlightened and entertained. Over 1100 blogs and still going and still improving. You don’t come here and get frustrated with a sea of typos, poor grammar, etc.

I’ve worked hard to create a relationship. I give first. Yes I mention classes and my books, but no one is required to buy. But because I give first and often, no one is offended that I list a class because I am not just taking, taking, taking.

Same with social media. Those who follow me on Facebook know what to expect. Most of the time, I share funny memes or engage people in conversation. I comment on their stuff, “Nice dress!” “Love the new profile pic!” Small acts every day. Again giving.

So when I finally DO post something about a class or a book or a conference I already have a foundation. I have a base of people who know me and who hopefully enjoy my company and so when I “advertise” the response is more positive because, out of everything I post, the “taking part” is far less than the giving. Instead of….

AHHHHHHH!

Yet how many writers don’t want to be on Facebook, they don’t like Twitter and they only join to blast people with ads and free books and giveaways. They only get on their author page to talk about themselves, their signing, their event, their book. They don’t take five minutes to care about anyone else, but we’re all supposed to drop everything to serve them?

They don’t even give their time. Rather they cheat with automation, but they want MY time?

Sure. Right on that,

A Little Goes a LONG Way

The shocking thing is that we really don’t need to give all that much for it to matter.

For instance, if someone emails me with a question of a favor, and I recognize that name from comments on my blog, I will often move heaven and earth to help, and often for free. Yet, I can’t count the number of people who email me with a copy of their book for me to review or edit and they’ve never taken two seconds to say so much as hello.

So I am supposed to part with my money and 15 hours of time I don’t have?

Same on Facebook. They IM me to vote for their book or buy their book or for me to promote their book and they have never taken two seconds to so much as comment on a post, say hello or talk to me.

These people are TAKERS.

But the people who always post comments or share or promote me? Again, it is ridiculous the hoops I will jump through to help a giver.

Newsletters are the same deal. My email is absolutely flooded with lazy writers who paid some company to somehow get my email. 99% of newsletters instantly go in the trash, and in a way those newsletters offend me. This writer couldn’t take two minutes to talk to me to even see if I READ that genre? Oh, but they’re happy to take.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

This is one of the reasons my book Rise of the Machines focuses so much on the day to day building of the brand and platform. Writers always assume I spend vast amounts of time on social media.

Nope.

Aside from the blogs? I pop in randomly throughout the day for a few minutes and that’s it.

If we don’t have those small everyday actions that accumulate into a relationship of depth, then it is a craps shoot. Additionally it is a race to the bottom of who can give away the most stuff and for the cheapest or FREE. That is the price of wanting the fruits without the roots and perks without the works.

Marketing & Advertising

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Faye

All marketing and advertising works better with an established relationship. Why are we more inclined to actually use a Starbuck’s coupon? Because Starbucks has created a relationship with its product and service. Their coupon is far more likely to be used than Joe’s Joe Shack because we don’t know Joe from Adam.

Unless Joe offers us a coupon so ridiculously cheap we cannot ignore it? It’s far more likely to go in the trash or be forgotten. And even if Joe succeeds in getting us in the door, he is still starting from ground zero building our trust. If his coffee sucks? It won’t matter if he gives an even steeper discount the next time.

In the beginning almost all writers are like Joe’s. Legacy gets a bit of a pass but not much. Most readers don’t buy books by publishing house. In fact they might be hard-pressed to name one of the Big 5. But, if a book is on shelves at B&N, that book (author) is then using B&N’s relationship (brand) to kindle its own.

But since most readers aren’t going to B&N? As I said, a small pass.

Even in a bookstore the writers we know will almost leap off the shelves at us. I can’t count the number of times I bought books I hadn’t planned on buying because I knew the author from Facebook, Twitter or their blog (the GIVERS).

The rest of us (indies in particular) are going to have to do a lot of giving to establish the rapport, proving we are a good investment of TIME.

I did this with my blog. Y’all know my style, my voice and can trust I produce content you enjoy. Not a huge stretch to imagine my books probably would be at least as well written as my blog. So when I have a book for sale, I’m building off an established relationship (brand).

Additionally, if I told you guys that one day next week, I was giving Rise of the Machines away for free, I guarantee more people would grab a copy of ROM than if I just popped out of the blue and ambushed you with free books.

Or if I said ROM was on sale for $2.99 I would have far better ROI than some stranger foisting a cheap book at you.

See, any marketing or ads or giveaways or sales now will work better because I’m not just assaulting you from the ether with free and or cheap books. That giveaway or freebie is just more value added to something already valuable to you.

There are a lot of wonderful book marketing people out there, but the stronger that base platform and brand, the more they have to work with. They’re marketers not magicians.

Ads are a failure if no one clicks it and no one buys. I don’t care if we get a newsletter list of a million. If no one opens it and no one acts and buys the book, again it is a failure.

How we improve those odds is first creating the relationship on-line with our blog or social media. Then eventually the books. If they trust us in a blog and we impress them with a book? We are golden so long as we keep nurturing that relationship. Ads and marketing work better.

