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The Common Traits of the Successful Writer #Nanowrimo

It’s not normal to sit alone and write 100,000 words.  So let’s get that out of the way.  You aren’t normal.  You aren’t in the bell curve and you aren’t necessarily on the good side of the curve.  You’re cursed.  You write because you have to.  You will have to go the therapy.  Sorry.  That’s the reality of being a writer. It’s that simple.

If you desire to write a novel because you want to have a bestseller and make a bundle of money, my advice for you is to play the lottery; it will take much less time and your odds will be about the same, if not better, and I can guarantee that the work involved will be much less.  The publishing business makes little sense and it’s changing faster than ever before.  However, I do believe that the more you know, the greater your chances of success.  The vast majority of writers are flailing away at the craft and the business blindly.  Armed with knowledge, you greatly increase your ability to rise above the rest.

You write for you.  You write because you have a story in you that has to come out.  This is the core of the art of writing.  Pearl Buck said:

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:  a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.  To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.  Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create– so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him.  He must create, must pour out his creation.  By some strange, unknown, inward urgency, he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

I believe that passion, which fuels long-term perseverance to be the single most important factor I also believe that too much discussion on the topic of creativity can actually stifle the drive in some people.  They start thinking that they have to do and think exactly like everyone else in order to succeed and that is not true.  That is why I say that there are no absolutes, no hard and fast rules in writing.  Follow your path.

I have listened to many writers speak, read many books on writing, and while much of what they say is the same, there is often something that is very different.  Usually that different thing is part of their creative expression, the way they approach their writing.  However, on a core level, I think most creative people operate in a similar manner.

I see people who do #nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) where they try to write a certain number of words each day, every day and I have two views of that:  it’s good they are getting words down.  But are they the type of writer who works that way?  I know writers who don’t write every day, but work in creative bursts.  They might not write for a week, then knock out 20,000 words in three days.  #nanowrimo doesn’t work for them.  Stephen King says he write 10 pages a day.  That’s great for him.  Does it work for you?

Additionally, that is what he says Does he actually do it?  Probably, but maybe not.  He’s the only one who knows the truth.  Most writers feel a subliminal degree of guilt over getting paid to sit at home and create stories.  So sometimes we says things to make it more apparent that we ‘work’.  Because it’s hard to explain how hard it is to simply be sitting still, doing nothing, while we develop blinding headaches trying to work our way through our plot while remaining true to our characters.  So we use things like word count and page count instead, even if they aren’t true.

Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer

When I discuss how to write a novel in The Novel Writers Toolkit, I talk a lot about the craft of novel writing.  The art is woven into the craft with deeper insights and when you take craft and twist it by breaking rules.  But the first rule of rule breaking is to know the rule.  Thus we must learn craft before we look to art.

Craft is the intellectual aspect of writing.  The art is the emotional aspect.  A great writer engages both the reader’s thoughts and emotions, thus being both a good craftsmen and a good artist.

One of the paradoxes of writing, and something to keep in mind when listening to people talk about writing:  They present techniques, ideas and formats that are the “accepted” way of doing things; yet the “accepted” way makes you the same as everyone else who can read a writing book and follow instructions, and your work has to stand out from everyone else’s.  So how do you do that?  How do you do things the “right” way yet be different?

Everything is a template; do not allow anything to stifle your creativity.  Remember the paradox.  The best analogy I can come up with is that if you were a painter I am telling you about the paint and the canvas and lighting and perspective, but ultimately you are the one who has to decide what you are going to paint and how to paint it.

Another thing is to understand the techniques and methods, and then use your brilliance to figure out a way to change the technique or method to overcome problems and roadblocks.  To be original– an artist– with something that’s already been done.  Also to mix techniques and methods in innovative ways.

The Basics

  1. Write a lot.
  2. Before writing a lot, be a voracious reader.
  3. I also am a big fan of watching a lot of movies and TV specials and series.  There are writers who dismiss the television, but there are great writers putting out excellent product in that medium.  And we all can learn from any artistic medium.  Watching a different medium can also allow you to see new ways of looking at your writing.
  4. Learn the proper way to do business things in the world of publishing such as having a strategic plan for your career, which is covered under my Write It Forward program and book.

