Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: publishing

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

Genre is a word that makes a lot of new writers cringe. Many (mistakenly) believe any kind of boundaries will somehow impair or restrict creativity and crater imagination. This is why so many emerging authors (myself included) avoid learning about structure or how to plot until forced to…at gunpoint.

Fine! Yes, I’m being melodramatic, but close enough to the truth.

It’s easy to understand why we want to skip all that boring stuff. We’re eager to write, to create, to unleash the muse! Yet, in our haste, we can lose sight of what we stand to gain by truly understanding the fundamentals and respecting boundaries.

For any author who wants to eventually sell enough books to make writing a full-time occupation, genre is one of our greatest allies.

Genre Dictates Location

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

Location, location, location. Yes, I remember being a neophyte, breaking out in hives when anyone mentioned I needed to choose a genre *shivers*. My book wasn’t a genre, it was all genres. It was a novel everyone would love. I didn’t need something as prosaic as…genre.

Yes, I was a clueless @$$hat so y’all can already feel better about yourselves. When we’re new, obviously we don’t understand the intricacies of the publishing profession. Why? BECAUSE WE ARE NEW.

***By the way, it is okay to be new. We all begin somewhere. Stephen King didn’t one day hatch as a mega-author.

Before we even get to how genre impacts story, we must remember publishing is a business. Many of you long to submit to an agent in hopes of a sweet contract with the Big Five. Great! You yearn to see your books on a shelf in a bookstore. Wonderful! Me too. *fist bump*

So where would the bookstore shelve your novel?

This is a critical question all writers must be able to answer. Ideally, we need to know our genre before we ever begin writing the novel, for reasons we’ll get to in a moment. But first…

Genre Lands Book Deals

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers
Meh…there are better ways.

If we want to publish traditionally (legacy) the first step—beyond finishing the book, obviously—is landing an agent. Writers who take the business seriously research agents ahead of time because this is a partnership.

We don’t want just any agent, we want the right agent. Conversely, agents aren’t looking for any book, they’re on the hunt for books they can sell.

Most agents have a list of the sort of books they’re in the market to represent (which genre). Thus, if an agent’s bio states she’s looking for Young Adult and New Adult novels, we’re wasting her time and ours by querying our Middle Grade series. By doing a bit of research, we can locate agents who’ll be the ideal fit.

Agents create these wish lists for a reason. They know publishers all have wish lists, too. The agent’s job is to pay attention to those wish lists and hustle to deliver the goods. Their goal is to sell our book to a publisher and negotiate the sweetest deal possible for us (the author), because this benefits them, too.

Agents pay attention to the publishers’ shopping lists. If the publishers are no longer wanting Dystopian YA novels, the agent then knows that trying to sell the next Hunger Games is a fruitless endeavor.

Even if our book IS the next Hunger Games, agents won’t rep it because they already know they’re highly unlikely to sell it.

Genre Sells Books

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

Now, traditional publishers might reject a certain genre for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the book. Maybe they’ve already filled the X amount of slots reserved for a Dystopian YA. They don’t want to oversaturate the market. Perhaps Dystopian YA is not selling like it used to because Steampunk YA is picking up steam *bada bump snare*.

Thus, if you have an amazing Dystopian YA, you can go indie (if they’re open to representing it) or self-publish. Genre is still incredibly important because when we list our book for sale on-line, again, we have to tell Amazon (and other on-line distributors) where our story belongs.

Major publishers do, too.

Genre will directly impact metadata and will serve as a guide for keyword loading within the product description. Genre and the associated keywords will also influence which books are listed alongside ours (or vice versa). When we look up Gone Girl, we see…

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

This is how on-line retailers help readers find books they’re likely to enjoy more easily.

Genre Draws Fans

This is one of the reasons we really don’t want to write a novel totally unlike ANY other. The story never before told is a unicorn, first of all. It doesn’t exist.

Also, a novel that can’t be fit into any genre is unlikely to draw fans. Whether readers are browsing a bookstore or browsing on-line, they generally know what sort of books interest them and head that direction.

If they’ve just finished Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and they’ve read all of Flynn’s other books and want to read more books LIKE hers, genre is the flashing arrow pointing readers to similar novels (and authors).

This is a fantastic way for authors who aren’t yet household names to be discovered. Fans of the genre can then evolve into fans of that author.

Because readers can discover our work on a shelf or on-line, our odds of selling more books vastly improves.

This isn’t rocket science. People are unlikely to buy something they a) don’t even know exists or b) can’t find.

Genre Builds Brands

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

As Cait mentioned in her post on best practices for publishing success, genre focus is a major factor in becoming a successful author. When we focus on a specific genre we build an author brand and cultivate a devoted fan base far faster.

A qualifier here, though. Just because we write a Psychological Thriller doesn’t mean we must only write Psychological Thrillers forever and ever. Often genres have ‘kissing cousins’ and, so long as we remain within that general genre region, it’s all good. Suspense, Mystery, Thriller, Sleuth, are close enough to count.

Once we’ve published enough books, built a solid brand and cultivated a large devoted fan following, then we gain more freedom to try something new.

Genre Helps Plotting

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

When we choose any genre, there are certain reader expectations. Once we know what’s expected, we can then deliver what readers want. We also have a better idea how to plot. If we don’t understand how/why a thriller is different than a suspense, that’s a problem.

Let’s use these ‘kissing cousin’ genres as an example…

A thriller has large (global) stakes on the line. In the beginning a bad thing happens and it is a race against time to stop the MASSIVE bad thing by the end.

For instance, Lee Child’s debut novel Killing Floor is about a former MP-turned-drifter thrust by fate into a problem with global consequences. Reacher’s goal is to stop bad guys’ plan to inundate the market with counterfeit bills (which would destabilize the U.S. economy).

A suspense has more intimate stakes. In Thomas Harris’ book The Silence of the Lambs, the goal is to find and stop Buffalo Bill from murdering Size 12 women for his ‘woman suit.’ Ideally, Agent Starling will stop Buffalo Bill before the latest victim (a senator’s daughter) is killed. The stakes, however, are not global.

The F.B.I.’s image is at risk, Starling’s career is on the line, the latest victim’s life is in jeopardy, but overall?

Skinny girls are totally safe.

When we understand the dictates of a genre, we can plot better and also know what we’re selling (to agents, publishers, and readers).

Genre and Structure

Since this week is my birthday and the week I am re-launching my novel, The Devil’s Dance I’m going to indulge 😀 .

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers
My precious…

I’ve been blogging for a while about structure, and we’ll deep dive the different types of structure and how to use them and why and when more in another post. All have pros and cons.

Some structures are better suited for certain genres. When we know what genre we are writing, then selecting the perfect framework becomes easier.

The most well-known and widely read is the traditional three-act Aristotelian structure. This story structure works as well today as it did a couple thousand years ago. My debut novel is a mystery-suspense and I used traditional three-act structure and ALL THE COLORS!

Why THAT Structure?

I chose this straight-forward structure because, for me, it was the best scaffolding for the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to craft a story that blended the humor of a Janet Evanovich with the gritty edge of a Dennis Lehane. I’d always joke that my book was Legally Blonde meets Killing Floor. Since I was already being ‘creative’ with the KIND of story I was telling, I felt it best to not also try to be creative with structure as well.

***No novel quadruple axel for me, thanks.

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

I wrote The Devil’s Dance purely to entertain. The sort of novel one might inhale on vacation, or when stuck in an airport. Fun, gritty, straightforward and a very fast read. Since I wanted it to be a quick read, linear structure was ideal.

Yet, maybe we want to offer the reader a challenge beyond what straightforward linear structure can offer. This is when we might select a non-linear structure. A fantastic example of this is Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, which is also a mystery-suspense.

