Editing has always been a critical factor regarding any book’s success. This has NOT changed. If anything, proper editing is a complete game-changer now more than ever in the history of publishing.
Because too many writers fail to appreciate just how vital proper editing is. They skimp on the editing for the sassy cover and the cool promotion material.
Problem is, no one can get through Chapter One without risking a brain bleed.
Who cares how amazing the story is if we (the reader) keep getting jerked out of the fictive dream?
More importantly, in a world drowning in bad books, those rare jewels—books well-written and properly edited—shine like polished jewels scattered on chunks of asphalt.
Readers glom onto authors they know they can TRUST for great stories, professionals who went the extra mile to make their product the best it could be.
Alas, there is a common fallacy among many emerging writers. They believe (very mistakenly) that authors only write the books. Then, once finished, agents will fall in LOVE and someone else will do ALL the editing.
*clutches sides laughing.*
Yeah…no. And woodland creatures don’t help with housework. Sorry to break the news. Bummed me out, too.
The hard truth is the onus is on us (writers) to make certain our manuscript is properly edited before sending a query. Remember, agents are actively searching for reasons to STOP reading. Self-editing skills can mean the difference between a sweet deal or a spot in the slush pile.
Even if the story is amazing, agents know editing is time-consuming and costly. This means they’re more likely to wait for another ‘amazing story’ that doesn’t cost as much as a Caribbean cruise to get bookstore ready. They’ll be far more likely to sign an author who possesses solid self-editing skills.
But what was that old saying?
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Applies to agents and to readers.
Self-publishing is a whole new level and new devil. If we’re doing our job, the self-published novel should be at least as good as anything legacy published. This means we bear the burden (and cost) of making sure our manuscript is the best it can be.
Superior editing makes the difference between releasing a novel versus unleashing one. Many emerging writers—once the novel is ‘finished’—make some major errors when it comes to ‘editing.’
Here are a few biggies:
The writer actually believes the novel is finished and hits PUBLISH (Ahhhhhhh! NO!);
Emerging authors fail to understand proofreading is NOT synonymous with editing. Proofreading is merely one type of editing;
New authors don’t research how much good developmental editors/substantive line-editors charge for services.
Since all novels require editing, the more we know how to do ourselves, the lower our costs will be. Trust me. Y’all do not want to pay a developmental editor to turn a 90,000 word mess into something readable (forget publishable).
Feel free to do this, but be ready to cough up a few thousand dollars and part of a kidney.
A more cost-effective option is to understand plot and the mechanics of story so we can repair the flaws ourselves. Sure, a good developmental editor will spot the massive plot holes and guide us how to repair them, but (again) it’s gonna cost us.
Additionally, we can pay someone to insert all our proper punctuation and correct poor grammar, OR we can learn how to do this stuff ourselves. Then we’re only paying for a proofreader to catch what we missed or goofed.
Trust me, no matter how good the writer, we ALL miss/goof stuff.
Self-Editing and ‘Cost vs. Value’
As I already mentioned, good editors are NOT cheap. There are also many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses we could’ve easily repaired ourselves?
We’re burning cash and time.
Self-editing can be a real life (and cash) saver.
Yet, correct the problems we’ll be discussing today, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of our novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.
Over my career I have literally edited thousands of works, most of them written by emerging writers. My particular specialty is content and developmental edit. Though I’ll correct punctuation and spelling as I go (because I am OCD and generous) MY job is to make a STORY the best it can possibly be.
Problem is, most of the time I can’t even get to the story because it’s obscured under layers of bleh the writer could have removed in revision.
#1 DIY Adverb Removal
Despite what you might have been told, not ALL adverbs are evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly?
***Wow, glad the author explained how ‘whispering’ works.
Ah, but if a character whispers seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t inherent in the verb. Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones.
Either we need to choose a stronger verb, or we’re treating the reader like an idiot.
If a character walks quickly to the train platform, then choose a verb that means ‘to walk quickly’ (stride, jog, hurry) and use that one instead. If a character yells loudly, ditch the loudly.
We understand how yelling ‘works.’
#2 Cut the Cray-Cray
First and foremost, readers want a STORY. Stories are more than loads of ‘pretty writing’ using thousand-dollar words. Stories are about problems. A character thinks life is fine, then PROBLEM. The character then must struggle, grow, evolve, make choices to eventually SOLVE the problem (win, lose, draw).
Pretty description is optional. Big words are also optional. Alas, if we want to be a writer who uses description then we need to wield with economy.
Few things make me as giddy as a glorious line of description or a new vocabulary word. Many readers (and writers) are like crows.
When describing a miserable afternoon in late 19th century Chicago, the author had many options of how to do this. Instead of, ‘The day was humid and stifling,’ Erik Larson wrote, ‘The air hung with the heavy stillness of a tapestry.’
There’s nothing, per se, wrong with the first description. But Larson’s line was far more visceral because he made use of multiple senses simultaneously.
But some writers take similes too far.
I’ve seen writers who’ve used so much ‘wordsmithery’ that I had no idea what the hell they were even trying to say. The goal of a novel is to hook readers into a dramatic narrative, not prove we own a thesaurus.
***Word on the street is the NSA is contemplating either revoking Sean Penn’s permission to own a thesaurus OR they want to weaponize his writing.
Metaphors and similes are fantastic literary devices, but need to be used with intention. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using forty-two metaphors in five pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.
When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called ‘purple prose.’ Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes.
Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST.
Any kind of description must serve the story and propel the dramatic action forward. If it doesn’t do this? CUT!
#3 Cut the Stage Direction
Again, the more time an editor devotes to a project the higher the bill. Also, if an editor charges by the page, we could be paying for a lot of filler we could have removed ourselves.
Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.’ Readers don’t need every single step of a day. We live it, why would we read it?
Yet, I see a lot of samples like this:
Fifi opened her eyes at dawn. She pulled back her covers and placed her feet on the floor. Padding across the room, she reached for a robe hanging on her door. Her stomach growled, so she went downstairs and opened the fridge for the carton of orange juice, then grabbed a glass from the cabinet. Turning around, she searched for a granola bar….
OH, GET ON WITH IT!
An editor is going to cut all of this because NOTHING IS HAPPENING. Also, readers pretty much know how the whole ‘getting juice’ phenomenon works. They don’t need a blow-by-blow.
Fifi reached out her hand to open the door.
Unless Fifi has telekinetic powers, do readers need the direction?
Filler pads the word count, but it also pads the editing bill. The verbs turn, look, grab, pull are possible red flags you’re doing too much stage direction. My advice is to do a Word Find and search for these verbs and their variations (I.e. look, looked, looking). See if the action is necessary or if you’re holding the reader’s brain.
If you’re holding the reader’s brain? Return it, please.
#4 Beware of Painful & Alien Movement of Body Parts
Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.
His head followed her across the room.
Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow? The carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.
#5 Ease Up on the Physiology
Fifi’s head pounded. She ran for the door, her heart hammering and wild pulse beating relentlessly in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs. All she could do was gasp. Panic made her throat clench and stomach heave. Mind numb, she reached for the door, fingers trembling.
GET TO IT ALREADY!