But, skip the foundation? Skip the relationship building? Skip the day to day? It is a long, unpleasant and all too often unsuccessful battle that, in the end, will cost far more time, effort and money than if we just did the little stuff day in and day out.

For more help with that, grab a copy of my book and check out my blogging and newsletter class (listed below) 😀 . Oh an I also am giving away an AMAZING free gift to those who sign up for classes. It’s a secret but I PROMISE you it rocks.

What are your thoughts? Do you get those writers who you add as a friend and the first thing they do is spam your wall? Has that EVER worked?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Also know I love suggestions! After almost 1,100 blog posts? I dig inspiration. So what would you like me to blog about?

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Deborah Makarios is the WINNER for MARCH. Please send your 5,000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. One-inch margins, double-spaced, Times New Roman font and CONGRATULATIONS!

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

Be a Better Hooker (How to Write a Compelling Newsletter)

April 29th $45

In this class, learn how to compose a newsletter that is entertaining and compelling—and all without stealing most of your writing time. Learn how to get your hooks in your readers and keep them until the end.

With a mailing list of over 15K subscribers, mystery/thriller author Jack Patterson will share some of his tips that will spice up your newsletter and get your subscribers opening it up every time you send one out.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors $50 April 27th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies $35 April 7th, 2017

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 April 13th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

You know you’re jealous, LOL.

This blog focuses mainly on those writers who desire to make a living writing fiction. Last post, The Single Best Way to Become a Mega-Author garnered an interesting comment, though not an unusual one.

Anytime I write one of my posts regarding success or sales or being a best-seller, inevitably I get the “What about just enjoying writing?” comment.

And the observation is a valid one, though one I don’t always think about because, to me, writing never feels like work, though in truth, it is REALLY hard work. I work longer and harder now than I ever did in my years in sales.

It just never seems that way.

Hobbyist Versus Pro

This blog, at least when we are referring to craft, applies to anyone who wants to write good stories. The hobbyist, however, is different. This person is not creating a commodity.

The work produced is solely for the personal enjoyment of the creator and if it fulfills that purpose, it really doesn’t matter if there is no plot, 42 different POVs and so much purple prose one might choke on all the metaphors.

Yet, the second we want to command time and money from another person to read our work, our job description changes. Sure at home we might have a habit of drowning a hamburger in weird condiments, but if we were serving that to others (I.e. our restaurant)? We’d need to be mindful that maybe other people don’t want Nutella on a burger (yes, people eat that, I googled it).

Additionally someone who whips off fan fiction or stories in their free time is not beholden to the business end of what we do. They don’t need to know about branding or social media or marketing or newsletters. Since this blog caters to those who wish to make money at this? All of that is vital.

Go Big or GO HOME

Now I will admit that I have big, okay, mega dreams. I am not Type A, rather Type A+ because I did the extra credit assignments.

Slackers.

In my mind if I shoot for the stars I might just hit the moon. I always aim big because I imagine that if I adopt the habits of a mega-author that can only turn out well. This means I read tons of books, I study, I inhale craft books and blogs.

I study other authors and I write and write and write. I write every day. I adopt good habits and self-discipline and in some way—even if I fall short of every being Nora Roberts—it’s still a pretty solid formula to do well at my craft and business.

Additionally, notice how much of my hard work incorporates things I already enjoy (ergo WHY I left sales and became a writer). As a writer, I should enjoy reading and watching movies and studying story. I should enjoy writing and revising and getting better and if I don’t? Houston, we have a problem.

Yet, your dreams are your dreams and not everyone wants to break records or re-imagine entire genres. Not everyone has the want or ability to write four books a year.

So…don’t 😀 .

Take what applies and scale the rest. Only YOU know your goals and dreams.

But About ENJOYING Writing

Image courtesy of Frank Selmo via Flickr Creative Commons

As I mentioned earlier, most of what we do as professional authors should already be enjoyable. Not to be a b%$#, but if you hate reading and never read? I don’t want to read your books. As wise woman once said…

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I know that many writers groan and mention social media. Again, if social media is a chore, perhaps what is flawed is the approach not the medium. Social media done the way I teach it at least, should be very much in tune with the creative personality.

I left sales (actually ran away screaming) so when I wrote a social media book for authors, I deliberately crafted an approach that harnessed the creative personality.

It is your creativity and imagination that sells books, not acting like an Amway rep genetically crossed with a Jehovah’s Witness. Additionally, if your social media is leaving no TIME left for the most important aspect of the job—writing MORE BOOKS—then it is flawed. If you’re hating your social media, treat yourself to a copy of Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World 😉 .

But moving on…

Two Truths About Enjoyment

#1 Choose Your Pain

Life is pain. Yeah I am just a bundle of sunshine, but seriously, it is. Every aspect of life has pain. For instance, there is the pain of having children. My house is messy all the time. I cannot sit down without nearly ending up with a Hot Wheels suppository *checks couch before plopping down*. LEGOS? O….M…G.

Instead of having frou frou soaps, you know, like this…

Image via Ross Elliot at Flikr Creative Commons

I use THIS….

Though admittedly, I do prefer Coconut Force over the Hyperspace Apple.

