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Patience And Self-Discipline

It takes a long time to write a novel. No matter how fast you are, it takes a while. In fact, while some things like NANOWRIMO has people writing at a furious pace for a month and is a good way to get the writing down, it is also negative in that quantity is not necessarily quality.

The amount of time I spend writing a novel has actually increased the more I learn about the craft. Rather than making it easier, more knowledge makes it more difficult to write, as I try to make the book the best possible product I can.

Writers are often asked what their daily schedule is. I think it’s important to have the discipline to have a daily schedule and/or goal. It’s too easy to let the writing go and take care of everything else if you don’t force yourself to face that daily goal.

It’s different for many writers but here are some from writers I know:

5 pages a day; 2,000 words a day; 10 pages a day; six hours a day.

I think an external goal that can be measured is the best to go for. It’s a tangible goal and you know when you’ve accomplished it.

Beyond that tangible writing goal, I work seven days a week, anywhere from eight to fourteen hours a day. It’s hard for me to say how many hours a day I work because I am almost always ‘working’. If I’m not sitting in front of my computer, I’m researching or watching the news for interesting facts or simply thinking about my story, playing it out in my mind, watching my characters come alive. I have many of my best plot ideas while driving or riding my bike. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, which is why I have my iPhone with recorder next to my bed ready for instant use.

My cable bill is very high, with every channel, on-demand, and DVR. There are writers who say ‘kill your television’ but I disagree with that. There’s some very good writing in that medium. I watch movies and shows the same way I read books: analytically to see what the writers did and also what were the possibilities that weren’t explored. The #1 thing a writer must do other than write is read and watch movies and shows. It is work. It will take away some of your enjoyment of things as you can get good at predicting what will happen next under Chekhov’s rule of ‘don’t have a gun in act one unless you use it by act 3’. But note that I say ‘use it’ not ‘fire it’. That’s the key to great writing. To take what is expected and do the unexpected.

Thumb_Nail_Novel_WriterWriting is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. If you write only when excited or motivated you’ll never finish. You have to write even when it’s the last thing you want to do. Just put something down. You can always edit it later or throw it out (you’ll do a lot of throwing out and it hurts but it’s the sign of a mature writer; also, it’s one reason you don’t edit yourself to death on the first draft). I eventually average 500 to 550 pages of manuscript to produce 400 good pages in a final draft. A recent manuscript was 126,000 words long and then I cut it back to 90,000 words. To sweat over that many pages and then “lose” them hurts but not as much as getting the manuscript rejected or not sell if self-published. The longer I’ve written, the more I’ve become a fan of rewriting and editing. I’m also a fan of outlining and doing a lot of work before I write the first sentence of my manuscript, including doing extensive character development.

Overall, I’ve developed an inner “writing clock” that works in terms of weeks and months that lets me know how much I have to produce and how quickly. It varies its pace depending on the project at hand and it took years of experience to develop this inner clock. I force myself to put the time and effort in, even when I don’t feel like it. However, as I discuss in Write It Forward, almost every writer tends to underestimate the time it takes to complete a manuscript.

Experiment and find something that works for you in day-to-day writing. Maybe it will only be for one hour every morning before everyone else gets up—keep doing it. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done if you stick with it. One rule that’s hard for people is to TURN OFF THE INTERNET while writing.

All the thinking, talking, going to writer’s conferences, classes, etc. are not going to do you any good if you don’t do one basic thing: WRITE.

backgroundWhen I taught martial arts, I always found that the majority of the new students quit right after the first month. They came in and wanted to become Bruce Lee rolled into Chuck Norris all within a couple of weeks. When they realized it would take years of boring, repetitive, very hard work, the majority gave up. It doesn’t take any special skill to become a black belt; just a lot of time and effort to develop the special skills. The same is true of writing. If you are willing to do the work, you will put yourself ahead of the pack. You must have a long-term perspective on it. Under Write It Forward, your strategic plan, in essence, is where do you want to be in five years as a writer?