After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out. That and I read a lot of samples where the character has her heart pounding so much, I’m waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment.
Physiological reactions can become echoes. If every page the character has her stomach churning, roiling and rolling, our reader will need an antacid before finishing the chapter (provided she finishes at all).
I strongly recommend a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We just don’t need to be told this over and over and…over.
We (readers) assume the character’s heart is still pounding until she’s out of danger.
No need to remind us.
#6 Odd Sentence Construction
In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many emerging writers will craft sentences like this:
With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.
First, this is backing into the action. Though technically correct (enough), it’s easy to lose a reader if we have too many sentences like this. Active sentences are the easiest on the brain and keep the reader immersed in the fictive dream.
Then there are the picky issues with the example above. For instance, when we use the word ‘down,’ then ‘on’ is redundant.
Also, Jessie is either ironing or not ironing. ‘Started’ is overused and makes sloppy writing (this actually goes back to the whole stage direction thing).
Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.
Another way writers will vary the beginning of sentences is they’ll default to what’s known as passive voice.
The door was kicked in by the police.
Police kicked in the door.
If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.
Many writers end up with strange sentence construction because they realize every sentence is starting with the character’s name or the appropriate pronoun. They’re trying to ameliorate the repetition of Jessie, Jessie, Jessie, she, she, she. The problem, then, is not sentence construction, rather the writer needs to open the lens of the storytelling.
Remember our character doesn’t need to be the subject of every sentence. We’re telling a story. This means we can work with setting, other characters, etc.
#7 Get Rid of ‘Clever’ Tags
Ideally, if we do a good job with our characters, the reader should know who’s talking without tags because speech patterns differ. If all our characters ‘speak’ the same way, that is an issue we need to remedy.
Yet, we can’t always do this, which means we can use a tag. Tags are fine, but keep it simple. This isn’t the place to get clever.
‘You are such a jerk,’ she laughed.
A character can’t ‘laugh’ something. They can’t ‘spit,’ ‘snarl,’ or ‘grouse’ words either. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said used properly becomes white noise.
NOTE: Use said as a tag…just don’t get crazy. If you beat it up it gets distracting and annoying.
But again, used properly readers don’t generally see it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.
“You are such a jerk.” She laughed and flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.
Notice how sentences like the one above also keep us from beating said to death.
I swear the funniest instance of bizarre tags was a new writer who just would NOT listen to me and she insisted on using all these crazy@$$ tags. So instead of exclaimed when her character yelled something she tagged with, he ejaculated.
*Editor Kristen falls over laughing*
Okay y’all ALL sniggered at that one. So yeah be creative just not in the tags, ya dig? 😉
There you go!
SEVEN easy tips for self-editing. We all make these mistakes and that’s why God invented revision (that and to punish the unfaithful). If you can get rid of these common offenders on your own, then good editors can focus on the deeper aspects of your fiction.
Have you had to ruthlessly slay your favorite metaphors? Are you a recovering adverb-addict? What are some other self-editing guidelines you use to keep your prose clean and effective?
And we should always be growing, learning and sharpening those skills, so please check out the upcoming classes. Remember, a recording of all classes is included in purchase price 😉 .
Play to win. For me, this is a tough phrase. Maybe it’s culture or society or sunspots, but ‘winning’ feels like a suit cut for someone else. No, worse.
Playing to win feels more like the pants I once wore to a conference. Even though they were too tight, I wore them anyway believing they’d ‘stretch out’ once I moved around a bit.
But they didn’t, and after a while they were uncomfortable…no, they were cutting me in HALF.
I couldn’t breathe, my kidneys hurt, and my lower back ached so much I didn’t hear a single word of the lecture.
All I wanted was to rush to the restroom, unbutton the pants and use my hair tie for some give so I could breathe (women know what I’m talking about).
I didn’t feel pretty in those pants I’d worked so hard to ‘fit’ into. Didn’t feel confident or sassy. No, I was miserable and beating myself up for not choosing the stretchy pants I usually wore.
Stretchy pants would never betray me like this. Lycra doesn’t judge. Spandex understands.
We’ll get to Amazon, Legacy NYC publishing, the book industry, etc. But, we can’t understand why any organization is failing (or winning) unless we take time to understand the people who comprise that organization.
***Fair warning. This is a longer post, but a vital one. Creatives are at a critical turning point in our industry where we must make tough and educated decisions if we hope to make it.
Too many of us want to remain comfortable because fitting into something new is uncomfortable…no, excrutiating. Often it will take a lot more work, work we don’t want to do. Perhaps work we feel we shouldn’t have to do.
Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe it’s unfair, but sadly fair is a weather condition and guess what?
A storm is coming.
Play to Win (at Letting Others Win)
I can’t speak for men, but as a female the whole ‘play to win’ thing was almost always discouraged when I was growing up. First, I was the oldest and thus almost always in charge of entertaining a little brother and (usually) three smaller cousins. Mainly keeping them alive.
Standards for childcare were far lower in the 80s. Thank GOD.
Anyway, being far older, it was kind of a dirtbag move to go all aggro on a six-year-old during a game of Candy Land.
Not that I didn’t try.
I joke I’m NOT Type A. I’m Type A+, because I did the extra credit unlike all y’all other slackers 😛 .
***’All y’all’ is correct grammar in Texas, FYI.
This said, my competitive nature was not always appreciated. There were plenty of times some adult figure chided me, instructed me to let the younger ones win once in a while.
Kristen’s Brain Even at 10: *LET them win? This…is…SPARTA!*
School wasn’t much better. I was reading Tolkien by fourth grade. I’d finish my work in a fraction of the time it took my classmates, and apparently that was not a good thing.
If I tried to read or draw, I got in trouble even though I was being quiet. Apparently, I was supposed to sit still and do nothing instead of cracking open the Heinlein book I’d swiped off my dad.
One time, I worked my entire reading workbook during the forty-five minutes allotted for a single assignment. My teacher, upon discovering my infraction, sent me to the place I would spend most of my growing up years…the hall.
True Story: I don’t even recall what my 3rd grade classroom looked like, but I DID figure out innumerable ways to entertain myself by making out patterns carpet.
It didn’t take long to figure out that I needed to wait a certain amount of time before I turned in my test. If I turned in my test when I actually finished, there was hell to pay from the teacher.
Teacher: Stop showing off. You are making the other kids feel bad.
Me: No, I am not showing off, I was finished. Also, for the record, ‘I am making the other kids feel BADLY.’ It’s an ADVERB. You JUST taught this. How are you a teacher?
*just heads to hall to my spot*
I was terrible at the whole inside words staying inside back then, too.
Play to Win (at Your Own Risk)
School taught me to hide any academic excellence. If I wanted to learn at the speed I craved, I had to work around the system. Learn on my time, not school time. Makes total sense.
And I did. I had all kinds of hobbies growing up—reading encyclopedias, reading the dictionary, playing with my microscope, using my chemistry set.
Sorry about that chlorine gas.
Being a complete nerd, I was socially awkward (and not much has changed). I never understood the nuanced ways of girl tribes, only that they generally required an outcast (usually me).