I have to stop my writing to answer questions like, “Can a porcupine kill you?” or “How long can you go without peeing before you die?” or “How many people die in a day?”

****Yes, Spawn is morbid. He’s a born writer.

Before being a mother, I can honestly say no one asked me these things. I could eat without having to guard my French fries prison style, holding my fork like a shiv.

But, before I was a mother, though I had an immaculate home and could take off traveling any time I wanted…I was lonely. And all in all the pain of having Spawn is light years better than the pain of NOT having him.

Same with writing. I could go get a “real job” where I clocked in and clocked out and had a regular paycheck and benefits but to me? I prefer MY pain. I prefer the pain of blogging and branding and editing and marketing and spreadsheets to the little death of every day in a cube farm. The pain of NOT writing is far worse than the pain of the business of writing.

So whenever we choose to do ANYTHING regarding writing, we simply need to choose our pain. And know there will always be SOME pain. We can’t choose ANY profession that is ALL kittens and unicorns.

#2 Being GOOD is WAY More Enjoyable than SUCKING

When I was six I wanted to learn to play the guitar. My grandparents—not really thinking this through—bought me a guitar, but then provided no lessons. I don’t know what my six-year-old brain was thinking….ok, I lie. I know what I was thinking. I was thinking that somehow when I put my fingers on the strings that it magically would sound like all those Dolly Parton songs I loved.

Yeah no.

And don’t get me wrong, I belted out plenty of bad renditions of Jolene (MY POOR PARENTS! Though I imagine any six year old begging a mistress not to take her man is amusing at some level) eventually I grew bored. The guitar then became a light saber and eventually was forgotten.

Because I wasn’t any GOOD, it lost its luster and I could never be as adorable as THIS…

Same with writing in many ways. Sure in the beginning there is the creative abandon of words flowing onto the page and as a pro, it would be nice to have that wild carefree spirit of the blissfully ignorant. But there comes a point that one gets tired of not being able to finish. Of coming up with a great idea for a story and it petering out.

Now? After years and years and YEARS of study and practice? I LOVE WRITING MORE THAN EVER!!!! Why? Because I can finish and when I finish, it is actually GOOD!

Seriously, if you are struggling to finish, invest $35 and two hours and take my Plotting for Dummies (listed below). Even if you never sell books, wouldn’t it be nice to FINISH them?

Getting good at the business is rewarding because selling lots of books…

Wait for it….

Is way more fun than selling NO BOOKS. If you need help, I have super successful best-selling author Jack Patterson who’s making a KILLING off his newsletter teaching a WANA class on how to create a newsletter that actually SELLS books.

So I challenge anyone who reads this blog, even if you don’t ever want to sell books or break records…LEARN YOUR CRAFT. Even if you never sell anything, it will make the hobby so much more enjoyable. And for those who want to sell books? Yeah learning the craft is—or should be—a given.

In the end, if you are not enjoying writing? Either suck it up and admit it is the pain you’ve chosen or reexamine and make sure you’ve chosen the right pain. Maybe we are setting our bar too low and we aren’t happy because we need the challenge of trying to be a mega-author. Maybe we are trying to be a mega-author and it’s just no fun and we’d do better writing novellas or for fun or for just side money.

And remember GOALS CHANGE. My goal was to be a mega-author but the last four years with 12 deaths in the family and all kinds of personal/family troubles, I would (did) make myself sick. I had to ramp it down. Now? Ramping it back up. That is what is cool about goals. We can CHANGE them 😀 .

What are your thoughts? Have you found that NOT sucking is way more fun than sucking? Are you tired of sucking? What kind of pain do you enjoy? Hell you are writers, so by definition—> masochists. So I KNOW you dig pain 😀 .

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Also know I love suggestions! After almost 1,100 blog posts? I dig inspiration. So what would you like me to blog about?

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

I will announce March’s Winner Next Post.  I was supposed to do it this post, but I lied. I am still catching up from the storm drama.

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

Be a Better Hooker (How to Write a Compelling Newsletter)

April 29th $45

In this class, learn how to compose a newsletter that is entertaining and compelling—and all without stealing most of your writing time. Learn how to get your hooks in your readers and keep them until the end.

With a mailing list of over 15K subscribers, mystery/thriller author Jack Patterson will share some of his tips that will spice up your newsletter and get your subscribers opening it up every time you send one out.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors $50 April 27th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies $35 April 7th, 2017

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 April 13th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons sourtesy of German Poo-Camano

A lot has changed in the digital age of publishing and, with gatekeepers no longer in sole control over who is published, we’ve seen a rise of the virtual Wild West. Lots of would-be writers striking out in search of publishing gold. And as happens with any kind of “gold rush” there are always those who will capitalize (or even prey) on the dreams of the neophyte.

The goal of this blog has always been to be a guiding light in a dark and uncharted world. Though we’ve come a long way in the past few years, there is still so much left to explore. Yet? Fads abound. The reason these fads continue to rook in writers is they did work for someone somewhere at some time.

It’s sort of like the lottery. If no one ever won the Power Ball, no one would buy tickets and yet lottery tickets are a lousy substitute for financial planning and savings.