Kristen Lamb, genre, why genre is important, The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, narrative structure, publishing, how to get an agent, how to get a publishing deal, genre and structure, how to find readers

Granted there are at least nine POVs and shifts in time ranging from the 17th century all the way to the 21st. The time shifts and different POVs delivered red-herrings galore. For mystery fans who want a challenge?

This book definitely is a brain-bender.

Keep in mind, though, that the downside to non-linear structure is readers can easily become confused, bored or lost. Good thing Paula Hawkins is a master storyteller, just sayin’. I’m on my third pass through to catch what I missed.

In the End

Genre is incredibly helpful in a vast number of ways. We can know and meet (then exceed or challenge) reader expectations. Since we know what fans want, we can serve them something they want or even something they never KNEW they wanted (I.e. Harry Potter). Knowing the story we long to tell helps us plot faster, since the objectives are clearer.

Once our story is complete, we know how to query our novel and to whom. Also, when the book is finally published, genre helps readers find our books!

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft, and next time we’ll resume talking abut structure. Those new to my blog, I hope you’ll check out this series. Look to the column over there–>

Need More Help? I Live to Serve….

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

I’m offering The Art of Character (March 22nd 7-9 EST). More advanced material, and lots of FUN! Just because we’re tackling advanced material, doesn’t mean we can’t make it a party. As always, recording is included with all classes FREE of charge 😉 .

Also, my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist is a great follow up, and this class will help you plot faster and tighter than ever. It’s being held March 29th (7-9 EST).

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of March, for 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).

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Just say NO.

Genre matters. Genre is the foundation for longevity, building a loyal fan base and also the key to unlocking all the other plot bunnies (other genres/story ideas) we’ve been dying to try out. Regardless of the publishing path we choose, genre focus is the game-changer that transitions us from published authors to powerhouse brands.

Hello, My Name is Cait and I am a Plot Bunny Addict

Yeah, we’ll get there in a minute.

By now, all of you should know that when you don’t hear from me (Cait) for a while, you should probably worry because I’m holed up in my study either doing research or coming up with new and creative ways to achieve world domination–though so far, I’ve had to rule out hallucinogenic peanut butter, karaoke, and podcasting.

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Frighteningly enough, I looked very much like this as a baby. *shudders*

But, I’m back now, ready to start sharing with all of you the fruits of my research. I’ve been doing some deep digging into the state of the publishing industry, analyzing trends, and preparing to throw down some predictions.

***Punxsutawney Phil ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Today, we’re going to explore current publishing trends and the strategy of choosing a genre. At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward, right? We like to write X, so X will be our genre.

But then…along comes that plot bunny with its cute wiggly nose and cotton ball tail, begging us to take a little side trip into Y genre. It’s cool. We can do that because we can self-publish, right?

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Not So Fast

No more rules. Freedom! We’ve broken the oppressive shackles of traditional publishing in all areas, including the ridiculous way publishers used to limit writers to one specific genre. We are now free to be a seven-genre-crossing author if we want! Ha!

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Yeah…it starts like this…

Well…sorta. Not quite. But kinda.

Let’s take a closer look.

In the beginning, BIG PUBLISHING said, ‘Let there be genres,’ and there were genres, and lo, the publisher saw that it was good.

Before Amazon glomped onto the scene with push-button publishing, authors actually had to pick a genre and stick with it….’til death did they part.

There were solid business reasons for this.

Books took a long time to write and even longer to publish, and this isn’t even accounting for the amount of money it took to produce a book and get it to market—pun intended. The agent then publisher invested a lot of time, thought, and care into helping the author choose a genre. This was imperative for crafting a brand—which is when a name alone has the power to drive sales.

Stephen King. Enough said.

The Downside of Genre Loyalty

While brand loyalty was great for book sales, it wasn’t always so easy on the authors. How many thrillers can one writer write before the thrill is gone? For the author and their readers. But, rules were rules and why mess with what worked?

Then indie…

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Back in the day, if we started writing historical romance…well, we pretty much kept writing more historical romance. Sure, there was some flexibility in the century we chose for our next book. But, it was a nigh-on-impossible quest to go from regency romance to noir crime thriller. Only a handful of already mega-successful authors really ever managed it well.

***Namely because rules don’t apply to them the same way as mere mortal authors.

The Big (Book) Bang

Enter the era of insta-hey-look-I-published-a-book. All the old rules (ostensibly) went out the window. Wanna go from cozy mystery to epic sword and sorcery? No problem! Just keep hitting that ‘Publish Your Book’ button. Who needed fans of the cozy mystery genre to discover our books in the urban fantasy genre?

Genre schmenre. Social media wizardry would magically lead fans to discover US.

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Sure, we might lose some people if we went a while (okay years) without publishing something in our audiences’ preferred genre. Maybe we’d see some drop off when we took that hard left from chick lit to shifter menage erotica. Perhaps our Amazon rankings even dropped below where we’re comfortable.

No biggie. It’s a phase. It will pass.

As long as we just keep hitting that ‘Publish Your Book’ button, we can publish whatever we want in any genre we want. Vive la revolution!

Yes…and, no.

Babies & Bathwater

Interestingly, what I’ve learned from years of working in publishing and studying how it works is that we might have let excitement cloud our vision. To be blunt, in our desire to be unchained from one genre forever…we went a tad cray-cray (actual business term), and threw the book baby out with the bathwater.

Now that the dust is settling in the publishing world, evidence suggest genre focus matters more than we might have realized.

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The truth is that we authors need to position ourselves flexibly but firmly between these two extremes. There is a point between Write six hundred spy thrillers until you DIE and Write ALL the genres and even MIX them!

Regardless of what new shiny the muse wants to explore, picking then sticking with a primary genre is the foundation for great brands, books, and business.

Self-Publishing

Counter to what many have touted, it turns out self-publishing is especially sensitive to genre consistency.

Over the past two years, there were a number of minor fads and trends that had authors jumping from epic fantasy to fairytale retellings, to urban fantasy all within the space of six months. On the one hand, authors developed some momentum in KENP pages read and attracted new fans.

However, in every competitive analysis I’ve done on authors who self-publish, those who started with a primary genre and stuck with it for 90% of their books over a 3-4 year period had the best book rankings, author rankings, social media followings, and Google name recognition.

And while I’m not privy to every single author’s sales numbers. Stupid restraining orders *rolls eyes*. I have been able to dig up enough data that permits me to make the following extrapolation:

Authors with a primary genre for 90% of their books over a 3-4 year period made the most money and had the consistently bestselling books.

This isn’t to say these authors don’t also publish in other genres, but they don’t spend the majority of their writing time, social media time, and marketing resources trying to establish their name and brand in multiple genres simultaneously. That is not a formula for success, more a formula for a nervous breakdown.

For these authors, evidence demonstrates that a successful presence in secondary genres develops more organically and over a longer period of time.

What’s the Takeaway?

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If our career goal is to be a hybrid author or even a purely legacy publishing track, then building in a primary genre becomes even more critical.

The Legacy Published Plan

Let’s start with traditional (legacy) publishing. Getting a book out with the Big 5 generally takes anywhere from 18-24 months. Most traditionally-published authors publish one book per year.

There’s a lot of time, a LOT of money, and a lot of resources invested in getting each book to market (as mentioned earlier). Thus, it makes sense for publishers to erect strong parameters around the the author’s brand. Focus is what generates traction, backlist, and a solid fan base with money to spend.

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Nowadays, there is a teeny tiny degree of flexibility that has crept into the legacy model, most likely in order to compete with Amazon’s yoga-esque genre fluidity. That’s how we get writers like Emma Donoghue who can bend from Victorian mystery to the contemporary masterpiece of psychological drama that is ‘Room.’