Since I didn’t fit in with the girls, I tried sports. Very confusing. Apparently when a boy nailed someone in the face in a ‘game’ of Dodgeball that was winning.
If I did it? I was being ‘mean.’
The only team sport I was any good at was soccer. Problem was, there was no girl’s team. Much to the coach’s chagrin, he had to let me try out for the boy’s team, and it was brutal.
Those boys tossed everything they could at me. I was bruised, bleeding, and even knocked out once when I blocked the opposing team’s shot into the net…with my face (NOT intentional, but hey it worked). Yet, I pressed on through tryouts.
When it came time to see who made the team, however, the coach cut only one player.
On the bright side, the boys on the team nearly mutinied over me being cut. They’d thrown everything at me and I was one of them, part of the team. I’d earned the spot because I was someone who played to win no matter what. The boys tried to protest, but it was 8th grade and—again—the 80s.
I’d like to say it got better in the 90s, but not really. In college, I encountered several professors who chastised me for being the only one to answer questions in class.
Me? I fired back that they really should have been shaming the rest of the class who didn’t respect them enough to do the assigned reading.
When I graduated, I went to work in sales (as much of a meritocracy as one can find in the workforce…usually). However, I once stepped up to present our product line to an audience of waiting (and agitated) clients because the manager in charge no-showed.
Afterwards, even though the customers were thrilled, another manager (female) pulled me into a back office. She informed me I was never to do that again if I wanted to remain at the company.
Me: Never again do what? Sell a lot of stuff?
Her: Women aren’t taken seriously in business, especially in the South. Leave the corporate stuff to the men. In the meantime, you’re pretty. Be affable and make others feel at ease and leave the presentations to the guys.
Horrified, I told her she needed to get out of her time machine. It was the 90s not the 50s, and quit that day.
Play to Win vs. Play to ‘Not Lose’
My mom was and is a hardcore Scandinavian woman (tough). When I was seven, a male visitor didn’t get his way. He raised his hand to slap her (big mistake)…
…while she was cooking.
Good way to DIE mistake.
Without blinking, she swung that hot cast iron frying pan into him like she was going for a grand slam. Whooped him with that pan THROUGH the screen door and all the way to the street. He never returned and my mom was my hero forever and ever.
My father loved strong females. He enrolled me in martial arts when I was four, was the one to rig his old Navy sea bag for me to use to train to fight and toughen my hands. Being former military, he believed I needed to be able to protect myself. That and…we’re from Texas.
According to my parents, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do or be. Thus, the world was a very confusing place when it kept putting me in the penalty box for doing my best.
Odd message. Playing to win is for others. If you play to win, expect to pay a price.
Be nice. Be sweet. Share. Winning is not nice to others.
And you know what? I bought that pile of bull sprinkles until very recently.
But no more.
We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate.
Death by Nice
Notice I used the word nice. Nice and kind are different. Kind has a spine. It IS possible to play to win and not be a jerk, bully, thief, etc. In fact, when we diminish our own light so as not to ‘outshine others’ everyone suffers.
Nice snuffs out the light so others don’t notice they are in darkness. Kind lends a flame so everyone can live in the glow.
Playing to WIN is good and you want to know how I know this?
Amazon is damn near taking over the globe in almost every arena from movie-making to groceries to music.
Personally, I’m fairly sure Amazon IS actually the foretold SkyNet. Good news is when Amazon finally assimilates the human race, I have Prime, so I get free shipping.
Meanwhile, the Big Six have steadily become the Not-So-Big-Five and I believe might even be down to the Spiffy Four.
While Amazon is expanding at a record-breaking pace, NY Publishers are condensing, shrinking, reorganizing, and living on the grace and passion of those sainted professionals who will work UNGODLY hours for crap pay solely because they love books.
***Bless you agents and editors.
Meanwhile, Amazon isn’t having to rely on volunteers willing to give up their lives, work for a fraction of what they’re worth for ‘the cause.’
Wanna know why?
Business has been in a cage match since the rise of Web 2.0., and while Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and Bill Gates (Microsoft) and others have been throwing punches, the former contenders have been too busy shaking 20th century snow globe, too mesmerized by the past to even protect their face.
While bloggers like me have shouted warnings for over a decade, the industries we love have refused to get in the fight and play to WIN.
We kept begging for someone to step up and get into the 21st century, for publishers to recognize they were (are) in the story and information business…not the PAPER business.
Play to win. Better, still?
Play to Win in the Business You’re Actually IN
Amazon didn’t care HOW consumers wanted to consume a book: print, hard-cover, soft-cover, digital, used, new, audio….JAZZ HANDS. If the customer wanted a story acted out by mimes and was willing to PAY for it? And it could be profitable?
Amazon was ON it.
All the while, the big publishers clung to the Big Box model even as Borders was collapsing. After it died, not much changed. I detailed a lot of this in a post in January of 2018 when I AGAIN laid it all out:
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.
So in 2016, Barnes & Noble hired the former C.E.O. of the office supply giant Staples (Demos Parneros) even though he had ZERO book industry experience. This was also the guy whose business expertise launched Staples to unprecedented success….
…wait, no that’s wrong.
No, Staples had to hire another C.E.O. to save the company upon Parneros’ departure, because according to The Street:
As of May 17, 2017, Staples held $526 million in long-term debt and had total liabilities of $3.2 billion, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
Sounds like JUST the kind of business visionary B&N needed to hire; one with the skills to lead an already flailing company(Staples) billions more into the red.
In all fairness, these numbers are a year after the C.E.O. left, but I feel it’s reasonable to extrapolate that the company didn’t go from raging success to the 8th Circle of Business Hell in less than a year.
Oh, but there’s more….
Granted, Parneros did have the bright idea that B&N needed smaller stores. Points for him.
But these days, instead of B&N planning how to WIN in the book BUSINESS (or any business), they’re embroiled in so much drama they should have their own reality show Big (Box Store) Brother.
Hmm, kinda catchy.
B&N fired Parneros for ‘alleged sexual misconduct.’ Sighs. Parneros claims this is all a smear campaign and untrue and the only reason B&N wanted to oust him was for something I’ve already forgotten.
Anyway, according to an August 2018 article in The New York Times explicating the Parneros drama of ‘alleged sexual misconduct,’ the mudslinging and lawsuits over wrongful termination…THIS is what stood out to ME (and probably SHOULD have stood out to B&N, too):
Barnes & Noble’s stock price has fallen 60 percent over the last three years, and the chain has struggled to reverse years of declining sales and foot traffic. In the last decade, the company has closed more than 150 stores, leaving it with a base of 633. It waged a losing battle with Amazon, losing more than a billion dollars on its Nook e-book business.
Even as independent bookstores have bounced back and Amazon has expanded into brick-and-mortar retail (which, incidentally, I predicted would happen in multiple 2012 blogs), Barnes & Noble has still failed to recover ground.
In my not-very-humble opinion, NYC was so accustomed to being THE Publishing Pantheon, that they didn’t do so well when the rise of e-commerce and Web 2.0 cast them down to Earth.
Instead of being on the offense, sticking and moving and learning how to play the new game and dominate it?