How do you approach writing?  Do you do a daily word count like Nanowrimo or do you write in bursts?  Do you think watching TV is good or bad for you as a writer?

Can you say what your book is about in 25 words or less? The Write It Forward Workshop: Conflict and Idea, we’ll discuss ways to find and state your original idea so that you can stay on course while writing and revising your book. Conflict drives your story and must escalate throughout your entire novel. One of the techniques we will use in this workshop is the Conflict Box. The Conflict Box is a way of diagraming conflict and allows you to focus on the protagonist, antagonist, their goals and finding out if you have the necessary conflict. The course will begin on 1 February and is done on-line in a Yahoo Loop email delivery system so you can read and work on lessons when its convenient for you. The course runs for one month and costs $50.00. For more details and to sign up go to the Cool Gus Website.

Author Branding: Rituals, Pagans and Conferences…Oh My!

Rituals:

There isn’t much to say about rituals other than they are repeated meaningful interactions you have with your readers. It starts with the promise you made to your readers when you published your first book, since that is generally the first introduction your readers have into your world.

It used to be the author ritual consisted of a few media interactions during release, a book tour, book signings and then disappears to write the next bestseller. Today’s author can’t afford to shut down and shut off.

Meanwhile, Bob is heading “down the hall” to his writing office where there is no Internet. The difference is he’s not shutting down for months on end. He knows the new rituals of the digital author have to be fulfilled pretty much on a daily basis, but the most important ritual for the author is still CONTENT: the book.

You can look at the Area 51 as a ritual. Why? Because Bob’s readers are chomping at the bit to get the next installment. We constantly get emails asking if there will be more in this series (as well as other series). Of course, Bob responded with Nightstalkers (and oh boy is this one good!)

All this branding stuff I’m throwing out here is very important to long-term success, but nothing is more important than writing the book. You don’t create rituals and relationships with readers without a book. You can’t create a brand without a product: the book.

Pagans:

Or Non-believers. Pagans come in various sizes and shapes. Pagans are often your competition, so not necessarily an adversary, but simply another product. Coke versus Pepsi. The Buffalo Sabres versus Boston Bruins. Nora Roberts versus Jen Talty. Okay, the last one is a stretch, but you get the point.

The reason why Pagans of this variety are important is they help define who we are. 7-Up became the un-cola. Wendy’s asked “where’s the beef?” and Taco Bell told us to “think outside the bun.” But first you have to figure out who your non-believers are and then you can focus on those who might be believers. People who have to have their Starbucks every morning are not the same personality type as those who drink instant coffee. People who prefer to read Stephen King are probably not going to enjoy a Jen Talty romantic suspense novel…ah, but perhaps a Nora Roberts fan might.

Defining what you are not is just as important as defining what you are.

Once you do that you can learn to take with a grain of salt someone who hates your book for the simple reason it wasn’t their brand of coffee. They are not your readership and therefore the repeated meaningful ritual will not actually be repeated and that’s okay, focus on where those rituals will be repeated.

Conferences…on my…

I’m heading to the Romance Writer’s of America New England Chapter Conference; Let Your Imagination Take Flight where I will be presenting a workshop on how to get the most out of your conference experience and tips on pitching. This was the very first conference I ever attended and I believe it was the very first time Bob and I meet. Well, I had heard him speak before, but this was the first time I had a conversation with him, so I find it very fitting that I’m giving this workshop at this conference.  I also just registered for BEA in June and Bob and I have already begun our planning for what my goals will be at this conference. Planning is key to making a conference more than a success, but an experience.

Conferences are important rituals to the writer’s life because they put us with a group of people who actually understand.