Yet, she is the exception, not the norm. In truth, only a fraction of a percentage of traditionally-published authors have been able to pull off this genre-inverted-triangle successfully.

All to say that, if we want to publish traditionally, we’d better really, REALLY love the genre we’re writing in, because that’s going to be home for a long, long time.

The Hybrid Author Plan

With a hybrid publishing model (some books self-published, some books through a traditional publisher), our approach will depend on whether we start out self-published or traditionally-published.

If we start out as self-published but with a goal to eventually enter into the traditional model, genre consistency becomes essential (even if our long-game is to change genres once we break into traditional publishing).

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There are major advantages for a writer who can demonstrate a solid track record of longevity and focus in a single genre. First, genre concentration tangibly demonstrates our ability to achieve long-term goals.

Secondly, by maintaining genre cohesion, this increases the odds we’ll build a vested fan base eager to BUY OUR future books. This makes our books a sound investment for agents/editors based off numbers (not hopes and luck).

Thirdly, genre focus is vital for building a strong author brand. Name recognition alone is useless and not a brand. Only a name that translates into an actual sale is a brand.

James Patterson—>Ka-Ching!

Weird Guy Who Book Spams Non-Stop—>Unfollow & BLOCK

Since legacy press is a business and not a non-profit, these three benefits can translate into (our) massive advantage when we’re seeking our own place in ‘the club.’

We need the club, but why does the club need us? That’s where we need to hustle.

If we’ve successfully stuck to a genre and created a strong fan base on our own, then traditional is the next logical business step to expand distribution for a product that is already successfully selling.

It is a win-win for author and publisher.

If we seek to change genres, it shows the publisher we can commit to the time and work it takes to build both the reputation and backlist required for success.

Again, win-win.

Expanding Genre ‘Horizons’

If we start out as traditionally-published and want to expand into self-publishing, there are several things to consider. First, we need to be very, very sure (as in, I-have-had-a-conversation-with-my-lawyer-agent-editor-sure) that we won’t be violating the terms of our publishing contract by putting out work in the same genre.

Once we have the ‘all-clear’ to keep writing in the same genre, there’s a big adjustment ahead we need to take seriously. First there is the frequency of publication required to compete effectively in self-publishing. Can we write at a pulp fiction speed and maintain quality?

***Often this is the impetus for legacy authors to also write indie. They long to produce at a far faster pace than the legacy model can accommodate.

Also, there’s the question of financial resources required to achieve parity between traditional and self-published books. Cover design, proofing, editing, formatting, etc. Fans have come to expect a certain quality and we better be able to meet or even exceed anything we published via legacy.

No easy task.

On the upside, our fan base should already be somewhat established, so YAY! We can just keep growing and growing…

Stretching Our Genre Wings

In another scenario, we may choose to expand into self-publishing because we’d like to try other genres, especially ones that might not necessarily jive with an already-established fan base.

Steampunk fantasy author Gail Carriger is an excellent example of this (as well as being one of my favorite writers). She has a firmly established seventeen-book steampunk genre backlist of traditionally-published books.

Gail chose to self-publish because she wanted to release shorter and more frequent works in her same steampunk universe (with special dispensation from her publisher).

Eventually, she started publishing works in the contemporary urban fantasy genre with an LGBTQ focus.

Carriger continues to publish both her traditional steampunk and is now consistently building her presence in this new genre. Because she approached her writing career with strategy, her brand has not only maintained integrity, but it is also steadily expanding.

The Plot Bunny Nursery

Also known as the TBW (to-be-written) pile.

At the end of the day, what does all of this mean for all of us writers along the publication continuum?

This is the question I asked myself one day in January as I looked at my writing and marketing plans for 2018. It’s a fact that I don’t so much have a plot bunny nursery as I do a crack house for wayward hares.

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I’m seriously all over the place in terms of my ideas. I have plot bunnies in steampunk, YA mythology, fairytales, historical romance, contemporary psychological thriller, shifter romance. While all my story ideas might be wonderful, I know it’s unwise to try to pursue them all simultaneously.

Strategy matters. This means, I know which bunnies get adopted first. The others can wait (and likely breed).

I confess. My brain bounces from genre to genre like a kangaroo in a bouncy castle. Yours might, too. That’s okay. We can write all the books!

Eventually.

If we publish with planning and intention regarding genre, we’re more likely to reap far better reward. The evidence doesn’t lie. Authors who’ve performed the best—whether traditional, hybrid, or self-published—are the ones who’ve done three things:

Written really great books.

Picked a genre and remained focused on it for at least three years.

Published consistently.

This is where the professional discipline that Kristen talks about really has to kick in. Sometimes, little bunnies have to just chill (drug them if you must). We can’t always do what’s fun and shiny and new. To make it in this highly competitive market, we have make a plan, then stick with the plan, even when it gets boring, or hard, or seems to be getting us nowhere.

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Jumping genres non-stop isn’t the cure for sagging sales and rankings. Writing and publishing great books in a focused genre, then building from there is. So keep calm, stay focused, and the bunnies will be just fine.

Promise 😀 . Kristen has a professional plot-bunny-sitter….

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NEW CLASSES (AND SOME OLD FAVES)!

GASKETS & GAITERS: HOW TO CREATE A COMPELLING STEAMPUNK WORLD

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $65 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY February 23, 2018. 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Who doesn’t love some steampunk cosplay? Corsets, goggles, awesome hats…

Steampunk has become one of the hottest genres today, crossing the lines of YA, NA, and adult fiction. It seems like it’s fun to write because it’s fun to read.

However, there’s a world of difference between the amateur steampunk writer and the professional steampunk author, and the difference lies in the world they create.

Is your steampunk world historically-accurate enough not to jar the reader out of the narrative with anachronisms?

Does your world include paranormal as well as steampunk?

Are the gadgets and level of sophistication in keeping with the technologies available at the time?

Steampunk is not an excuse to take short-cuts with history. Good writing in this genre requires a solid grasp of Victorian culture and history, including the history of science, medicine, and industry.

This shouldn’t scare you off from writing steampunk, but it should encourage you to take this class and learn how to create a world that is accurate, consistent and immersive.

This class will cover a broad range of topics including:

  • Polite Society: Just how prim and Victorian do you want to get?
  • Science, Technology, Medicine, and Industry: How to research these without dying of boredom?
  • Creating the Blend: How to drop in historical details without info-dumping, and how to describe and explain your steampunk innovations without confusing.

GET READY TO ROAR: THE BUSINESS OF THE WRITING BUSINESS

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, March 1st, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

AMATEUR HOUR IS OVER: SELF-PUBLISHING FOR PROFESSIONALS

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $99.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, March 2nd, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

EVEN MORE CLASSES…

Check them out at W.A.N.A. Int’l.

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The past few months have been tough. I’ve struggled with being down, depressed and stuck in a rut. The writing profession I once loved just had lost its…sparkle. In a recent post, I believe I voiced what many writers have been feeling:

Don’t know about you, but I dreamed of book signings, launch parties, my novels on pretty displays in an actual store. I imagined a real book signing with devoted fans I’d be able to meet face-to-face. Those were the dreams that kept me going in my darkest hours when it made no sense to keep on writing.

I don’t think a single one of us fantasized about favorable algorithms, a massive mailing list with a solid open rate, or a depressing spot for ten copies of our book on a Costco bargain table. And I sure as hell never dreamed of working like an organ-grinding spider monkey for fractions of KU pennies.

None of us did.

 

I never minded learning and doing the business of my business. I embraced branding, blogging, social media, SEO. But something was just…off. Something I couldn’t articulate. Leave it to my subconscious to kick me in the @$$ and have the answer…in a technicolor dream (okay, nightmare).