They wasted precious time trying to rekindle ‘The Good Old Days’ and protect their besties Borders and Barnes & Noble at all costs. They couldn’t fathom a world where they weren’t the leviathans…and Amazon used their Big Box BFFs’ bulk to crush the life from all of them.
How ironic that the movie You’ve Got Mail has now come full circle.
Hollywood…I mean Amazon (or Netflix) should make a You’ve Got Mail 2.
In it, Kathleen Kelly reopens her indie bookstore Shop Around the Corner. She stocks the new store by buying the (ironically) bankrupted Fox Books’ store inventory for pennies on the dollar. But she is NOT a jerk.
She’s thoughtful enough to offer Joe a job purchasing office supplies, furniture, decor and specially requested books for her shop…from AMAZON.
Back to US
Anyone who’s read my blog over the years knows I have ranted, raved, offered suggestions and ideas to help legacy publishing and even big box bookstores. I’ve begged NYC to play to WIN.
Yet, here we are, the business landscape eerily similar to the late 19th century and early 20th century (when we transitioned from the agricultural age to the industrial age).
Once again we teeter on the edge, risk falling into the grip of ‘New and Improved’ trust giants and robber barons (as we transition now from the industrial age into the digital age).
So, if Amazon will use the brass knuckles on a major publisher that crossed their path…what about us? The little guys? What happens when a writer miffs them and they unleash the gorilla?
The giants are rising and why? Because they play to win. Or as Joe fox would have said, they’re willing to…
Go to the Mattresses
As writers, do we play to win or play to ‘not lose?’ Tell me any game, any sport where one can WIN playing strictly defense.
We’ve got to start taking this seriously. If you’re a writer, then you are a business. Trust me, Apple doesn’t work for exposure dollars and neither does Amazon.
Why should we?
Writers PAY to hear marketing experts tell them that, to be successful and make money, they should give away free bookmarks, free bags, free flair, free downloads, and free books. Give a FREE prize for someone giving them a free email.
They should speak for free, blog for free, give interviews for free, and work for free. Oh, one suggestion and I actually heard this from a promotion expert.
Give a FREE bottle of wine with your book.
I wish I were making this up.
In what universe do ANY of these ideas make mathematical sense?
Last I checked 0 + 0= 0. And 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0= 0.
And zero is the least of our problems since bookmarks and prizes and books and time all have a cost. If these folks can’t grasp that no matter how many zeros one adds together, the SUM is STILL ZERO?
I can’t even broach the concept of how one adds negative numbers.
Besides, isn’t that how 21st century Apple became the mega giant it is? It gave away iPods and iPads for enough exposure and THEN consumers suddenly were willing to stand in line for ten hours and drop $900 for a new iPhone?
FREE Should Never Really Be FREE
Some free is fine, even necessary. FREE can be an amazing business strategy when used properly. When we play to win, FREE is NEVER actually FREE. It’s built into the price, or it’s actually a quid pro quo (something for something).
FREE can be a way the seller rewards the consumer in exchange for the consumer’s willingness to agree to a greater financial commitment (e.g. all purchases over $100 and shipping is FREE).
FREE is also something used to entice consumers into a longterm financial commitment. Apps do this all the time. Get a week free of all the meditations you could ever want, and after that FREE week, the app will be $7.99 a month (charged via iTunes). Cancel when you no longer want the service.
Your first trial month of Netflix is free, but after that Netflix costs money every month. On and on.
These are examples of FREE with a plan, FREE with dignity and design and a goal toward a profit.
Free without strategy is just begging sans the obvious tin cup.
Y’all are SO MUCH better than that kind of free.
We Have a Write to WIN
Yes, creating art takes time, work, training, tears and a lot of hard work. It takes love that surpasses reason along with stretching ourselves and learning new things.
Sacrifice, self-discipline and all the tough stuff. Pretty much like it’s always been. Only we now have new roles, roles we are wise to learn either so we can a) do them ourselves or b) be educated enough to spot talented teammates from smooth-talking cons.
We’ll be able to discern experts from “experts” (those folks still pushing marketing and social media strategies older than my favorite yoga pants).
This is how we play to WIN.
And yes, maybe this seems all doom and gloom, but I’m not in the candy business. It’s a Brave New World where artists (currently) have little to no protection.
But, good news is—as is usually the case—the pendulum is swinging back the other way with some things moving in our favor (I’ll talk about these in some of my upcoming classes, not my blogs).
Other good news? Legacy publishing still has a pulse and a place, but they have got to start playing offense. Play to WIN. PLEASE!
***Seriously, call me.
There are new business models emerging where creative professionals are being paid. Additionally, there are ways to Amazon-proof ourselves. Again, not bashing Amazon. Yet, while Amazon is great for the moment, but we need to have a structure in place that does not rely on us needing Amazon (or any ONE entity).
If Amazon fails to remain a good business partner/decision, we should be in a position to move on and have a plan for exactly when and how to do that.
For the traditional publishers, this IS your Rocky IV.
Amazon is Drago. Drago killed Creed (Borders) and you’re down. I get it, and totes understand. And Drago has the advantage of all this scientific equipment and super high-tech training, but suck it up, get in the snow and drag some logs.
Y’all didn’t rule the world for a century for nothing. Remember who you were.
As for the writers. Excellent authors (creatives) deserve an audience of givers, fans, and die-hard supporters. We deserve better than a race to the bottom of who can give away the most for the least. To do this, though?
Play to win. I know you can do it. It’s going to be uncomfortable and possibly scary, terrifying and painful. For a lot of us, this is new or not new but still terrifying. But we can change, grow and train how to be in it to win it.
Now, go play some Eye of the Tiger and get back to writing that book.
Those who’ve followed my blog long enough know I’m no fan of the Schrodinger’s Writer Game. Is the writer real or unreal?What IS a real writer?
For ages, we quibbled that a real writer had an agent. A real writer scored a legacy publishing deal. One had to pass the NYC gatekeepers to be a real writer.
On and on and on.
Now that writers no longer regard self-pub and indie as publishing mutations that escaped an Amazon basement (mostly), the debate has lost heat.
Publishing existentialism is soooo 2013 *flips hair* .
Yet, I wonder if this new publishing paradigm is hurting more than helping. And that is a hard thing for me to say since three of the five books I’ve published never would have made it to print if legacy remained the only model.
Even though I signed with one of the most prestigious literary agencies in NYC (in 2012), the big publishers regarded a book on author branding and social media with as much enthusiasm as Ebola.
Maybe I was ahead of my time. Perhaps the stars were not in alignment. It doesn’t matter.
The only thing I know is that I would never have become a “real” writer without the other forms of publishing. Indie and self-pub are highly effective for “test marketing” new concepts, voices, and genres.
Alas, despite so many incredible benefits, I’ve been around long enough to see the long-tail. How has the digital age changed the WRITER? Some changes have been for the good. Others? Don’t bode well for our kind.
Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, full disclosure. I might have a finger pointed at y’all, but I also have THREE pointed back at myself.
Entropy is alive and well. We all slip if we fail to maintain vigilance. Excellence is tough, and can be easily mistaken for the shill…perfectionism.