I’m also really looking forward to this conference because my good friend Dena De Paulo’s debut novella Painted with Pleasure is a finalist in the Bean Pot Readers Contest. The only negative is Dena is making me wear a Tiara. Don’t ask. But I’m so excited for her. This being her first book and all. Validation is important, whether we want to admit it or not and I’m honored to be there for one of the nicest women I have ever met.

Write It Forward

Carving out your niche and becoming THE brand

Wow. It’s hard to believe that I have been working at WDWPUB now for two years. Not only that, but we’ve already meet our 3 year business plan and are currently rewriting next year’s plan, three years from now and five years from now. Planning is a key ingredient to success. Everything we have done we have done for a reason and our main mission is the still the same. Write quality books that readers can enjoy at a low cost. We can write great books (content is king) but if no one downloads them (promotion is queen) have we really met our goals? Putting your books up for sale at a fair price is one marketing tool. Social media is another. Getting reviews, still another. Blogging? Another form of getting the “word out there”. It’s all a part of this thing called branding. But its only one part and recently I read Primalbranding by Patrick Hanlon and its got me thinking about a lot of things.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.” To boil that down, basically your brand is the promise you are making to your customers. Hey, if you go with Gieco, they will save you 15% on your car insurance, but if you go with All State, you are in good hands. Each company is a household name and depending on which one of these slogans you identify with will dictate which company you are likely to call upon when in need of insurance.

I’ve spent this week working with a new WDWPUB author, Mary Reed McCall and trying to get her cover just right for the re-release of one of her backlist books. We are at the 24th cover design. We know the color background, lettering, and female image, but are still tweaking the male image and placement of the all the images. However, the one thing we are in total agreement with is branding the look and feel of her books. The background vintage image in different colors will key as well as using the same type of lettering. When I created the covers for We Are Not Alone and Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer I worked very hard to make sure the two covers were similar as to pull the brand Kristen has been working on.

We worked hard in branding the Area 51 books, giving them all a different look, but making sure there was the same basic layout and feel so that the reader could see these books were part of a series. The more books an author has, the harder it becomes partly because you don’t want them to all look and feel the same. It gets even harder when the author writes in various genres, like Bob does. We had to try to make sure in a small way the science fiction books were tied together as well as the thrillers, so when we came up with the Jefferson Allegiance Concept the idea was to bring history and present day together. The next book in the series will have to fit that bill. The next book in the DHC series will also have to have a similar look and feel. All of his books have one common thread–they are based in facts. This all helps brand Bob Mayer as the author who writes factual fiction. No offense to the best business partner ever, but Bob Mayer is not a ‘brand name’. He is a brand and is doing all the necessary things to become a ‘brand name’, but still, not a household name.

But these are all just bits and pieces of what goes into creating a brand and for the past couple of years we have been working on creating the Bob Mayer brand. There is a philosophy that because Bob wrote in so many genres he did himself a great disservice. I say ba-hum-bug to that. He writes factual fiction rich in history regardless of genre. So how does one go from being just another author who writes legal thrillers to…John Grishm THE author who writes legal thrillers. Well, you have to wait until he dies…

Actually, that is not far from the truth. For the big household names there is only so much room at the top. Not everyone can be Stephen King. With all that said, personal branding can be accomplished. Going viral is possible. Stephanie Meyer isn’t THE author who writes Vampires, but she is THE author who writes the Twilight series. Bob Mayer isn’t the author who writes thrillers, he’s THE author who writes factual based thrillers and he’s THE author we need to get to know.

WRITE IT FORWARD

Bob and I will be teaching a 6 week on-line workshop on how to successfully self-publish starting 1 November. The class is $30 and we will cover all the aspects of self-publishing that we have learned over the last two years. Check out the details here.

 

Guest Blogger Kristen Lamb: Building Author Brand

In March Kristen Lamb will be teaching a course at Write It Forward Workshops: Building Author Brand. This is a sample of the kind of information you can look forward to from the course.

For complete course listing please visit our website.