I think a hard part of being a writer is also knowing what exactly ‘work’ is. For me it was hard to accept that kicking back and reading a novel was work and I wasn’t being a slacker. Sitting in a coffee shop and talking with someone is work. Living is work for a writer in that you can only write what you know, so therefore experience is a key part of the creative process.

Ultimately, though, as the late Bryce Courtney said, you need a large dose of bum glue. Gluing yourself to that seat and writing.

The Ability To Organize

As those pages pile up, you’ll find yourself weeks, months, maybe years away from having written that opening chapter. That’s where your organizing skills come in. We’ll cover outlining later on, but in essence, the way you organize your life, is the way you will initially organize your book. So if your life is all over the place, you might have some problems. Yes, there are those natural talents who can just ‘stream’ a book, but they are few and far between. Most of us cannot keep an entire book in our head.

You have to keep track of your characters, your locales, and the action, to make sure it all fits. I’ve used many different tools to write a novel, but one thing I’ve done with every single manuscript is use what I call a story grid. This is an Excel spreadsheet where I can put the entire book on one page, scene by scene (for a really big book it might go to two pages). This spreadsheet is not an outline, but rather something I fill in with a pen each day as I write, to help me keep track of what has been done. Every day I then update the spreadsheet and print it out. It sits to the left of my keyboard (I’m left-handed). It helps when you need to go back and look up a specific part or change something.

I also keep numerous indexed binders with all my research material handy. I spend a considerable amount of time organizing my research material so I can find what I’m looking for. Details drive a story, and the more details you have accessible in terms of research, the more options you have in your plot. Right now I have two four-inch thick binders: one for people; one for events.

Some writers use programs like Scrivener or Onenote to keep track of their research, but I’m still old-fashioned and use Word and Excel and binders.

These practical tools are part of my process as a writer.

What practical tools are part of your process?

When I give presentations to writers I joke that the difference between being aggressive and obnoxious is that the aggressive writer has a good manuscript and the obnoxious one has a bad manuscript.  For over a decade that’s always gotten a good laugh.

The only problem was, I wasn’t following my own advice.

I’ve grown much more assertive in the past six months.  One of the largest mistakes I made coming out of Special Forces and going into traditional publishing was trusting that other people would do their jobs without having to look over their shoulders.  This cost me.  I have to remember Special Forces are the elite.  I could trust my life to the men on my A-Team to do their jobs to the utmost of their capabilities and I did.

Now I push others, gently, but consistently, in order to achieve goals.  No one cares more about the success of your book than the author does.  Always remember that.  Perseverance and persistence count for a lot.

My experience over the last several years as an indie is this:  the absolute best bang for the buck and time is networking.  To actually meet the people who make this industry run.

The biggest mistake I made in traditional publishing was sitting back and thinking my agent, my editor, my publisher, etc. would take care of me.  They’re not bad people, but like any job, they focus on the fires and not the person who isn’t on their radar.  Getting on the radar is key.  I actually thought that by not calling, emailing, etc. they would appreciate me more.  Wrong.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Sitting back and expecting people to come to you is a fatal assumption.  There’s a reason the entire staff at Cool Gus Publishing—which is Jen Talty and I—have/will be attending in 2012:  Digital Book World, Romantic Times; Thrillerfest; Spellbinders in HI; Indiana RWA; Desert Dreams; New England Romance Writers; NJRWA; Utah RWA; Valley Forge RWA; and a score of other conferences.

I’m sitting in the Delta Crown Club on the way back from Desert Dreams in Phoenix.  Was it worth it?  Yes.  I gave a four-hour presentation on Write It Forward.  But the most important part is talking to people.  At this conference I talked to a Vice Dean at Ohio State who said I might be a good person to speak at their faculty retreat this summer.  We agreed ‘retreat’ is a bad word for something that is supposed to be a positive experience.  Retreat, hell.  We just got here.  I also talked to Brenda Novak for a while.  Have to remember to donate some stuff to her auction.  I’m thinking a year’s free enrollment in our on-line classes.  You donate something too or bid on something.  Yeah. YOU.