Last night *deep breaths* Chef Gordon Ramsay royally chewed my @$$ out at…a writing conference.

Bear with me, this is bizarre but salient.

And Lo! An Angel Appeared

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More like an agent.

In my dream, I’m at a writing conference, unaware I’m an attendee (not a presenter). Right in the middle of a coffee social, the head of the conference orders me (on the spot) to stand and pitch my novel to mega-agent Donald Maass.

*panics* Is Donald Maass even repping books himself anymore? Apparently so. *dies inside*

It takes three tries to even pitch the correct novel (I pitch two works that are already finished/published). FINALLY, I pitch my Southern Gothic, which is only half finished. But like any good writer, I lie my @$$ off.

Willing my best game face, I confidently declare my novel 100% complete.

Donald Maass loves my story idea and asks I bring my novel for him to read pages aloud…in front of a giant packed auditorium. Oh-kay. No problem. I know that WIP is at least 150 pages long and he’s only going to read the opening, so whatever.

Just BREATHE

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I race up to my hotel room, only which room is mine? I try every door on the floor and no dice. Finally, I find a room where the electronic key works and fly inside, heart pounding. Since this suite looks like a drag queen’s dressing room was hit by an F-1 tornado…I know it’s mine.

How the $#@! did blush get on the ceiling? Did I really need to pack that much makeup? 

****Yes. The answer is ALWAYS YES.

Ah, but there’s one major unanticipated problem. Apparently I had author roommates and there are laptops everywhere.

Scrambling through the suite, I’m opening laptop after laptop, and, since you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a writer who uses an Apple laptop…I keep opening the wrong ones.

FINALLY, I locate MY computer (the one with the corn chips in the keyboard) and the correct files.

I’m Cool…Really

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Relieved, I rush downstairs. Maass scans the first pages and proclaims my writing is incredible! He goes on and on complimenting my work. I’m so relieved, excited even, but then….

Maass tells me he plans on reading some paragraphs from my opening, middle and END to show the emerging writers how professionals get things DONE.

*gulps*

My novel isn’t finished. I lied. Breathe. I can do this. Stick and move, right? I will my game face hoping somehow I can come out of this unscathed. Maybe say I brought the wrong file? The finished version is on the computer at home. Yes, that’s it. When in doubt?

LIE SOME MORE!

Maass is ecstatic about my writing and I say something about getting a contract with his agency. He makes a face then says somberly, ‘Your writing is superb but more is required out of authors in the digital age than just a great book. You know that, right?’

*hair flip*

I confidently declare I’m no rookie, and I totally know more is required of authors this day and age. Then I relay how I have a blog and vlogs and brand and platform and…he cuts me off.

‘No, not all that,’ he says as if talking to someone who’s been living in a cave for ten years. ‘Everyone has social media. That is SO 2014.’ *rolls eyes* ‘Can you pass the cooking test? You did know about the cooking contest.’

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‘Yes, of course cooking!’ I reply with gusto.

Donald seems to only be partially be buying my bluff. He continues, hesitant. ‘Then I assume your dish is ready. Because Chef Ramsay is on scene ready to inspect what you’ve prepared in fifteen. Only writers who can impress Gordon Ramsay will get publishing deals.’

*screams inside*

THE HELL? WHAT DO COOKING SKILLS HAVE TO DO WITH WRITING?

Never Let Them See You Sweat

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Again, I roll with it and act like this sudden revelation is not nearly as shocking as the time I found out the crush of my life, George Michael, was gay.

***Gimme a break, I was in third grade with no gaydar.

Maass liked my book. I was not going to go down without a fight. I DID have food I brought from home, since I have food allergies. Mind whirring, I recall there’s still some of the pan-fried gluten and dairy-free chicken parmigiana (half-eaten) and some leftover vegetables up in my hotel fridge.

I’m not out yet.

Yeah, not that I am Type A or anything…

I rush to my room, pull out my pathetic chicken and tear off the end I’d bitten into. Then, I rifle through the other writers’ leftovers for wilted greens and veggies to fill out the plate. Satisfied it doesn’t look too terrible, I rush downstairs with my paper plate of dressed up, gnawed on, semi-cold chicken…that’s a day old.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

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The other writers somehow were aware they needed a novel and that they ALSO had to win a cooking contest with CHEF RAMSAY as the judge. I’m beginning to think I really was living in a cave.

How did I miss this industry shift?

It seems everyone (but me) has prepared fresh, hot glorious meals. Their dishes are proudly displayed on carts covered with fancy serving domes. Every writer (but me) is ready with some culinary creation ready to be inspected by the likes of Chef Ramsay.

….so they can be published.

What Would Ramsay Say?

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Yeah…that. I’m dead. D-E-A-D.

Initially, I think it’ll be fine. We’re writers, not chefs, so he’s gonna go easy on us. Right? You know like how he is with the kids who cook. All gentle and encouraging and telling us we gave it a nice try.

Nope.

Horrified, I watch Chef Ramsay go dish to dish shouting at writers, making them cry.

Writer #1: AVOCADO FOAM? WHAT THE *beep beep beep beep* WERE YOU THINKING? NO ONE WANTS TO EAT FOAM! We want substance, not CLEVER *beeeep*! Piss off!

Writer #2: HOW MANY *beep beep* CHEMICALS ARE IN THIS *beeeeeeep*? Who wants to eat something that would survive a *bleepity bleep* NUCLEAR ATTACK? Even the ROACHES would rather STARVE!

Writer #3: HOW MUCH BLOODY FOOD-COLORING DID YOU USE? THIS GREEN’S SO RADIOACTIVE, KIM JONG IL’S TRYING TO STEAL IT! Get the *beepity beep beep* out of here before we all DIE OF CANCER!

Run For Cover

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Chef Ramsay then spots who the next ten writers are…and his eyes narrow. He points and shouts for them to just leave and get the *bleeeep* out of his sight.

The writers all stammer the same thing, talking over one another, aghast. ‘Why? You haven’t even looked at our dishes!’

Ramsay: I don’t NEED to look. I’ve sampled your ‘dishes’ before, and I already know you’re going to try and serve me. The same formulaic bollocks just with a different garnish. What am I? Some nit you think you can fool? Bugger off! No one wants to ingest your recycled tripe. NOW GET THE $#@& OUT!

They stand, frozen in disbelief. Then they all declare he’s wrong. Their dishes are totally fresh and new.

Ramsay glares at them…then starts dramatically tossing the stainless domes off the dishes one at a time, but—to my astonishment—Chef Ramsay accurately guesses what’s under each and every dome before he lifts it…then throws it clattering.

He was correct. He knew what they’d prepared already. They were serving the same dishes…with slightly different garnishes.

What’s Ramsay Going to Say About…ME?

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Chef Ramsay gets closer and closer to me. Meanwhile, I’m sneaking bits of lettuce and leftover veggies from writers who’ve run and abandoned their stations. I’m doing all I can to dress up this sad tiny piece of dry leftovers.

I’m bracing to get yelled at because I know what I’m serving…and that I deserve the tongue-lashing.

Why couldn’t this all just be about my WRITING? My BOOK? Maass, Donald Mass, liked my book! Why am I supposed to do all this other stuff—social media, vlogging, blogging, rafflecopter, give-aways, Instagram, ads, promotion, SEO optimization—and NOW I have to also win a…cooking contest?

To get a publishing deal?

Then, as Chef Ramsay makes it to me and looks down at my chicken, I wake up soaked in sweat…with an epiphany.

Ramsay is RIGHT

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Once the terror passed, I realized the Chef Ramsay in my dream was RIGHT. First, our part of the author business is actually very simple (which I’ll talk about next post).