Fads and gimmicks and algorithmic voodoo might work for some and might work short term, but the plain fact is that no amount of social media magic, no newsletter, no blog can launch us to mega-author status.

So What Works?

Today, for the sake of brevity, we are going to focus on the single most important factor for author success. We will talk about other things like newsletters and blogs and social media later.

The single best way to be successful is to be prolific. Write a lot of books. And, since we are in a paradigm with no gatekeepers, I will add a qualifier. We need to write a lot of GOOD books.

I get sample pages that are so bad I could weep…only to find out the writer already has three or four or ten books out. They are mystified as to why their social media isn’t working and why they aren’t selling any books. The answer is simple. It’s because the books are terrible.

So YES be prolific, but we must make sure we are writing good books and then better books.

Seriously….

Last week we were hit with a brutal line of storms and were without power most of the week (which was I was absent 😛 ). So I went down to my local library and later my local used bookstore to do some work. I don’t know if one can be fully awe inspired by some authors the same way as experienced in either a library or a used bookstore. When you walk into a romance section and see three shelves filled with nothing but Debbie Macomber?

It just takes your breath away.

Sandra Brown, J.D. Robb, Susan Wiggs and then you go over to mystery and shelves and shelves are Sue Grafton and then thrillers it’s just a wall of James Patterson. Then in speculative, you have a gazillion books by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, etc. etc.

When we look at the mega-authors, one thing they ALL have in common is they are ridiculously prolific.

They write good books and LOTS of them. They aren’t writing one book and praying it makes them a legend. They become legends because you literally cannot turn around without bumping into their books. They have market saturation.

Danielle Steele has over 800 MILLION books in print. I read somewhere that Debbie Macomber after 1988 was putting out 2-3 books per year. If we look to the most successful indies? Go check out how many books (good books) they are putting out. It’s insane. And it is also my goal for this year. I have a novel and a novella coming out in the next three months and trust me, I am upping my game.

This is one of the reasons I hammer on learning how to plot. Learn how to get that log-line, write the synopsis and GO. Get it written. And this stuff works, I am telling you. I don’t feed y’all anything I don’t eat myself 😉 .

When we understand structure, we can write a lot of books. We can write quickly. We can also take advantage of opportunities that come our way.

Case in Point

On March 20th my publisher came to me and asked if I would like to be part of a contemporary romance box set (even though I didn’t write romance). I admire romance authors so much and I’ve never written it simply because I didn’t think I had the skill *bows to the romance authors*. So at first I was hesitant but then I decided to get out of my comfort zone and do something even though it scared me.

My publisher messaged me at lunchtime and an hour later I sent back this proposal for Deadline:

Sian McIntyre wanted to go off to Tyler, TX to get her MFA (only one she can afford), but when her father (Sean McIntyre) has a massive heart attack right before she applies for a fellowship, she has to run his crews lest he lose the entire business. He’s just landed his biggest client yet, Atticus Black, real estate tycoon and famous for his appearance on the reality TV show, “Boss from Hell.” He’s the somber, smoldering “I hate everything” guy.

When Atticus purchases a row of old buildings for conversion in the soon-to-be boomtown of Bisby, TX, he gets more than he bargained for with his tattooed, take-no-sh#! contractor. All he wants is to escape the reputation that made him rich, but when a dead body is found on the job site, and he is the number one suspect? Sian might be his only ally and last hope.

Problem is? She can’t stand him.

Because I understood structure, I was able to accept the invitation even though writing a romance was not in my plans. I was also able to complete this novella (102 pages) in four days. I turned in a final draft eleven days after being given the invitation.

Granted I know this novella, to an extent, was lightning in a bottle and God willing I will be able to recreate it next project. But because I fundamentally understood structure, I was able to take advantage of an opportunity and ended up with a story I’m very proud of.

I didn’t have to spend four months working and reworking because I didn’t have a solid skeleton. I didn’t have to go kill a bunch of little darlings and rein in a nest of plot bunnies. I didn’t have an idea for a novella that suddenly bit back, grew out of control, then morphed unexpectedly into an epic saga. I was able to work quickly because I had solid borders.

Suffice to say…

If we hope to be prolific, we must understand story.

I am not really a plotter or a pantser. I call myself a plotser. I write the synopsis and the main plot points then GO. Sometimes the story will change as I go, but because the major landmarks are there I have a lot of flexibility.

I knew with Deadline that the story was not over until the murderer was found, Atticus cleared, and the job site reopened. The plot? Pretty basic. Creativity came in execution.

If you are a pantser, that is fine but successful pantsers are formed with practice doing one of three things.

First, they start as plotters (I.e. Dean Koontz) and over time, structure becomes so ingrained, they no longer need to plot. Second, they write a crap ton of really bad books and eventually form an intuition for story structure through a tremendous amount of trial and error (most of these folks give up). Or third, they read and have read such an insane amount, that narrative structure is instinctual (I.e. Stephen King).

Regardless, the successful pantser must have a strong understanding of structure (probably stronger than the plotter because it isn’t mapped out ahead of time).