I listened to a panel of agents and editors.  And it confirmed that no one really knows what’s going on.  I’ll do a post on my instant reactions to that on Wednesday morning at Genreality.

It takes persistence to really network.  You have to look at all the cards you gather at a conference and after a few days to let everyone gather their brains, follow up.  Another thing I got at this conference was a three CD set of my presentation.  So we have to upload that to digital.  Then I want to figure out a way to coordinate the audio with the actual slide presentation.  I believe there is a program to do that, correct?  It’s something I just emailed Jen that we probably need to outsource rather than learn another entirely new skill set.  We’ve got enough work.  So, hint, if you know how to do this—drop us a line.  See. You can even network on a blog.

I force myself to go talk to people who I need to meet.  At Digital Book World I stood like one of those doofuses you always see hanging at the edge of the circle after the speaker is done and everyone else is talking to them after an exec at Amazon spoke.  I waited until everyone had said their piece, then talked to him.  Here’s a key though—you need an icebreaker.  Bella Andre says “I made a million dollars selling eBooks last year.”  She says it tends to get people’s attention.  Duh.  I said to this guy:  “I’m selling one thousand eBooks a day on Kindle.”  That got me some face time.

Actually, one piece of advice I give people now is that one of the best networking tools is to go to people’s blogs and leave cogent comments.  People tend to read the comments on their own blogs.  If you make sense, you will get noticed.

Bell Andre said something at Digital Book World:  you email someone and they don’t reply, you keep doing it.  Politely, spaced out.  Nine times you won’t hear back as they’re swamped with work.  But sooner or later you’ll hit that window where they have the time to respond.

As important as the writing is, networking is also important!

By the way, Jen’s new cover for Atlantis is working.  Sales doubled last week.  We have to redo the rest of the books in the series now.  But this is what I love about being an indie publisher.  We can change things quickly.

What do you do to network?  Any special tips?

Don’t let fear take you down.

As a former Infantryman and Green Beret, I learned a lot about fear.  Now I’m seeing it consuming publishing and authors.  I’m going to cut to the chase here.  I did a booksigning this past weekend and was seated next to a traditionally published author who was giving away free copies of his mass-market paperbacks.  He’s selling well, probably has a decent contract with his publisher for two or three more books (coming out in two or three years…).  But.  He kept glancing at my POD trade paperbacks and also noticed how much I really didn’t care if I sold any of my print books. Well, it’s not that I don’t care, of course I care, but 99% of my income comes from eBooks. I could tell he wanted to ask me about about ePublishng. How it worked. How I got into it. But I could also tell he was afraid. Too many people really believe it’s better not to know reality rather than face the fact that perhaps they are approaching reality the wrong way. Letting go of the traditional world of publishing is tough. I know. Been there. Done that.  I’ll go back into it with the right deal; one that accepts reality rather than wishful thinking.

I’ve had three bestselling authors approach me in the past month to ask how eBooks work.  Jen Talty just got an email today from another. The simple fact they were asking tells us how little most authors understand about how bookselling is changing.  How much disinformation people in publishing are putting out there in a desperate attempt to save their jobs. Lets face it, eBooks are a game changer whether we jump on the digital wave or not.

The amount of information Jen and I have learned about publishing in the past two years is staggering.  I’ve been in publishing for over two decades. I thought I knew the business. But the last two years taught me that there is still so much to learn. We’ve taken a close look at what we’ve done right. What we’ve done wrong. And all the little tricks of the trade.  We’ve actually put a document in our Dropbox where each of us is putting tidbits about lessons learned so some day we can run a workshop and publish a book about it. We’re not just talking about eBooks and publishing, we’re making our living at it.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone in NY Publishing really understands the big picture of ebook publishing from writer to reader.  I keep seeing panels at conferences made up of “experts” on digital publishing, but rarely are these people making their living off selling their own books through digital publishing, so I submit they are observers, not experts.  That doesn’t mean their opinion isn’t valid, it just means it isn’t completely solid.  I had an editor from Random House tell me they were chasing the technology to see where it would lead—such a statement staggers me as the primary rule of combat is to act, not react.