Writers are getting fixated on roles they don’t need to even be DOING, and quality is suffering. WE are suffering!

***I’m not judging. We’re bombarded with all we HAVE to do. It’s hard to keep the faith. Even ME.

Quality matters. This is true in branding/platform building. Instead of authors slowing down, being real and developing lasting relationships, there are authors who distribute more SPAM than HORMEL. A Billion Served is cool for McDonald’s but on social media?

YUCK.

It’s also true in the writing (which is the most IMPORTANT part of our brand, btw).

Because so many writers have sucked down the KU Kool-Aid, or bought into Amazon’s Algorithmic Alchemy…they believe they must have all this output to succeed.

They’re churning out novels, ‘box-sets’, novellas, short works every month….every WEEK! To promote all these ‘works’ they’re also churning out automation, promotion, newsletters, giveaways….

*puts head between knees*

Consequently, far too many ‘stories’ are incomplete, half-baked, over-processed or just rehashed leftovers…with different covers (garnish).

No wonder these authors won’t charge retail. They can’t! Who’d pay top dollar for the literary equivalent of a microwaved cheeseburger?

What KIND of Writer Do We WANT to BE?

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Have we taken time to even ask this?

First of all, just like there’s a viable market for fast-food burgers, there’s also a market for fast-fiction authors. Just be aware that there’s also only so much consumers will reasonably pay for this type of product…meaning quantity is a major deal. 

This career trajectory is an option. Thing is, too many writers have been led to believe it’s the ONLY option.

Nope.

Some writers naturally do well with this pace. They can turn out books readers enjoy. These authors relish the marketing and promo and have tons of fun because they’re in their element.

But, just like the market can only support so many fast-food chains, it can only support so many fast-fiction-authors. The ones who will do well? The ones who are GOOD at it.

Not everyone is.

I know I’m not. Perhaps this was behind my malaise…and my brain dragging in Gordon Ramsay AND Donald Maass for an intervention.

Ramsay was right. This Lamb is so overcooked, I DO belong on an altar.

Granted, I’ve written hundreds of posts about keeping the business simple. Ignore the fads, the algorithmic alchemy, the trends, the pressure, and on and on. But, deep down, there must have been some latent guilt that maybe I was wrong.

Perhaps I was shepherding *bada bump snare* y’all the wrong direction.

Like off a CLIFF! AHHHHHHH!

NO! We DO Have OPTIONS

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Really? Can I come out then?

The entire point of the shifts in publishing were to offer us options. It is OKAY to take our time. We can slow down and build vested audiences of followers who actually CARE. We can write excellent books worthy of retail (regardless of whether we publish legacy, indie or self-publish).

Pulp fiction always sold for pulp prices and clipped at a pulp pace. But news flash!

Pulp prices never once impacted the price of hardcovers or the pace.

Ever.

They were DIFFERENT audiences and DIFFERENT products.

Readers didn’t expect a book from Michael Crichton as frequently as they did paperback Westerns from Louis L’amour. Fans were willing to shell out cash for stacks of cowboy stories. Other fans? They eagerly paid hardcover prices for Crichton because his books were well worth the wait and the price. 

Both authors were/are legendary…and yet vastly different.

NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

Louis L’amour books were relatively short, easy to read and a nice way to spend an afternoon. They filled the time while we waited on our favorite hardcover authors.

Crichton books took incredible research, detailed plotting and were thick enough to kill a burglar. The work that went into his novels merited the price fans lined up to pay.

So guess what?

Y’all have my permission to…relax. You’ll need your strength because DANCING WITH THE EDITORS is NEXT!

Hope you still have tights that fit 😛 .

What Are Your Thoughts?

No more spicy food before bed? Even though I’ve remained steadfast on keeping this simple, I admit the panic attacks have crept in. What’s ‘allegedly’ expected from writers?

Have you lost your love for writing? The pressure just taking all the love out of it? Frankly, the dream wouldn’t have been so terrifying if some part of me didn’t partly expect it COULD happen. Jeez, what other hoops do we need to jump through? Baton twirling? Karaoke?

NO!

Cait and I are both tired of the nonsense so we have new classes to guide you through what’s necessary and what is complete BUNK. It is time to enjoy writing again.

NEW CLASSES!

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Class with me, teaching what is ACTUALLY our business. February 15th 7-9 EST. $55 and recording FREE with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

This class is THREE hours with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and comes with Cait’s custom workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more. February 16th 7-10 EST. $99 and recording and workbook are FREE with purchase.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.

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Ah, the book business. So many shifts and changes since the day I set out to become a novelist…and ended up a social media expert, blogger, teacher and self-appointed author crusader. I’ve dedicated millions of words and countless hours of research to guide y’all through the massive changes in the publishing industry.

My goal was (and is) to do everything I could to shelter you (writers) from predators I knew would prey on your fears. Three books and thirteen hundred posts later…

It’s been an honor to serve and shepherd you guys through the largest changes in human history and in publishing. Frankly, without you guys, I might have given up ages ago. Thank you so much for being there for me! We are not alone, right?

After years of upheaval, good news is…I think we’re almost there.

*angels sing*

The Long Road Unknown

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Deep down I knew the little guys would win if we just held our ground. It’s why I’ve gone to the mattresses time after time against predation, fraud, usury, deception, and greed. Why I’ve created strategies that empowered authors in branding, social media, and platform building.

The only side I’ve ever taken has been the writers’.

I think it’s fair to say most of us (writers) have been in a perpetual state of terror (peppered with brief windows of hope) for far too long. If you’re like me, maybe your sparkle’s been dimming.

Would we really ever taste freedom? Was writing even worth it anymore? This ‘new age’ that was supposed to be so wonderful had only managed to crush our childhood dreams.

Don’t know about you, but I dreamed of book signings, launch parties, my novels on pretty displays in an actual store. I imagined a real book signing with devoted fans I’d be able to meet face-to-face. Those were the dreams that kept me going in my darkest hours when it made no sense to keep on writing.

I don’t think a single one of us fantasized about favorable algorithms, a massive mailing list with a solid open rate, or a depressing spot for ten copies of our book on a Costco bargain table. And I sure as hell never dreamed of working like an organ-grinding spider monkey for fractions of KU pennies.

None of us did.

I kept wondering how we could possibly be in a Golden Age for creatives when it FELT like an Ice Age. How was this possible? Now? I believe I know that answer.

It’s because a Publishing Cold War has been raging…and it’s all about to play out.

Clash of the Titans

Since the birth of Web 2.0, two superpowers have been gridlocked in a Publishing Cold War: Amazon vs. Traditional. There have been major upheavals, great wins, and massive casualties. Meanwhile, a lot of writers huddled under our desks doing drills. Here’s how to kiss our @$$es goodbye!

Cheer up!

It’s all on the verge of playing out and it’s an incredibly bright future for writers who can position properly (high-quality books, large vested platform, solid brand). Great news is we writers control all three of these factors ;).

Last time we discussed The Success Paradox, and we’ll continue those lessons. But I can’t help you win a game if I don’t show you the whole board. I think by the end of his post, you’ll see why I believe writers finally have MUCH to celebrate. Bear with me. I’m cramming 20 years of publishing changes into this post so you can fully appreciate the vista we never thought we’d live to see.

I know you’re going to LOVE IT!

Why Listen to Me?

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I’ve called virtually every major market shift in publishing years before said ‘shift’ happened. Among too many other predictions to mention (which came true) I forecasted the contraction of the Big Six and that Amazon would open brick-and-mortar stores on May 2, 2012.

I reiterated this Amazon prediction at the end of 2012 .

