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.
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!
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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.
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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
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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.