Welcome Kristen Lamb:

Hello, my name is Kristen Lamb, author of the best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I must say that we live in exciting times. This is the Age of the Writer. If we are willing to work really hard and embrace the advantages technology offers, the sky is the limit how far we can go. Starting March 1st, I will be teaching a Write It Forward workshop designed to help you create an image, build a solid platform to support and grow that image, and all in minimal time.

Hey, you guys have books to write. You don’t have all day for marketing.

Oh, wait. Maybe you don’t think social media is for you. You don’t even have a book finished, why would you need a fan page? Maybe you want to wait until you have an agent before starting all this social media stuff. Maybe Twitter makes no sense and blogs are the cousing of that creature from the Black Lagoon. I hear ya.

All right. Let’s talk about this. If I haven’t convinced you to take my workshop (or at least get my book) by the end of this post, then you are one brave cookie and may the Force be with you.

Why do I say this? *rubs palms vigorously*  Let me explain.

There are a lot of writers out there who believe they are playing it safe. Don’t think I don’t see you. You want to wait until you get an agent to begin blogging and building a platform. The idea of using your name or having a fan page makes you uncomfortable, and you have no idea how to promote when you don’t even have a finished book.

I have some tough news to tell you. You aren’t playing it safe at all. You are gambling with your future. Not even gambling. You’re playing craps, which is high-risk gambling.

It’s okay. Breathe. It’s a common and easy mistake. I know you are hesitant, and I am here to help you out. We are going to walk you through some guaranteed ways to lay the groundwork for a successful writing career, but first we need to recalibrate your brain. This might sting a little.

Look into my eyes. You are no longer a hobbyist who enjoys writing. You are a professional author, and certain duties go in the job description (yes, even if you don’t yet have a finished book).

I am going to let you in on a little secret—you do not have to be published to be considered a professional author. You don’t even have to be finished with your novel to be considered a professional author. All you have to do is decide…then do.

You are a professional author the second you proclaim it to be. Now, when you take on certain habits, one day (hopefully in the near future) you will become a successful professional author. We will talk about those habits in a minute.

Brain hurting? Okay. Work with me. Envision you were born to cook. You knew it from the time you were four years old and tried to make scrambled eggs with your mother’s waffle iron. You are only happy when you are cooking and creating new dishes.

You are also a chef by trade, and since you want to make a living doing what you love, you decide to open your own restaurant. The day you take out a business loan to open Le Awesome French Food you are officially a chef-restaurant-owner. The entire time that Le Awesome French Food’s building is under construction, you are still a chef-restaurant-owner. The restaurant doesn’t have to be open and serving quiche for you to be a chef-restaurant-owner. BUT, once that restaurant opens, your habits and the work you did ahead of time (*cough* marketing…um, perfecting recipes, not spending the loan money on women and cheap liquor) will determine whether you will be a successful chef-restaurant-owner or just another flopped restaurant idea.

Even though cooking is your passion, and the CORE of Le Awesome French Food, you will have to do the un-fun things like accounting, promotion, and marketing…until you make enough profit to outsource.

Okay…back to the world of publishing. You are a professional writer. Remember that. Write it on a Post-It backwards and stick it to your forehead so you can see this when you go to the bathroom. Kidding!

Building a social media platform before you are published is smart. It is professional. It is way more professional than throwing caution to the wind and hoping blind random luck will make your book soar up the best-selling list. This isn’t Vegas. This is your future. Assuming you want a writing career, you need to be smart.

Building a platform isn’t ego or hubris, and anyone who tells you that doesn’t understand the industry. And it really doesn’t matter if you are unpublished. In fact, you have an edge simply because you don’t have anything to sell. You will find it easier to be genuine. And yeah, I am really sorry that this is more work to do, but there are a lot of reasons this career isn’t for everyone.

Just think of it this way. If you work you a$$ off now, you stand a better shot of having a legion of interns doing this crap for you in the future. It’s an investment. Wise people invest. Fools gamble.

The largest majority of book sales (roughly 80%) happen via word of mouth. This is why only a fraction of writers sell the most books. Brands sell books. People know Stephen King and Stephenie Meyers and Amy Tan and…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Kristen. You have told us this crap until we are blue! Brands! Got it! Sheesh!