Amazon has become a name to be feared when it comes to e-commerce, but there are still limitations to selling on-line. Also, in my opinion, Amazon Publishing is the woman in the red dress who finally wants a ring. She wants to be legit, and the only way to do this is to have a physical presence in a bookstore.

 

Commenters called me crazy. But just because I was crazy didn’t mean I wasn’t also correct. Amazon opened their first brick-and-mortar in Seattle in November of 2015, three and a half years after I blogged this would happen.

*gets cramp patting self on back*

Know the Business of Our BUSINESS

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Now, do I have magical powers or some under-the-table deal with Satan that allows me to see with this kind of accuracy? Nope. My degree trained me as a political analyst then my early career in industrial paper sales taught me to think like a business analyst. I never could have imagined how this job was preparing me for a future I’d never considered.

Back in the day, I had a nine-state territory that also included Northern Mexico, which I drove…in a CAR. On top of that, I had to meet a minimum yearly sales quota of two million dollars. That is a LOT of freaking paper, by the way. A lot of driving, too. I’ve logged more miles than most truckers. Eighty thousand miles in one year.

My job required that I be able to look at the market as a whole then, using countless data points, hazard good guesses. The better my ‘guesses’ the greater my chances of making or exceeding quota. Unless I wanted to waste a lot of time and even more gas, I had to be able to predict where the best business would be that month, in six months and the following year(s).

When It ALL Goes Horribly Wrong

I’d just about hit my stride and figured out my new job when the cost of steel skyrocketed, which shot our largest customers’ operational costs through the roof (the shipping industry). Back then, these companies used our cardboard to protect and stabilize inventory, which they then secured with steel banding.

Super cheap steel banding meant these customers had always been able to purchase regular truckloads of paper. Alas, those big bread-and-butter orders vanished literally overnight.

Dutifully, I redid my forecasting to account for this…setback. I could do it. Keep…pressing….

Then the 9/11 attacks.

*taps out*

I could still forecast, but maybe too well. All my predictions ended with plant closures and me out of a job. With war imminent in the Middle East, it was only a matter of time until the price of gas skyrocketed.

Paper is heavy, meaning it burns a lot of fuel. Didn’t take a genius to see trucking our heavy @$$ product was going to plunge us deep in the red.

This all does a lot to explain the stress illnesses that effectively ended my career in sales.

Blood Lessons

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This experience taught me countless painful but priceless lessons—blood lessons—which I’ve been applying to the book business since 2004. It’s true. Sometimes there are factors we can’t control which will impact our capacity to sell, but that’s no excuse.

To be successful in business, even the book business, it’s critical to do as much as possible to limit the impact of outside forces that control or limit earning ability. I learned this in paper sales and it’s how I could see why and how Amazon eventually was going to take over.

One major reason Amazon has been kicking legacy tail for years is that legacy publishing had/has too many outside forces beyond their control that impact profit. Namely, they’re business model depends heavily on the big-box bookstores.

In the late 90s, Borders and Barnes & Noble, in an act of unrepentant greed, obliterated the small indie bookstores. This move also wiped out the author middle class. The Big Six was all for these giant stores reinventing the book business because literacy and choices and…literacy!

Sure.

Or maybe it had to do with all the 26,000 square foot stores crouched on every corner that required a crap ton of physical inventory. Megastores meant massive preorders and unprecedented control over which authors/books were positioned where. I’m not judging. It was a sweet business move for the time.

Publishing Oligarchy

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Heavy hitter household names obviously garnered premium displays/locations and the largest guaranteed preorders. Didn’t you ever wonder how some mega author’s book could be a #1 New York Times Best Seller when the actual book wasn’t even yet available to READ?

I know I did.

The megastores also made sure to carry these authors’ backlists. Essentially, authors who were already multi-millionaires made even more millions. To be clear, I love it when writers make millions, even if they’re making more millions. My main gripe has always been this ‘success’ came at the expense of those authors who were not yet household names.

And, under this big-box bookstore model, they never would be.

Hell, Tom Clancy DIED in 2013, but ‘Clancy’ is still putting out books as of November 2017.

#NotCreepyAtAll

Let Them Eat Cake

If one happened to be a mid-list author or a new author? Sucked to be you. Mid-list authors who’d been making a good living wage had to get a day job because, in the spirit of a ‘browsing experience,’ most backlists were mothballed (taken out of print).

Readers could get copies but only in secondary markets (used books) where the authors made no royalties. Since the mid-list authors’ backlists were no longer gracing shelves in the primary market (new books), these authors suddenly were struggling to make a decent living.

Also without the market saturation that goes part and parcel with having a robust backlist in circulation, there was little to no chance of ever making mega status the old fashioned way.

The Author Homecoming Court had already been chosen, and apparently even death can’t free up space.

New writers? Spine out on a shelf and pray your last name didn’t start at crotch level or lower. Tragically metaphoric.

Reap What You Sow

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In the 90s, gas was super cheap which contributed to the rise of the big-box store boom. Problem is, what happens when karma catches up?

Was it really necessary for Borders and Barnes & Noble to drive virtually every last mom and pop store and small chain out of business? The answer is NO. No it was not.

Remember, I mentioned paper is heavy? #Irony

Apparently folks in charge forgot Business 101. Markets are not static and operational costs can change in the blink of an eye. Physical books have to be shipped to physical stores. Gas prices go up? Profits plunge.

Then there was this thing board members of Borders and Barnes & Noble probably should’ve paid better attention to in the late 90s: the imminent rise of a user-friendly Internet and the very real threat of viable e-commerce.

While the bookstore moguls might have dismissed these ideas as science fiction Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Bill Gates took it all very seriously.

*has mental image of these guys coming together like those robot lions that form Voltron*

Anyway…

Borders’ death wasn’t a shock to me. It’s hard for me to be anything but frustrated watching Barnes & Noble continue to bleed out. Oh, and trust me, they are. I ran the numbers and from 2008 to 2017 B&N was forced to close an average of 21 stores a year. In 2008, they had 798 stores and as of September 2017 B&N was down to 634 stores, according to Forbes.

The latest CEO in a string of failures has come up at least one answer to what ails them. Barnes & Noble needs…smaller stores.

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Also, the newest plan to save the Barnes & Noble bookstore is to sell mostly everything BUT books (vinyl records, toys, gifts, etc.).

*silently screams*

The Publishing Cold War

Earlier I mentioned one tenet of business success: Do as much as possible to limit the impact of outside forces that control or limit earning ability.

Amazon did this. By mastering e-commerce, they controlled overhead, were highly maneuverable, and outside forces had limited and manageable influence over them. Borders and Barnes & Noble failed to do this, as mentioned earlier.

Another tenet of business success is to never take on your competition in the area where they hold major advantage. 

Amazon also understood this, which is why they waited until 2015 to open their first brick-and-mortar store. Barnes & Noble, however, decided to duke it out with one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies in the very arena Amazon built.

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

Barnes & Noble forgot it was in the book business, and not a tech company. They launched the Nook which has been nothing but a black hole sucking in millions and tanking stocks…a financial hemorrhage that’s been a major factor driving so many store closures.

Barnes & Noble got target fixation and bought Amazon’s feint…hook, line and sinker. Amazon had them (and a lot of other people) wholly convinced most consumers preferred to shop on-line.

Not necessarily…

Consumers are People

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

People. Not numbers or data points. Readers are flesh and blood humans. Humans like to browse, touch, hold, feel, etc. We are social and tactile by nature. I knew that, which is why I wagered Amazon had a very different game plan than most folks believed.

All of this is purely conjecture, but I think I make a solid case.

Amazon convincing B&N they had no choice BUT to compete on-line reminds me of Reagan convincing the USSR that America could nuke them from space.