A REAL Writer WRITES
Seems so simple and yet, it is the hardest part of what we do. I know social media is a powerful tool. TRUST ME, it is why I wrote a book about how to do it well.
My premise was that, if writers understood people—what makes them tick—then branding and social media is a piece of cake. Why? People don’t change.
Read Shakespeare or look up your ex if you don’t believe me.
If, however, we writers had to keep up with every time Google tooted a new algorithm, or InstaSnapFace added a gizmo? We’d burn out. Writing good books was tough enough without adding fruitless distractions.
I find it comical and depressing that in 2008 I had to BEG writers to even use email. Facebook was the devil and “nobody blogged anymore.” These days? It seems like writers contribute more word count to book spam, current events ranting, and pointless Facebook fights than to their novels.
November is the only month I can count on seeing writers actually WRITING a novel.
It’s as if we’ve caught digital ADD and have the attention spans of a fruit bat on crystal meth. With self-publishing being an ever-present option, deadlines don’t mean what they used to. Might not mean anything at all, actually.
The modern writer must be extremely self-disciplined. I’d venture to say the modern writer has to be even MORE self-disciplined than 15 years ago, because there is no agent that will drop us or publisher who’ll hand us a pink slip if we tweet more than type.
The point I want to make here is that the self-discipline required to set aside all other fun and chores to actuallyfinish a book or novel is ridiculous. Rank it up there with running a full marathon or competing in triathlons.
But too many “writers” are playing writer.
A REAL Writer Has High Standards
Years ago, when I started blogging, I was unpopular (and probably still an acquired taste). In the early years, I was hard—really hard—on writers, especially anyone who wanted to take a nontraditional path. Our work had to be as good if not BETTER than anything coming out of NYC.
Indie and self-publishing could offer us a lot of benefits, but we needed to take the new powers we’d been granted seriously. Many writers did, and that is exactly WHY these routes have thrived.
Thing is, I’ve been editing since before the Kindle was invented, and have witnessed a steady decline in the overall quality of writing. What writers deem acceptable to turn in as their best.
Case in Point
I regularly run editing specials so writers can get professional feedback on their stories. This saves time and aggravation for a number of reasons.
For instance, a writer might be fixing something that isn’t even broken (description) while ignoring serious problem areas (no plot). Or, a writer may possess talent, but be WAY too green to even consider querying let alone publishing.
The story might be nebulous when it comes to genre, or breaking genre rules in unforgivable ways.
YES, unforgivable ways (like making the love interest the main villain in a category romance). I get many folks don’t care for words like “rules” but rules exist for a reason.
RULES help us sell more books.
If we have no idea what genre our book even is, how do we sell it? How can we connect it to readers? FYI, rules also keep readers from hurling our books across the room.
Yet, the same people who grouse about rules and constraints are often the same ones complaining to me about lackluster book sales.
I’ve been running my pages contest (for comments) for ten years now. I’ve discovered no less than six writers with talent who I then connected to agents I knew (who then scored these writers contracts). I do the same sort of scouting with my editing specials.
If I see REAL talent and promise? I pass it to an agent (*makes note to ask for commission*). The problem? These days I am lucky if a writer takes time to properly punctuate. I can’t even make it to the STORY because the grammar issues alone are giving me seizures.
I can never thank all of these people enough for how much they helped ME in my developmental years. How they CONTINUE to inspire me and help me grow as a professional.
When I decided to become a “real” writer myself back in the dark ages, publishing hadn’t changed since radio shows were the hottest form of entertainment. Seriously, publishing had NOT changed in almost a century. The formula was exactly the same.
Write, query, get rejected, drink heavily, question one’s existence, and try harder. Repeat this process enough and eventually the “publishing gods” might grant favor.
I remember breathlessly waiting for the new Writers’ Digest Magazine to hit shelves and hope the magazine was covering something salient to what I wanted to learn or write. I collected dogeared magazines in binders. Gathered photocopied articles, punched holes in them and added them to my resource list.
Before Web 2.0, the only way an unpublished “aspiring writer” had a hope of connecting with the pros was to sacrifice and save money to attend a conference. The Internet wasn’t bursting with quality blogs, affordable classes, and on-line conferences or Gabriela Pereira’s amazing DIY MFA.
If we wanted to learn from professionals, the price of entry started at around $500. Unless one went for the Old School M.F.A. and that cost the same as a CAR. Yet now that it’s finally affordable and the quality is INCREDIBLE, how much do we take this treasure for granted?
Now that becoming a “published author” is so easy anyone can do it, how hungry are we to learn more about the craft? How much time and money are we investing in being better…or even the BEST writers?
Not investing in being the best at marketing or promotion, or in learning how to sell books using InstaSnapFace, but the best at telling an amazing story.
How much has Web 2.0 made us comfortable, complacent, or dare I say…lazy?
A Real Writer is ALWAYS Reading
So many of the samples I’ve received over the past two years have left me shaking my head wondering if the contributor has ever even read a book. Not only craft books but novels IN the genre they’re writing and—God help us all—the genre where they are publishing.
I get it. I’m mean and cruel.
I can live with that.
Yet, I cannot for the life of me imagine how anyone could be an avid reader and yet have NO idea how to use the most basic punctuation.
And bear with me.
I understand there are writers with learning disabilities, dyslexia, etc. and we all rely on editors for where we’re weak (and even where we’re strong). We become so immersed in a work we cannot see the forest for the trees and need fresh eyes (skilled fresh eyes).
This isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m referring to a blatant disregard for the craft.
Because in samples with poor grammar or spotty punctuation, I should at least detect a STORY if this is ONLY a result of being new. In fact I’ve run across samples where authors were weak in technical areas, but showed real promise with a strong storytelling voice.
I was willing to invest in developing these writers (and still do) because a) voice usually is a sign the person has at least inherent talent and b) and voicedemonstrates a person who might be new, but who READS.
They’re willing to honor the profession.
Though loathe to mention this, it is not uncommon for me to encounter writers who want to be mega-authors yet will loudly boast they never read books (and don’t even like reading). Brag about never reading craft books.
***So who wants to hire an attorney who brags he’s never read a law book? Just uses Google, trial and error, and is really great at advertising. No takers?
This is, in large part, why traditionally published authors suffered such horrific apoplexy in the emerging years of self-publishing. One can only take the likes of John Locke comparing books to cheap cheeseburger so many times before we SNAP.
(Granted, Locke made a sound business point—and a small fortune—and good for him and his success.)
Yet, how much has this mega-capitalization diminished novels as art? We’ve lowered the bar so low most of us no longer can see if one exists. A bar (standard) that once required heroic efforts to hurdle, now? Doesn’t even register as a speed bump.
A REAL Writer Owns It
Excuses are for hacks, poseurs and amateurs. Just so y’all know, this is what I say to myself when I hear excuses tumbling from MY lips. So I am no harder on you guys than I am on myself. I don’t serve anything I won’t eat.
Yes, life is hard and things happen. Trust me, I get it. For those who don’t know, I’ll be brief. In 2012 I had a very large (but aging) family. We had to RENT space large enough to fit us all. It’s now 2018 and I can count on one hand who’s left.
And you should have seen some of the pity parties I’ve thrown.