If we don’t understand story, then it will be almost impossible to be prolific. Stories get confusing, we start over thinking, we start layering in BS and glitter because we lack bones.

In short, to be prolific we must do these things:

Read A LOT

The more you read, the more you become attuned to structure. You will get a natural feel for what should happen when and where. I can tell in five pages if the writer doesn’t read. They have limited vocabulary, beat up the same words, default to cliches and the dialogue sounds like kids playing make believe.

Learn Your Craft

Yes, we need to have some amount of talent as I mentioned last time. But talent is worthless without training and practice. Read craft books, keep reading blogs, go to conferences, take classes, invest in one-on-one time with a pro. You would be shocked how much you can up your game just by getting personal time with a professional. And we never outgrow needing this. I hire people better than me to help ME grow.

Yes practice, but make sure you are practicing good habits. If I go hit 1000 golf balls a day but I have a crappy swing, that’s more a formula for back surgery than a pro career at golf.

Same with writing. If we keep writing bad books we just get better at writing bad books. Trust me. I have a desk full of the ones I wrote. Get help. Get training.

I have two classes listed below, Plotting for Dummies, and Pitch Perfect and those classes will teach you how to do what I did with Deadline. How do you take an idea and quickly shape it for execution?

WRITE THE WORDS

Learn to finish then SHIP. Perfect is the enemy of the good. Get skilled at finishing. Too many writers will never be successful because they do everything but write. Every day I am in WANATribe. I’ve been running writing sprints in the Main Room IM field every day for a year and a half. You know how many writers regularly take advantage of this?

Fewer than ten.

I’m there every day Monday to Friday, often ALL day. Forty minutes at a time. How much can you get done? I let writers work with me to experience a professional pace. But I can only pay for the site and show up. I can’t make people get to work.

No half-finished idea ever became a runaway best-seller. FINISH. PRACTICE.

How authors make a good living is off selling multiple titles and getting compounded sales. It’s way easier to make money off ten titles than one. Simple stuff here.

So remember all this the next time you go to a used bookstore. Look at the shelves. Really look at them and I guarantee most of those shelves are dominated by the same names over and over and over.

What are your thoughts? Other than an angel must have opened a seal somewhere because Kristen now a romance author 😛 . Hey it’s FUN! I think I am hooked! Do you struggle with speed? You keep having to work and rework?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Also know I love suggestions! After almost 1,100 blog posts? I dig inspiration. So what would you like me to blog about?

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

I will announce March’s Winner Next Post.

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors $50 April 27th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies $35 April 7th, 2017

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 April 13th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

After the last post, we got in a rather spirited discussion in the comments regarding talent. Lora, an editor, was relaying a common malaise many editors feel (I’ve felt it myself plenty of times), which posits the eternal question.

Are there just some people who simply lack the talent to be novelists?

Good question.

A huge problem is that far too many people believe that a “clever” idea and command of the English language is all that is required to become a novelist, yet that is not the case. We’ve witnessed this with the rise of self-publishing. There are simply a lot of really BAD books out there.

Lora challenged me to write a post that might serve as some kind of a litmus test for talent, but in truth? Such a list is beyond the scope of my abilities because I don’t know if such a checklist exists.

Sales certainly are no indicator of talent. There are plenty of brilliant books that don’t sell or sell poorly and there are other works that sell a gazillion copies and show us clearly how taste has at least fifty shades.

Some emerging writers possess all the technical skills, yet their writing is uninspired, utterly lacking in the je ne sais quoi required to elevate the writing from the mundane to the magical.

Their “stories” are flat and functional, much like a DMV building. Sure, it has the right walls and fire escapes and passes inspection, but it isn’t a place we’d want to sit down and get comfortable.

Other writers are completely lacking in the technical skills, yet even with their wobbly first tries, one can see a spark of genius there.

Does Talent Matter?

Stephen King talks about talent in Danse Macabre (and other places as well) and I really love his view on it. He says:

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. ~Stephen King

I firmly believe that and we will get to that in a moment.

Yet, even though King is no huge fan of “talent” he does admit talent is necessary even if it isn’t quite the panacea people might imagine. He equates talent to a vein of gold in a mine. One has to do the hard work of digging for the ore, refining, etc. (the nasty work most people don’t want to do).

He says if you spend an hour and a half a day writing for ten years, at the end of ten years, you’ll be a pretty good writer. Just as if you spent an hour and a half a day digging, mining, and refining ore, you’d eventually have decent stockpile of gold.

Yet, spend ten years refining common earth? At the end of ten years all you’d have is common earth.

Sad to say that common earth writers do exist.

In my experience, I would have to say I have no good answer for how to spot a common earth writer. Most emerging writers who seem to completely lack talent actually lack something else.

Humility.

Remember at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that too many people believe this job is easy and that, in my estimation, this is the crux of the problem.

In the pre-digital paradigm, not everyone could be published. This meant that aspiring writers who failed to do the hard stuff—read prolifically, study, practice, take classes, go to conferences, get professional editing help when needed, etc.—languished in the slush pile.

One of two things happened.