The more money B&N shoveled into e-commerce, the more their physical store presence shrank to cover losses. All of this played right into the Amazon’s long game. From what I can see, I believe Amazon’s objective was to force the competition to cannibalize itself…and vacate the precise market they WANTED.

Brick-and-mortar.

Once the big-boxes were down to a certain number, then Amazon would open their own small bookstores. A lot of them. And they wouldn’t have to cater to the Big Five’s demands or worry about any big-box competition.

***Oh, and they used the time bludgeoning megastores to perfect algorithms to prepare for smart-stocking their future stores.

Humans Never Change

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War
Why Hubby and I are no longer allowed back at Home Depot….

What Barnes & Noble never realized is that humans generally prefer what’s easiest. If there aren’t any bookstores close to us, then we’ll shop on-line. Again, in 2012, I wrote a post I’d hoped B&N would read and heed, regarding small being the new big.

I pointed out that consumers wanted bookstores that were convenient. We wanted physical bookstores, but we weren’t willing to drive to the next fricking city for a ‘browsing experience.’

Especially since these big guys haven’t been an experience since about 2001. They were Applebee’s…but with books and no french fries. Same look, same books *yawns*. Displays weren’t curated by passionate and autonomous sales clerks. Every inch of real estate was pre-negotiated and mapped out.

Anyway, I’d say Amazon counted on Barnes & Noble’s hubris. The best way B&N could have kicked @$$ years ago was to open up small bookstores in strip malls…just like the ones they’d obliterated.

But, alas, pride comes before the fall.

In the October 21, 2016 article in The New Yorker, What Barnes & Noble Doesn’t Get About Bookstores, Leonard Riggio, the man who bought Barnes & Noble forty-five years ago and turned it into a giant finally conceded this mistake:

The No. 1 consideration of where someone will shop is how close it is to where they are. It has nothing to do with pedigree or branding. If there’s no bookstore close to them, they’re more likely to buy online. If there’s one close, they’re more likely to buy if it’s a block away.

 

Amazon & The Long Game

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

Why would I bother trying to help Barnes & Noble time and again despite how they’ve hurt writers? Again, let’s hop in our blog DeLorean and visit—you got it—2012. Something about that year. Mayans maybe? *shakes head*

I wrote a post called Amazon: Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts. Feel free to go read the post in its entirety, but to save you clicking over, I’ve copied the salient parts from a post that is SIX years old.

I really hope New York gets its act together, because, once the competition falls away and Amazon burns New York to the ground? What happens to the writer? What happens when we fall asleep and it is safe for Amazon’s Trojan Horse to unleash the gorilla?

Amazon right now is in the courting phase with writers, and it is using us (writers) as a weapon to kill our former masters. Ah, but if Amazon really gets its way…what then?

When NY is razed and Amazon has no real competition, do they have to keep giving us the same sweet royalty rate? What happens when it’s Amazon’s turn to hold all the keys to the kingdom? Will they use them any differently than those they crushed to gain them?

Still a good question, which is why that platform is so vital. If Amazon goes cray-cray, we have the power to walk away. Yet, for the record, I support legacy publishers and I’m cool with Amazon. I love great books and don’t care how they’re published or by whom. I buy a lot of books from both of them.

It’s monopolies that give me hives.

Back to Book Business

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

While the masses screamed Amazon was killing the bookstore, I was betting differently. Frankly Amazon couldn’t kill something that was pretty much already dead.

Borders and B&N had already decimated indie bookstores and small chains. Amazon wasn’t out to kill bookstores, it was out to kill the big-box bookstores…then replace them.

Why writers need to pay attention to this new shift is that Amazon is about to be top dog in e-commerce as well as brick-and-mortar. This means that platform/branding thing becomes a whole lot more important. So does the writing really amazing books 😉 . But, if Amazon is not your beer, I have wonderful news!

You’ve Got Mail (Alternate Ending)

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

Who would have guessed the end of You’ve Got Mail wasn’t the end of The Shop Around the Corner?

Nature abhors a vacuum and while Amazon was doing it’s big power play, little guys slipped in and did what entrepreneurs do best. They got creative. Independent bookstores are exploding in popularity and readers are thrilled to have their local bookstores back…only way better.

The Indie Bookstore 2.0 is a very different creature. Some have wine bars, cocktail hours, flower shops, cafes or even microbreweries. The imagination knows no bounds. There are culinary bookstores dedicated to cookbooks that hold cooking classes and have fully stocked kitchens so customers can try out merchandise.

Some stores are architectural works of art, their owners passionately vested in creating spaces humans want to gather and hang out. Hubs for communities to come together and klatsche.

We agree, Kathleen. Whatever anything is, it ought to begin by being personal and enterprising new indie bookstores concur.

Now these entrepreneurs have actually enhanced the bookstore experience. Check out Novel in Memphis, Tennessee, BookBar in Denver, Colorado, and Read It & Eat in Chicago, Illinois.

Shoppers have wanted bookstores all along (and we’d long ago lost our fascination with cheap). Heck, Amazon has a bazillion crappy books we could download free. No, these next-generation indie stores handcraft their selections. Salespeople are well-read experts who love books, who are empowered regarding book placement. In many of these stores, premium spots are non-negotiable and not for sale.

The books readers want and salespeople love grace the best spots. Don’t know about you, but I’m giddy. It’s like the Chess Club finally has a real shot at the Homecoming Court, LOL.

Raise Your Glass!

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

Readers and writers win! This new generation indie bookstore is not chained to the Big Five or beholden to Amazon, though very friendly to both. These bookstores don’t care about pedigree, they care about what books readers want to read. The give no figs if authors are published via legacy, traditional, small press, indie or self-pub. Their sole loyalty is to their customers (readers) and to the authors their customers love.

Kind of like the good old days only now we have nibblies, and wine 😀 .

I LOVE Hearing From YOU

What are your thoughts about the changes ahead in the book business? Me? I’m almost giddy! Imagine all the creative types of independent bookstores. Bookstores with only fitness and nutrition, healthy living and wellness books that hold yoga classes and bootcamps in the parking lot. Science fiction and fantasy bookstores that carry gaming and D&D supplies, Cosplay costume classes, or demonstrations on sword fighting. Mystery bookstores that include a Mind Maze experience, too?

Now THIS is a bookstore future I can get fired up about! Vindication! Good books win! A social media platform that is social and focused on people and relationships matters! (Told you guys to ignore all that newsletter algorithmic alchemy crap). This is fantastic news. Unlike the B. Dalton days, we can cultivate passionate fans willing to pay retail ahead of time instead of relying on BLIND LUCK. *does cabbage patch dance*

I love hearing from you and am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of JANUARY, for 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).

NEW CLASSES!

Master Class: How to Write a Series

Taught by Kristen Lamb AND Cait Reynolds…together…in same room. It’ll be fun! Class is NEXT FRIDAY January 19th, 7-10 PM EST in our W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom. $75 for a three hour class of intensive education and lots of shenanigans.

A free recording is included with class purchase…though we reserve the right to edit out anything that can and will be used against us in a court of law.

Your Life as a Story: How to Write a Memoir

Friday, January 26th 7-9 PM EST in the W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds. Class is $65 and a free recording is provided with purchase.

 

writers' journey from newbie to mastery, attaining mastery, mastering a craft, Kristen Lamb, becoming a professional novelist, publishing, amateur to professional writer, mastery

Mastery is peculiar in that spectators see whatever the professional does as ‘easy.’ From starting then running a successful business, to playing guitar to writing brilliant screenplays, masters rarely seem to even break a sweat.

Same with authors. With the pros? Their stories flow, drag readers in like an unseen riptide only to release the exhausted and elated audience at The End. 