To be clear, I’m not minimizing. Being a caregiver for terminal loved ones is brutal. Death is painful. Losing a job can crack your world in two. Grief and loss should be acknowledged and tended with the greatest care.
But I’m all about transparency and so I’ll be honest.
I’ve often used my losses as an excuse to hide, my pain as permission to be a pessimist. I spent a long time being—feeling—completely discouraged and STUCK with no clue how to get UNSTUCK.
But I’ve learned two crucial lessons in my journey from wanna-be-amateur-know-it-all-hack to being a professional. The lessons?
1) Never underestimate the power of showing up.
2) You can’t DO THIS alone.
No, I didn’t have the answers and was hurting but I kept showing up on-line (W.A.N.A.Tribe sprints mostly). There, I had accountability. There were other writers I could encourage or who could even encourage me. I wouldn’t have made it without this strong support system.
In the meantime—in the middle of the pain—I kept reading craft books, kept reading authors in all genres, writers far more skilled than I was. Even when it felt like pulling frog’s teeth, I kept blogging, studying, kept doing SOMETHING trusting one day…I’d wriggle free.
Pain isn’t permanent and I knew one day I’d heal enough to use it. But I HAD to stay in the game, even if it meant being stationed at the @$$ end of literary left field.
Real writers make mistakes. We fail. A lot.
If you aren’t failing, it means you’re not doing anything interesting. You’re taking up space.
But, while we screw up…we OWN that we screwed up. We admit when we could have done better, then we do.
Part of being a REAL writer goes beyond never giving up. We must evolve and grow and learn and improve and that only comes with humility, hard work, and (if we have any sense) professional training. Oh, and a TON of practice. Writing stories. Finishing them.
What This ALL Means
There is nothing wrong with writing for fun, for a hobby. That’s what I do with drawing, painting, knitting and crochet.
It’s play, a release. But I’m not expecting people to buy my art or my scarves. We need to make a choice. Are we in or out? Stop griping about Amazon and algorithms and how it was so much more awesome before Amazon. Value those who are taking time and investing resources to make us better.
Roll up our sleeves and the DO THE WORK.
I believe in you guys and I know this transition in publishing has been NO cake walk. There have been times even I wanted to throw in the towel. But most of being successful in anything takes place in the mind because the mind forges the will and will is what yields results. Keep your eyes on the art and remember who you are.
You are a REAL WRITER. It’s a CHOICE.
Now go check out some of those incredible blogs I linked you to and treat yourself to some books or classes. Sure, I’d love you to take our classes (listed below and on classes page). But, if I’m not offering what fits your needs, go check out the other people I linked to. They’re the best of the best. Invest in yourself for a change.
The kids can wait 😛 .
What Are Your Thoughts?
Have you grown jaded over the past several years with the changes in publishing? Feel like it doesn’t mean much of anything to be “published writer”? Have you found yourself steadily lowering your own bar without even realizing it? All because it seems TOO MUCH? Hey, I have. No shame here.
Are you excited to get back to writing as a craft and an ART?
I love hearing from you!
What do you WIN? For the month of AUGUST, 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).
UPCOMING CLASSES! Scroll down or click over to the Classes tab.
NEW CLASS! Beta readers are crucial, but how do we find good ones…when they are pretty much as rare as unicorns? Cait is teaching a class on that TOMORROW NIGHT.
***Remember all W.A.N.A. classes come with a FREE recording included in purchase price.
Go Fish: Finding the Right Beta Readers
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Friday, August 24, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Whoever said that writing a book is a solitary job is an idiot.
It takes a village (or at the very least a Facebook group, some friends, and possibly a bottle of wine) to write a book. As writers, we need other writers…and non-writers. But, how do we find the right mix of people to support us? What do we do when they don’t? How do we communicate what we need effectively to beta readers and crit partners? And what the heck is an alpha reader?
What’s more, how do we take the feedback from beta readers and use it correctly?
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of spinning our wheels on endless edits of the draft of the first draft, to react big and badly to criticism, or to drown in the obligations of reciprocating beta reading for our seventeen new best friends and their manuscripts.
Fear not! This class is going to show you how to hunt down beta readers like big game, befriend them in a way that puts Dale Carnegie to shame, and create long-lasting, mutually-beneficial beta and crit partnerships that are so Hufflepuff/Gryffindor, it makes my Slytherin soul cringe.
This class will cover:
Wherefore art thou?: Where to find beta readers;
Alpha betas, beta betas, omega betas: The different types of beta readers, and why we need them;
Fish or cut beta: What to do when a beta reader relationship isn’t working – fix, fight, or flight?
I’m looking at the beta reader in the mirror: Are you the best beta reader you can be, and why improving your own skills will make you a better writer;
Gospel vs. grain of salt: How to balance thoughtful consideration of critique with Pavlovian instant tweaking, and why beta readers should never be the one holding the map on the hike.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
All authors need a brand, so this class teaches how to locate and cultivate your audience into passionate fans who BUY YOUR BOOKS!
How can you grow your platform and turn your name alone into a bankable asset? Not as hard as you might have been led to believe.
You DO NOT need to be a tech guru/mega-high-pressure-sales person to excel at this. In fact, best you aren’t.
Yet, the reality is that in the digital age of commerce, consumers rely on brands more than ever in human history. They’re overwhelmed and we can help them out….by finding US.
Consumers (which is code for readers) buy from who they know, like and trust. In a sea of infinite choices a powerful NAME is a tremendous asset.
Can you say “James Patterson”?
The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability and connecting with our audience is a challenge but nothing we can’t handle.
This class will address:
What is a brand? How to make one uniquely your own.
How to BE YOU! You’re a writer, not an insurance salesman!
Harness your imagination & creativity for better results (No one likes SPAM, so don’t serve it!).
How to use this information to locate, engage and cultivate an audience.
Myths about exposure.
Common scams that will wreck your brand and earning ability.
Why most promotion is a waste of money.
A list of expensive and not-so-bright ideas for reaching readers.
Knowing when and HOW to promote.
Overall this class is about working smarter not harder. This class is to teach you to think strategically so all energy is focused. Sure, we have to hustle, but why not hustle and there be an AUTHENTIC PAYDAY for all that hard work?
GOLD LEVEL AVAILABLE: This is you working with me (Kristen Lamb) for 90 minutes building, defining, refining your brand and putting together a PLAN! Time is money and professional consulting saves BOTH.
****A FREE recording is included with purchase of this class.
More Than Gore: How to Write Horror
Instructor: Kristen Lamb Price: $40.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: THURSDAY, August 30th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
Humans have always been fascinated with what scares them which is why horror fiction is a staple genre. It is also, quite possibly, the most challenging genre to write. Giant bugs and chainsaws just don’t get the screams they used to.
Blood, guts, gore and shock factor are low-hanging fruit (and always have been) and worse than that? They simply don’t have the impact they used to.
Audiences are too desensitized. This means we need to work harder to dig in and poke at what REALLY frightens/disturbs people.
Though this genre is extremely challenging to write well, there is an upside. The horror genre lends itself well to the short form (novellas and short stories).