Either the aspiring writer finally gave up after enough rejections OR he/she was forced to take a hard and critical look at the work and improve. Write more stories, and better stories. Creative crucibles were personal and private affairs.

The reason it used to be a really big deal to call oneself a “published author” was it was a title granted only to those who’d successfully endured the gauntlet and the title was the crown of olive leaves denoting the victor.

The writer had solved the labyrinth and emerged as author.

These days no such crown exists and we writers have been demoted to comparing rankings and royalty checks to discern “success” and if we are “good writers,” which can be demoralizing in itself. In the pre-digital paradigm, simply being published was met with awe from mere mortals because it represented a threshold few were ever able to cross. Even if we only sold a handful of books, we were still a success.

Now that “success” has been democratized? I’m not even sure the best writing is what makes the most money. In fact, I’m certain of it.

Pride Before the Fall

I get writing samples so bad I wonder if the writer has ever even read a book. It isn’t fiction, it’s self-indulgent navel-gazing. The characters sound like girls playing Barbie or a young boy fascinated on his personal holodeck. There is no understanding of POV, pacing, structure or even the essentials of good dialogue. I don’t have a novel, I have tropes mixed with cliches then slathered in purple prose.

****Hint: People don’t keep referring to one another by name when they talk in real life.

I can always tell the writers who won’t make it, and oddly it has really nothing to do with the writing.

Often I get a really nasty e-mail in reply that all their friends loved it and their writing group thought it was the best thing since kitten calendars. I’ve also gotten people who took my classes just to argue with me the entire time.

Then go blog about what an idiot I am.

It Really Isn’t All About the Writing

Yet? Some of the absolute worst writing I have ever encountered was not the end. Their creators went on to be successful and even damn fine authors. Why? Because they were teachable. 

When I shredded their pages to the point one couldn’t even see the original text, they cried, then got over it and took my offer of help. They were willing to spend hours on the phone with me showing them how to kill all their little darlings. They read the craft books I recommended, took the classes I offered, did the exercises I assigned. They slaved and wrote and rewrote and then? Voila! 

Sure, they sucked. But one day?

…they no longer sucked.

I had a winner of my first 20 pages back when I first ran the contest in 2011. Oh my GOD it was bad. But I offered help as I generally do. We spent hours on the phone and Kathy was struggling. She continued reading my blogs. She took my Hooked class….and got slayed again.

And again.

And yes, again.

Then something remarkable happened. She signed up for my Hooked class again last year. I didn’t see her name and just read pages and they were….brilliant. I didn’t want to stop. It was a REALLY excellent submission.

Then I saw the name and almost cried I was so proud.

Another emerging writer paid me for a full edit. The book was excellent to the midpoint then completely fell apart into a disaster. I explained how it went wrong and what needed fixing and how to fix it. Instead of insisting I was a moron with no taste? He listened. I just forwarded his final to a literary agent friend of mine. Two days after sending in his manuscript I got a breathless e-mail from the agent that she was simply stunned by his talent.

Was it talent? Really?

Every time I have run into what might be written off as a “common earth” writer I’ve seen a person who refused to grow. They brought pages every week for critique and despite help and suggestions? Never changed.

They refused to read books on craft because they didn’t want their writing to be “formulaic.” They didn’t read fiction in or even out of their genre because “NY only published crap.” And on and on and on. They just kept recycling the same dreadful writing and now that self-publishing has made it possible to skip gatekeepers?

These same writers greedily snatch up the title of “published author” but then gripe that their crappy book isn’t selling because they “don’t have the mega marketing budget of a NY published book.” In their minds, all that is lacking is the right marketing plan, ad campaign or newsletter list.

Back to the Mines

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of James St. John

When it comes to varying levels of talent (or lack thereof) I think we need to return to the mines. Some mines are easy. Gold dust and small nuggets all scattered about. Very little effort required to get at the good stuff. We all want this kind of mine and yet it, too is imperfect. This “gold” also requires refining. Also, gold scattered on the ground is no clear indication of the size of the overall vein. Maybe this writer has ONE good book in her.

There are those of us who dig through layer after layer with only a dream. Some vague indicators of gold. If we just keep pressing, we will find it. It is there, just an SOB to get to.

Then there are those who go digging for gold and find something else entirely. They strike oil, massive veins of salt, or a giant artesian spring. Still valuable, just not in the way planned. Some writers begin writing fiction and find they are far better bloggers or they excel at non-fiction. Some discover they are crazy good editors (more skilled at the refining process).

And lastly, there is common earth which I believe exists. These folks are almost “tone deaf” when it comes to storytelling. No matter how teachable, how many classes, the writing will just never be there. They are the person who can never quite deliver a punchline. This type of writer exists for sure, but may not be as common as we imagine.

In the end, I have no litmus test for talent, but I have a pretty good indicator of success. Are we teachable? Are we striving to grow, to get better, to actively seek tough critics to make us grow? Do we have rhino-skin? Can we take constructive criticism?