Mastery, to the casual observer, appears seamless and effortless.

Everyone Begins Somewhere

I’d like to offer a glimpse of what the journey from Noob to Master is really like so you can set expectations accordingly. This will keep you pressing, and from being too hard on yourself. First and foremost, it’s vital to relax a little and give yourself permission to be new.

Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, it’s easy to fall into a misguided notion that ‘writing is easy,’ which explains the mountains of crappy ‘published novels’.

It also explains why non-writers can so easily dismiss what we do. As if the only thing keeping them from turning out the next Game of Thrones is ‘finding the time’ and not a matter of a crap ton of training and work.

Granted there are a rare few exceptions—the born ‘genius’—but most of us will go through three acts (stages) to attain mastery in this career…if we stick it through.

Act One—The Newbie

This is when we are brand new. We’ve never read a craft book and the words flow. We never run out of words to put on a page because we are like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up ‘music.’ We aren’t held back or hindered by any structure or rules and we have amazing energy and passion.

writers' journey from newbie to mastery, mastery, attaining mastery, mastering a craft, Kristen Lamb, becoming a professional novelist, publishing, amateur to professional writer
Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like ‘POV’ and ‘narrative structure.’ Critique members return samples of our opus hemorrhaging red ink. It’s in this moment, we learn maybe we’ve not yet achieved mastery.

In fact maybe, just maybe we’ll see we don’t know as much as we think we do. Also *winces* we might become aware we are not so ‘naturally gifted’ that we get to skip all the training and the hard stuff.

This is writing, not Six Flags. There are no instant passes to the front of the line.

It’s during this period we might also grow keenly aware of why so many famous authors drank…a lot. Or went crazy.

Act Two—The Apprentice

writers' journey from newbie to mastery, mastery, attaining mastery, mastering a craft, Kristen Lamb, becoming a professional novelist, publishing, amateur to professional writer

The Apprentice Phase comes next. This is where we might read craft books, take classes, go to conferences and listen to lectures. During the early parts of this phase, books likely will no longer be fun. Neither will movies. In fact, expect most of your family to ban you from ‘Movie Night.’ Everything now becomes part of mastery training. We no longer look at stories the same way.

The Apprentice Phase is tough, and for many of us, it takes the all the fun out of writing. The Apprentice Phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest, but filled with the most growth and change.

It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.

There is a darn good reason WHY not everyone can do what WE DO.

Writing is TOUGH

Many new writers will shy away from craft books because they fear ‘rules’ will ruin their creativity. Truth is? They will totally ruin our creativity, but only for a little while 😉 . It isn’t permanent.

Eventually we realize that rules were made to be broken. BUT, the difference between the artist and the hack is that the artist knows the rules and thus HOW to break them and WHY and WHEN. We start to see rules as tools.

Some of you may know I practiced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for years. One thing we did to improve our skills was to grapple blindfolded. The trick was to not get fixated visually, but to be able to feel what our opponent was up to, where he was headed and move like water. By being relaxed, it made it next to impossible for an opponent to sink in the hold, choke, arm bar, whatever.

Wherever our opponent was headed, we were already two steps ahead by FEEL. THAT is how sensitive you want to become in Jiu Jitsu…and in writing.

writers' journey from newbie to mastery, mastery, attaining mastery, mastering a craft, Kristen Lamb, becoming a professional novelist, publishing, amateur to professional writer

We want to become so immersed that we can do this stuff blindfolded. We instinctively feel what needs to happen where without having to say ‘Oh, this is a scene, and this is a sequel.’

As we move through the Apprentice Phase and we train ourselves to execute all these moves together—POV, structure, conflict, tension, setting, description, dialogue, plot arc, character arc—it eventually becomes easier. In fact, a good sign we are at the latter part of the Apprentice Phase is when the rules become so ingrained we rarely think about them.

We simply write.

Mastery Has a ‘Feel’

writers' journey from newbie to mastery, mastery, attaining mastery, mastering a craft, Kristen Lamb, becoming a professional novelist, publishing, amateur to professional writer

We’ve read so much fiction, watched (and studied) so many movies, read so many craft books, heard so many lectures, and practiced so much writing that all the ‘rules’ are now becoming instinct and, by feel, we are starting to know where and how to bend, break or ignore them.

Like anything, there is NO substitute for DOING. Watching Holly Holmes videos is a good idea for understanding ground-fighting, but it can’t take the place of mat time. Reading, taking classes, studying cannot replace writing crap until we don’t write crap.

At the end of the Apprentice Phase, writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the fighter who instinctively knows to arm bar an opponent without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the ‘right’ words and timing without bursting brain cells.

The trick is sticking it through the Apprentice Phase long enough to engrain the fundamentals into the subconscious. This is how we get ever closer to mastery.

Master

writers' journey from newbie to mastery, mastery, attaining mastery, mastering a craft, Kristen Lamb, becoming a professional novelist, publishing, amateur to professional writer

This is where we all want to be. We all want this on Day One, but sadly, I believe this Day One Master is reserved for only a handful of literary savants. Mastery is when we return to that childlike beginning. We write with abandon and joy and, since the elements of fiction are now part of our DNA, our literary marrow, what we produce isn’t the off-key clanging of a neophyte. It’s actually a real story worth reading.

Granted, it isn’t all kittens and rainbows. Masters have a lot of pressure to be perpetual geniuses.

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase (Journeyman) and the Mastery Phase. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Newbie (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).

We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

Simple Steps to Mastery

writers' journey from newbie to mastery, attaining mastery, mastering a craft, Kristen Lamb, becoming a professional novelist, publishing, amateur to professional writer

1. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you’ll recognize it.

2. Understand We All Have an Apprentice Phase—We will all be Early, Intermediate, then Advanced Apprentices. How quickly we move through these will be dictated by dedication, hard work and, to a degree, natural talent.

3. No One Begins as a Master and Few Remain Permanent Masters—Every NYTBSA was once a newbie. When we understand this career has a process, it’s easier to lighten up and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to not know everything. Many writers get discouraged and give up too soon because they don’t understand there is a process, and they believe they should be ‘Masters’ right away.

Hey, I did.

We need to give ourselves permission to grow. If we love and respect our craft, we will always be learning, so we will continue to dip back into ‘Apprentice’ to refine our art even further. We might read older works of literature, explore other genres, write a genre we never cared for to test ourselves.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? It is okay, REALLY! It’s natural. What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged? Write with the abandon of the Newbie then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master 😉 .

I love hearing from you and am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of DECEMBER, for 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).

***Jorge Kafkazar is the winner for November. Please send 5000 words in a WORD doc to kristen at wana intl dot com. Double-spaced, 12 point NTR font, one-inch margins.

I’m running Round Four of my ‘Write Stuff’ Special. 20 pages of deep edit for $40. Only 10 slots were available, and ONLY ONE LEFT. Get that last slot HERE.

ALSO, NEW CLASS! 20% Early Bird Discount

The Art of Character: How to Craft Dimensional ‘People’ in Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $45 USD (Only $36 with discount)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: January 4th, 2018 7:00 P.M. EST—9:00 P.M. EST

No matter what genre we write, the key to writing unforgettable stories always rests with character. How do we create intriguing characters who hook readers and never let them go? What makes a character unforgettable? How do we write stories that endure?

It is easy to fall into tropes and caricatures if we lack a fundamental understanding of human nature and how this plays out in the dramatic narrative. This class will delve into how to add depth to our characters which will, in turn add, resonance with our plot.

This class will cover:

  • Discovering Wounds;
  • Understanding Coping Mechanisms;
  • How Wounds Collide to Increase Dramatic Tension
  • How to Create Dimensional Characters
  • Using Character to Plot

***A FREE recording is included with purchase.