Believe it or not, some of our staple horror movies–and the BEST horror movies—were actually adaptations of short stories and novellas (1408 by Stephen King and Hellbound Heart by Clive Barkerbeing two examples).
Meaning, if you want to go Hollywood? Hollywood loooooves horror.
In this class we will cover:
The science behind fear and why people crave it. Why fear is even healthy!
Psychology of fear, thus how to locate the pain points.
Why audiences are craving MORE horror (Yes, this actually does go in cycles).
The different types of horror fiction.
The importance of character in horror.
How horror can actually resonate much like literary fiction.
How to generate page-turning tension that will leave readers with a story they can’t stop thinking about…and that might even give them nightmares.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST
It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries… the same word can both boost and drown your book in a category (mind BLOWN, man!).
Keywords also seem to evolve every five minutes…or are we the one evolving, like a butterfly having a dream of SEO (trippy, dude!)? Like gravity and Jane Fonda’s hair in ‘Barbarella,’ the popular rules for using keywords value over-inflation and the slavish following of fads.
But, like Talbot’s tweed and mother’s pearls, certain marketing strategies and techniques are enduring classics that stand the test of time. They’re not flashy like bellbottoms, nor do they yield dramatic overnight results like ironing your hair. Yet, ignore trends, and we risk getting left behind…kind of like buying electric typewriter ribbon because that whole ‘computer word processing’ thing will never take off.
This class won’t just help you turn on, tune in, and drop out of the keyword rat race. We’ll also cover:
Fully body contact SEO: when and where to use keywords, and what publishers know that you don’t;
Fantastic keywords and where to find them: which websites, lists, search engines, and Magic 8 Balls yield the best keyword research results;
Mix and match like a Parisienne: no, seriously, how to mix consistent ‘classic’ keywords with the latest trends like a Frenchwoman wears a crisp white shirt with this season’s Hermes scarf;
Same bat genre, same bat book, different bat keywords?: learn the differences between keywords for ebooks, print, and audio;
And so much more!
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST
Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.
It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’
But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?
This class will cover:
Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction
Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST
It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.
It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.
But, what do we do when…
Our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?
How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.
This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.
This class will cover:
Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
And so much more!!!
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction
Instructor: Kristen Lamb Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.
Basically, all the weird stuff.
Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.
In this class we will cover:
Discovering the core human story problem.
How to plot these unique genres.
Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.
***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle
Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!) Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.
Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazineas one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.
Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.
Call me cocky for even weighing in on this issue (at your own peril). But, seriously, folks. It’s rare to run across something so epically wrong AND foolish and…ironically, cocky. As an author branding expert, I’d be remiss NOT to say something about Cockygate (though I seriously hate having to).
Yes, folks, it’s a real thing. A subject—cocky—we’ll touch on today (with gloves).
I’ve dedicated over ten years, three branding books and close to thirteen hundred blogs to help my fellow authors. Why? Because this job is brutal. We take crap from countless vectors.
For instance, even though our culture spends the lion’s share of their disposable income (and free time) consuming entertainment…apparently creating this entertainment is not a ‘real job.’
Writers are often paid last and the least (if at all) even in legacy publishing…which is why we need agents. Regardless of pedigree, most writers write for love not money (though we universally agree money is AWESOME).
Why I’m Cocky Enough to Care
I didn’t set out to become a branding expert or blogger, but I tend to have a crusader personality. Which is why my coauthor mocks me and calls me a Griffendork. And I’m cool with this because I know what it feels like to have the world against you and feel (or even actually BE) all alone.
When we step out to become novelists, it’s normal to get pushback. When I announced I was leaving sales to become a writer, my family made the natural assumption I was joining a cult.
Then didn’t talk to me for two years.
Writers deal with a lot of BS, so I’ve spent YEARS stepping into protect other authors from said BS (especially the newbies). Like a fluffy middle-aged superhero, with yoga pants covered in cat fur.
When one adds up the BS from Goodreads trolls, regular trolls, sockpuppets, algorithm scams, piracy, plagiarism, and ‘reviewers’ who fail to appreciate there might be an ACTUAL HUMAN WITH FEELINGS on the other side of the review, you know what you have?
Enough stress to turn Tommy Chong into a cutter.
Then there’s the rampant (and unrepentant exploitation) from MEGA MEDIA BRANDS all using the ‘Exposure Dollar Ponzi Scam’ to rake in millions using creatives as free labor and yeah….
I’ve had a full dance card.
Writers are incredibly brave. They willingly endure an incredible amount of cruelty and sacrifice time and their own money to do what? To entertain. To ideally make some stranger’s day just a bit better. That’s a hell of a noble goal.
And this is precisely why I’m so rabidly protective.
In fact, I am so protective of my fellow authors, I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and stop this author, explain to her how branding really works so I might have saved her from herself. This gal wrote and published seventeen novellas in two years. That’s a hell of a work ethic and there’s a lot about that to be admired.
It’s just the next part that puts me in a weird position.
While I do possess a modicum of compassion for this singular author, her ill-conceived and poorly thought out actions have done untold damage to countless others. Damage that will take months to even fully realize.
And, FYI, for anyone who thinks I’m mean? Calling out a dirtbag move, mocking what deserves mocking, and using a$$hattery as a cautionary tale is not ‘trolling.’
Kind of like when those Olympic swimmers in Brazil claimed to have been robbed and held at gunpoint? Only for us to find out they were piss drunk (literally) and vandalizing a store? And that the ‘evil men with guns’ were not robbers, rather security guards and police?
When the public openly denounced this behavior?
Anyone who threatens legal action to confiscate honestly earned royalties from innocent authors doesn’t get the victim card, any more than a drunk Olympian urinating all over a gas station then filing a false police report does.
But I’ll give the Spark Notes of the scandal we never thought we’d see, let alone be discussing.
In a nutshell, indie author Faleena Hopkins trademarked the word ‘cocky.’ Yes, a word commonly used since the 16th century. A word very commonly used in the romance genre.
This might not have been a big deal, except the author then used her newfound power to threaten and bully fellow authors who’d used ‘Cocky’ in their titles.
I WISH I Were Joking
To make this worse (if it could be worse) Ms. Hopkins took it upon herself to personally e-mail her competition with her ‘reasonable’ demands and spell out the legal consequences for those who failed to comply.
How benevolent! Makes me all misty-eyed. Wait, no…not seeing mist. Seeing more like…red?
To threaten to sue, forcibly take another author’s hard-earned royalties and also make said target PAY for being screwed…then follow it with how seriously you take your victim’s hard work?
What’s next? Car-jackers demanding gas-money in polite thank you cards? Hand-delivered by large ex-cons with tire-irons and a thing for breaking kneecaps?’
Ms. Hopkins isn’t the first person to NOT ‘get’ how the whole trademark thing works. We can pay and apply to own the trademark on pretty much any word. If you want to own the word ‘snollygoster’ because it’s a super fun word that should be used more often and this word makes you (okay, me) laugh every…single…freaking…time?
Knock yourself out. You just kind of can’t do anything with it other than maybe brag you own the word snollygoster.
If memory serves me from when I applied for a trademark, you fill out a bunch of forms, wait ninety days and if no entity, person, organization raises a fuss and files to contest? TM granted!