Are we sticking with this long enough to grow that talent? Are we reading enough craft books or taking enough classes to develop discernment so we know constructive criticism from sniping BS? Are we being brave enough to ask the hard questions and ready to endure the answers? Are we making the most of the editors we hire? Or are we defending and arguing? Are we writing? Yes take classes and read but we also need practice. Are we getting enough?

Are we humble?

To me? THAT is what separates the amateur hack from the pro, NOT necessarily skill level.

What are your thoughts?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Also know I love suggestions! After almost 1,100 blog posts? I dig inspiration. So what would you like me to blog about?

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MARCH, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

February’s winner of the 20 page critique is Dominic Scezki. Congratulations! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (12 point, Times New Roman, one-inch borders, double-spaced) to kristen at wana intl.com.

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors $50 April 27th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies $35 April 7th, 2017

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 April 13th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

We have been doing a lot of talking about structure lately because if we as writers don’t grasp structure? We can never deliver story. Sometimes to see what a novel IS, it helps to look at what the novel is NOT. Thus today I am going to pick on the most common “novels” I see that really are not novels.

Hey, just because we wrote 85,000 words does not mean it is a story.

Sucks. I know.

The “My Book is About Inner Demons” Novel

Code for: I have no clue how to plot so I am just going to wax rhapsodic and hope if I use enough BS and glitter, it will work.

Nope.

It won’t.

Last time we talked about inner demons, but inner demons alone are not enough. Inner demons are NOT a story.

All dimensional characters have inner demons. The inner demon is not proprietary to the literary genre (literary folks just have more leeway to camp out there). Commercial fiction—the good stuff, not the throwaway stories—have characters who are dealing with very real internal struggles and who conquer them.

These internal struggles are tossed into a crucible by the plot problem that makes the demons outwardly manifest. The characters are not simply solving any problem, rather the perfect problem, the one that will force the existential crisis that prompts change.

When I see a lot of internal thinking and more thinking and even more thinZZZZZZZZZ…….

Where was I?

*wipes drool off keyboard*

Oh yes, thinking. This is not a story. This is self-indulgent tripe.

Most people are not self-aware. Yes, we all battle with inner demons every day, but even regular people hire therapists at a hundred bucks an hour to help give them some clarity.

Why humans gravitate to story is that we may never be able to name our own demons, let alone conquer them. But in the fictional world? Victory is possible.

In the beginning the inner demon is only going to be reflected in the world-view (paradigm) of the protagonist.

For instance, we may show a workaholic (a protagonist with a work or achievement-centered paradigm). If the character is thinking and musing, Gee, I really work too much. My kids are growing up without a father. My wife no longer loves me. This character is TOO self-aware.

In the beginning, the protagonist believes the paradigm works and will scream and yell and cry when we Author God, rip it away.

He believes success=love, fulfillment, etc.

It is only when the plot problem challenges this belief, shatters it, pulls the blankie away, that the character is forced to rethink the worldview and uncover the WHY. Why do I feel I am only lovable if I have a phat paycheck?

If the character gains this internal insight at the beginning of the story, there is no room for growth and it is cheating. The protagonist has been given insight without the existential crisis.

There is no golden fleece without the quest.

Part of the tension that will keep pages turning is that the reader, much like any therapist, probably spots the protagonist’s baggage from the get-go. The tension is wondering if the protagonist will reach awareness before it is too late.

Remember that the protagonist would fail if pitted against the antagonist (BBT) in Scene One. The protagonist must evolve into a hero in order to triumph.

The “I Have Two (or 3 or 4 or 5) Protagonists” Novel

Nope, we need to ask, WHOSE STORY IS IT?

Remember we have been talking about creating a CORE STORY PROBLEM for our novel. This means there is ONE protagonist. When I get manuscripts where a bunch of stuff is happening and there are three or four or five POVs and I have no clue who I am supposed to be rooting for?

This is a huge red flag there is no core story problem. ONE character has the role of the protagonist. The reason is structure.

In Act Three the protagonist evolves into a hero (presses on when all others would have turned back). He alone fights the BBT in Act Three. He is the one who undergoes the most change because he is the one to solve the core problem.

A slight deviation (exception) to this is what is called The Buddy Love Structure. A good example of this is Lord of the Rings and The Hobbits (Samwise and Frodo) are essentially grouped into one. Can they toss the Ring of Power into Mt. Doom?

Now, LOTR is a super complex plot. There are lot of other subplots and they are all essential for the success of Frodo and Samwise. Yet, in the end? It is their story—not Aragorn’s, not Gandalf’s.

It really is Frodo’s story (with Samwise being a super close supporting actor). Why? Aragorn, Gandalf, Merry & Pippin all have their own subplots which help get Frodo on Mt. Doom….but they don’t have the ring.

HE DOES.

One other way to know the story is about Hobbits? IT OPENS WITH THEM.

Structure dictates that the first character we meet (unless an obvious POV from a villain) is our protagonist. We are like baby chicks and we imprint on the first person we meet.

*imprints on Frodo Baggins*

As I mentioned a moment ago, exceptions would be introductions (whether in prologue or Chapter One) from the antagonist’s POV.