Maybe some of you, but I can see others, and you aren’t too sure. You hide behind cutesy monikers and blog titles and use pseudonyms so you can keep your writing life secret (from all those people who don’t know how to use the Internet, because anyone with google and a half a brain can find you, but I digress…). I am seeing a glazed look and your palms are getting kind of sweaty when I mention the words fan page.

Repeat after me. I am a professional author. I am a professional author. I am a professional author.

Because here is the bag of dog poo slapped across the face. If we don’t stand up and claim professional status then all we are is gaggle of wanna-be hack hobbyists. Either choose the path of the professional, or forget about an agent and just write for fun. You will save a lot of therapy this way.

So for those of you interested in succeeding at this “writing” thing, read on.

An agent isn’t the end of the game. Getting an agent is one step in a very large chess match. Great, you knocked off one pawn. No shouting Check Mate! yet. There is a lot of game to go. Your agent, should you land one, still has to sell that book to a publishing house. That publishing house then needs to sell so many copies of your book. Don’t sell enough copies, and it isn’t likely a publishing house will gamble on a losing horse twice. (Self-publishing/indie publishing isn’t a panacea and requires a MUCH larger platform…so no loopholes here).

How do you start looking like a wise investment? You build a platform. Your query letter is your business proposal.

Writers are essentially a small business. Sorry to burst the bubble that you can type on your Mac and get an agent and then your biggest concern will be where to buy your mansion—Malibu or Martha’s Vineyard? Yep, Santa isn’t real either. Sorry. I was bummed, too.

To be a successful writer we must lay a plan for success. We cannot control if vampires are hot or passé. We cannot control if people are reading more or less.  We cannot control if e-books will take over and NY will implode in the process. We can control TWO things. Two things, Kiddies.

Product & Platform

This is why I bust my tuchus blogging and suffering for you. I have enough suffering to go around. I am a writer, and my mother is from NY. I know all about guilt. Trust me, I am verklempt most of the time.

We can control product. Write a great book. Ah but we can also control building a platform which is MY workshop. In fact, with the changing paradigm of publishing, here is the truth…we are responsible for building this platform. NY ain’t going to do it for us. A lot of your work (like our chef friend) will be to build your reputation. Look at it this way, social media gives your brain a break, and you can be doing something productive that serves your career.

Agents are taking fewer clients and publishing houses are backing fewer titles. Why? Because they are in the business of making money, so they are playing it safe by banking on known commodities. Who can really blame them? When it comes to taking on new blood, these guys are looking for good bets. Here’s a little illustration to make my point.

If given the choice between three unpublished writers, who do you think they will choose?

Creative Caroline wanted to solely focus on the writing. She felt the Internet was a distraction and only blogged every few weeks when she felt especially inspired. Most of her posts were about her own writing journey with little thought given to serving a reading audience. The total hits on her blog are nothing to write home about. Most of her comments are spam, because she forgets to go in and delete those nice comments from the Chinese Aromatherapy Cheap Handbags Cheap Zanex site. There are no comments, so no proof of a vested, reading audience. Caroline feels it is just too confusing to do Twitter, and thinks FB Fan Pages are just tacky. She does have a Facebook page, but the security is locked down so tightly the Pentagon calls her for pointers.

Creative Caroline is a really brilliant writer, and her manuscript is excellent, but the only people who know about her as an author or her book are people in her immediate family, friends and writing group. So if every person Caroline knew bought a book, she might sell 200 books (and that is being generous). When Theoretical Agent googles her name, Caroline is nowhere to be found until page three. And, when Theoretical Agent finally finds Caroline’s blog—Mystic Writer Star Dreams—the agent quickly sees that it hasn’t been updated since this past summer.

Ouch.