In fact, one might imagine the aforementioned attorney name-dropped in the threatening letter could be rather miffed with how this Cocky TM has played out (though this is total supposition on my part).
One can hire an attorney to TM a word. Since attorneys like money, they go, ‘Um, okay. Cocky? Sure you don’t want to own snollygoster?’
Then they file the paperwork and make their money. Done.
Could be wrong, but I’m fairly sure this firm never anticipated anyone weaponizing the word ‘cocky.’ Or using their name and BRAND to do it. I have no way to know for sure. But logic dictates this firm didn’t consent to being the brute squad used to terrify honest hard-working writers into dismantling their livelihoods out of fear.
*makes weird ‘pondering’ face*
Never seen a law firm rufied.
Well, Cockygate is proving there is a first for everything.
Then since the Federal Trademark Office and Amazon have an act-first-then-sort-this-crap-out-later policy, they’ve also been rufied/weaponized. I can’t imagine the FTO or Amazon being very thrilled with being wielded to kill off competition for one author’s personal gain.
Oh to be a fly on the wall….
But I OWN ‘COCKY’, and here is my TRADEMARK!
Hmm, yeah owning the trademark for a word doesn’t mean as much as this author apparently hoped (mainly because there are no permanent legal teams in place defending every word in the dictionary against BS trademarking for profit).
See, if writers (or anyone else for that matter) could rampantly trademark common words then sue anyone who used the words they ‘owned’ and take their money by force? Publishing would pretty much implode.
Besides, if this sort of plan worked? Go big or go home! If making money by ‘owning’ words were a legit business plan, I’d totally TM all conjunctions…and y’all just lost ALL FUNCTION 😛 .
But I wouldn’t do that, namely because that would be a jerk move and also, one only has to war-game this out about three steps to see it wouldn’t ever work. To be certain though, I consulted MY attorney.
Hey, Mr. Eight, can I go TM all the conjunctions? Then sue anyone using compound sentences?
Mr. Magic Eight Ball Esq. gives pretty amazing legal advice.
But It’s NO BIG DEAL
This author, instead of backing off and apologizing, keeps insisting this is no big deal. Yes, but it IS. It is a VERY, VERY BIG DEAL for all authors (which is why I’m talking about this).
As an author who’s self-published two out of five books, myself, I was astonished that someone who’s self-published seventeen titles would claimthese changes are no big deal.
Just get a new cover *hair flip*.
Seriously? Covers can run hundreds of dollars. The authors would need a cover for paperback AND e-book. Then you need whole new ISBNs (not cheap). You’d have to trash any inventory, swag, ads, promotions and pull and then pay to reproduce any audio books.
If this is a SERIES with ‘cocky’ the costs of Ms. Hopkin’s ‘minor’ changes just made ME want to cry…and I don’t even write romance.
And demanding these changes literally right before CONFERENCE SEASON?
*breathes in paper bag*
The ripple effect of Ms. Hopkins’ demands are way bigger than what little I just laid out. For the aerial view of the Cockygate devastation, go read Jenny Trout’s post for the full run-down of what Faleena keeps asserting is ‘no big deal.’
As a wise man once said,“You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”
She keeps insisting no authors are being harmed, because retitling only takes ONE day.
*bangs head on table*
You know what else takes one day? Tanking a brand. Where’s a Hot Tub Time Machine when you need one?
Part of why I’ve worked my tail off to create author communities is so we can support each other, give advice, and even act as designated drivers…only for dumb@$$ ideas. Instead of taking away car keys, we lovingly mock our friend’s stupid plan until this friend wizens up.
Which is why I don’t own a full-sized trebuchet.
My writer friends all know me. Which means they also know I’m highly unlikely to use that power for good.
Being part of a group of fellow authors who care has benefits. They’ll do anything short of break the law (or break the law without getting caught) to save us from evil bright idea fairies. Educated, loving groups could’ve explained how it’s simple to protect a brand…without nuking it from orbit.
Beyond the Social Media Mess
Anyone who uses the FTO and Amazon to kneecap competition, has more than social media backlash to contend with. Authors guilty of nothing more than using an extremely common word in their romance titles are now embroiled in a legal nightmare, some possibly facing financial ruin.
Yep, that’s gonna come back to bite.
This ‘Cocky’ plan also has awoken RWA to take legal action and protect innocents caught in the cocky cross-fire. I could almost hear the collective voices of romance authors crying, Release the Kraken!
*backs away slowly*
Making a Cocky Contribution
I find it vastly amusing that Switzerland has spent roughly thirty years and $6.5 billon for what? To build the Large Hadron Collider. The goal of the LHC? Possibly create a small black hole.
Just a teensy singularity.
CERN has long been searching for ‘The God Particle.’ They also longed to be the first to create a spot of infinite density here…on Earth. In a bizarre twist, more than a few misguided authors have already done this. One can look HERE, HERE, and DEFINITELY HERE.
Multiple black holes.
***No Hadron Collider required.
Granted, these authors didn’t create ‘The God Particle,’ only the slightly-less-sexy-and-yet-far-more-perplexing ‘I Think I’m God Particle.’ The bugger of all this, was how preventable all these incidents were.
Count the Cost
It really pains me this is even a discussion, but is what it is. I know, some discussions we never thought we’d need, like why teenagers shouldn’t eat Tide Pods.
Trust me, I was hesitant to even weigh in on this issue but crucial conversations are called crucial for a reason. Not all writers have been around since AoL was cool, and may be unaware that, in the social media age, branding has evolved. Sometimes it can feel like juggling nitroglycerine.
Or maybe just this post feels like that.
Suffice to say, there are a lot of ‘things’ we writers CAN do, just it’s wise to stop and ask if we should. Better still, ask other friends who are unafraid to lovingly call us an idiot. Writers, overall, are some of the most helpful, selfless, and supportive friends we can make.
Which might explain why we can go a tad psycho when one of our own crosses what should be an obvious LINE. You know, like setting a legal precedent that could collapse our entire industry faster than Kanye West’s fashion line.
My heart goes out to authors impacted by this…this….I don’t even know what to call it. If there’s any way I can help, I’d be happy to do what I can.
For those romance authors who’ve been cocky-blocked? We are on your side and rooting for you. You shall prevail!
What Are Your Thoughts?
Other than most common thoughts like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ ‘Is this for real?’ ‘Can people DO this?’ Though, you know? Feel free.
I do love hearing from you because it’s how I learn and grow as well.
Meanwhile, I’m going to go do something productive, like work on my comedic screenplay about a struggling male exotic dancer who ‘loses his shirt’ and determines to win back his fortunes by becoming a professional boxer.
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
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
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
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…
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 noveltotally 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
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
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 😀 .
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.
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.
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 😉 .
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).
What is a brand? A platform? Why do we need one? How do we get one? Better still how can we create a brand with the power of driving book sales and still have time left to do THE most important part of our job? Writing more books.
This book demystifies branding and social media and harnesses the same passion and imagination we authors use to write books, then uses that to locate and cultivate a devoted fan base. The methods taught in this book can weather any technological upheaval, and is virtually fad-proof. The new cool social site might change, but your platform will remain.