So if an unnamed killer is gleefully chopping up coeds to Madame Butterfly? We get that is probably NOT or protagonist/hero. Yet, I will see works like this where the book opens with the POV of a murderer and then I get the POV of a unit secretary, a wife and then, three chapters later, the detective.

NO.

If it is the detective who brings down The Aria Killer, we meet him off the bat. If we deviate from this, it confuses the reader.

***We also would need to ask why the hell all these other people have been given a POV.

Remember that with every POV we (the reader) need TIME to get attached. Additionally we as the reader, must also dedicate time into resolving that POV character’s problem and driving their arc. Like Blake Snyder said, “Everybody arcs!” But notice the word I keep using here.

TIME.

You have four or five or six POV characters? That is going to impact the overall length of the novel. Sure, Stephen King gets away with an 1100 page book, but can we?

And even in the case of two protagonists, one will be subordinate to the other.

Right now I am writing a Western Horror and I have the B story-line. The female bounty hunter plays a HUGE role in solving the plot crisis, yet it is my coauthor Cait’s character who will do the final face-off against the BBT. Also, just so you know, we have had to put this into a three-book series just because having multiple POV characters takes up space.

That whole time thing again.

The “But Lots of Bad Stuff Happens to Her” Novel

Bad situations are NOT a novel. Bad situations are not even conflict (but probably another post).

A novel involves a core story problem in need of resolution. Often what I will see are all these “pseudo-vignettes of bad things happening” with multiple POV characters and yet they are all roads that lead to nowhere.

This is not a novel, it is a mess.

Now, and we are getting to some advanced stuff here, there IS a vignette structure, but it is more than just unattached scenes of bad crap happening.

There is a method to that particular structure.

Often we see this structure when a GROUP forms the protagonist (Ya Ya Sisterhood, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Joy Luck Club), yet even then the GROUP will still have a point man (or gal). There will be an overall thematic point.

In The Joy Luck Club we have many vignette stories from all the members of the club, the mothers and daughters but, and this is a BIG BUT—two things make this different than The Novel that Is Not a Novel.

A true vignette will follow the rules of structure internally, meaning a protagonist presented with a problem who faces off and solves said problem by the climax of the story. It isn’t just scenes of passively reacting to bad stuff happening.

Additionally, the vignettes will group together to solve a bigger thematic problem.

Case in point. In The Joy Luck Club we open with Jing-Mei Woo who says this:

My father has asked me to be the fourth corner at the Joy Luck Club. I am to replace my mother, whose seat at the mah jong table has been empty since she died two months ago. My father thinks she was killed by her own thoughts.

The point of this entire novel is how the mothers left China trying to change, to set right the wrongs of their own mothers. Yet, though they changed geography, they’ve been unable to keep the same patterns from repeating in themselves and their daughters. The stories posit, Will they ever change? Can the chains of the past be broken?

And, though we get stories from many other POVs, it is bookended by Jing-Mei’s journey. Can she forgive her mother and get on that boat and meet her long-lost half-sisters or will she simply take her mother’s place and keep repeating the past?

The “But This is Really a Series” Novel

Often I will get “novels” where there either is not a core story problem, or there is kind of one….but the writer leaves off the book with a 1950s Batman ending. You know, protagonist is hanging off a cliff and all hope is lost, but the story is resolved if you read (buy) in the NEXT book….

Nope. That is cheating.

ONE CORE PROBLEM. If the book is a series, then there will be one core plot problem resolved by the entire series, but in each “entry” in the series, there is a core problem that must be solved to make it to the next leg of the adventure.

I get way too many writers who are fixated on having a series but they don’t even know yet how to write ONE book.

The “My Book is About Abuse” Novel

If I had a dollar for every new writer who wants to write about abuse…

And, in fairness, there is nothing entirely wrong with that…except that many emerging writers missed my earlier point that a bad situation is not a story.

Shock factor is NOT story.

Thus, the detailed account of abuse or rape or incest or whatever must be more than just the bad (or horrible) situation. A good writer must overlay whatever the topic is she/he is addressing onto the plot frame and that is where the character finds his/her power.

Thus, I recommend that if these touchy topics appeal to you, find books that do this well and pay attention to the story problem chosen to help the protagonist conquer the abuse.

Remember that often those abused don’t recognize they are being abused, so that paradigm in the beginning is often VERY skewed. The plot problem reveals the truth the character cannot bear to see and propels her to FACE it and face her tormentor and triumph.

Well there are probably dozens of other versions of Novels that Are NOT Novels, but this is a decent enough overview. And remember, there is a learning curve to all this. I wrote my own share of Novels that Really Were Not Novels when I was new, too.

What are your thoughts? Other than that you hate me and want to stab me in the face? Hey, I am offering my Plotting for Dummies Class, so that might help and breathe. We have ALL been there.

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Also know I love suggestions! After almost 1,100 blog posts? I dig inspiration. So what would you like me to blog about?

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MARCH, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

February’s winner of the 20 page critique is Dominic Scezki. Congratulations! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (12 point, Times New Roman, one-inch borders, double-spaced) to kristen at wana intl.com.

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

Individual Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors $50 March 30th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies $35 April 7th, 2017

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 April 13th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on