Networking Ned doesn’t have time to read books on his craft or even polish his manuscript. He thinks his marketing is so great that it doesn’t matter. He spends hours “friending” people on all the major sites. He knows nothing about anyone, but spams them non-stop offering free downloads of his up-and-coming book. He doesn’t genuinely interact with anyone on Twitter, he sends auto-tweets…about himself, his blog, and his book. He relies on auto-follow messages instead of taking the time to type a genuine five-word message. Ned has no time to be genuine, he is too busy thinking only of himself. Networking Ned has a heck of a “platform” to put in his query letter, but the agent can tell in ten pages that Ned doesn’t know the fundamentals of his craft. The book, to be blunt…sucks.

Prudent Polly was overwhelmed by the publishing industry, but she noted all the e-readers and PDAs and figured that the Internet wasn’t going away, so she needed to understand it. She sought out resources to help her use social media effectively, because she read in mega-super-literary-agent Donald Mass’s Writing the Breakout Novel that marketing dollars didn’t make a difference—good writing & word of mouth sold the most books. Word of mouth and good writing even had the power to launch nobodies into the best-selling list.

Polly saw pretty quickly that she didn’t have it in her to be on every single social media site, so in addition to the FB page she’s had since college, Polly added in blogging and Twitter.

Since Polly blogs three times a week, every week, people have had time to get to know her and like her voice. They also take her seriously as a writer, because she acts like a professional writer. Polly’s blog over the course of the year she has been posting has grown to where she has hits in the thousands. Last month her blog hits were 12,000 and climbing.

Polly was careful to make sure she was also learning about craft. In fact she networked with other bloggers who were blogging on craft, and she used their insight to write a truly excellent manuscript. Ah, but Polly knows that she has solid writing to offer…and also a blog following in the thousands. She also has had time to befriend other bloggers with followings even larger than hers…and since they like her, they have agreed to help her promote once her book is released.

An agent can google Polly Prepared and see her name commands most of the first page. Additionally, they can pop by her site and see Polly has a regular following, because she has skads of interaction in her comments. There is a genuine dialogue with READERS! Agents dig that. They know it makes their job selling Polly’s manuscript to an editor WAY easier.

Polly also has a large platform…and that platform gives her career options. She can indie publish that manuscript and make money off of it until NY comes calling. And when NY makes that call because she is selling scads of books, Polly will have options. She doesn’t have to rely on NY to make her writing career.

But, in the interim, any agent that crosses Polly’s path can clearly see a writer who can write, and can promote because her marketing reach extends….exponentially.

Who looks like the best bet?

Feel free to ignore Ned. Most everyone else does.

Creative Caroline might get an agent. She might even be successful, but she doesn’t look like a good bet. Why? No one knows her. She didn’t lay the groundwork for her fan base, and she is starting from Ground Zero. She will be half-crazy trying to build a platform and market so the first book doesn’t fail, and this takes time away from writing her future books. That, and to be honest, there are too many other writers just as talented who come with a ready-made platform.

Also, Caroline better hope she gets an agent and a book deal because she has severely limited her options by not building a platform. Writing a great book is no longer the only objective.

It’s sort of like thirty years ago, if you had a four-year degree, you could write your ticket to success. Now? That four-year degree might keep you from serving fries for a living…or not.

I know you guys are wise people…you read Bob’s blog :D. Seriously. You are professional writers. You have to own it, name it and claim it. If your family gives you a hard time, send them to this blog. And if they still give you a hard time, threaten to make them a character in your novel.

Okay, so I hope you guys are PUMPED UP and ready to totally own this writing thing. I am stoked about helping you guys be 5%ers, the top of the heap, the Big Kahunas of the writing world. Sign up for my workshop…now. $20 can save you from ending up on your roof with a shotgun and chocolate cake.

I am here to save you guys time. Hey, I made all the dumb mistakes so you don’t have to.

In the meantime, share your fears, your triumphs, your recipe for a margarita that’s 110% alcohol. I dig hearing from you. Let’s me know you are still alive and I haven’t given you a stroke :D. I look forward to seeing you guys in March.

Happy writing!

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