I make my living writing and publishing eBooks.  I made over six figures in profit in August from my eBook sales.  My latest release, The Jefferson Allegiance just peaked at #2 on the Nook bestseller list.  This is a book New York editors didn’t see how they could market.  I’m putting these numbers up not to boast, but to show how it’s about the book, not the publisher’s perception about the book.  I think that’s a key change authors need to understand:  the gatekeeper in publishing now is no longer the publisher—it’s the author and the quality of the book.  I’ll have a blog post about this soon.

It’s sort of like historians writing about battles they weren’t in.  You want to know about the battle?  Ask a veteran.  A historian can theorize, the veteran can tell you the real deal.  I submit that a lot of these conferences and convention springing up should start inviting authors who sell rather than the same experts who theorize.

Here’s the thing I want authors to understand.  Take your emotions out of it.  Let go of your fear.  You now have an opportunity that’s unprecedented.  You can reach your readers directly.  You don’t need all the people in between.  Learn from what Jen and I have accomplished, and others like us. The authors doing it. Not the people  theorizing about it. However, on the flip side, you can’t do it all alone.  You need to work with people who are experienced in the new technology and the new market for books.  You can stay with the known or venture into the unknown where the future lies.  You can keep switching deckchairs on the Titanic or you can find a ship that’s actually going somewhere.

Lately, publishers and editors have been trumpeting how much they’ve done for authors.  My experience after 20 years in the midlist?  They could care less.  Publisher after publisher threw my books out there with no support.  They made money off them, great.  They sold a million copies of Area 51 without a single dollar in promotion, great.  But did Random House care about me as an author?  They passed on my new series which we will launch by Xmas and I know it will sell. As I stated above, it’s not about the publisher, but about the book.  Once more I ask:  if mass-market sales were the benchmark by which publishers determine future sales, is selling 5,000 eBooks a day a benchmark of success?

Fear is at the core of the book Writer It Forward, from Writer to Successful Author, because conquering fear is the #1 key to success.

Fear is ruling publishing. Those who have the courage to see past the fear will succeed.

Write It Forward.

I received a couple of “rejections” the other day.  As a professional writer with over 20 years experience, I’ve had more than my share of rejections.  In this case one was from Amazon regarding publishing with their Encore program and something else.  The other was for a book we’ve already published but I was looking to see if a major publisher would pick it up considering the success I’ve had the last two years.

My reaction, as is normal for most when they get a “rejection”, was negative.  But as I teach in Write It Forward I didn’t respond.  I sat on it, thought about it and talked it out with my wife and business partner.

Then, the following morning, I had a moment of enlightenment, while working out in the fitness center in the hotel in Melbourne where I was presenting at the Australian RWA Conference.

Re-reading Amazon’s response, I realized they weren’t rejecting me. They were complimenting me.  They basically were saying the royalty cuts and exclusivity they wanted in exchange for their Encore program were for a long list of things they would do for me; except we’re already doing all those things at Who Dares Publishing.  So it made no sense and they understood that.

Jen Talty and I formed the company in November 2009, not long after Amazon had launched their Encore program (and most people hadn’t even heard of it—I hadn’t) and long before there was a Thomas and Mercer.  Even before Borders went down the drain.  Before eBooks took the publishing world by storm.  When people were laughing at eBooks at the January 2010 Digital Book World Conference, saying “Why should we worry about something that’s only 3% of our income?”

I formed it because my experience as a Green Beret A-Team taught me that a small, highly efficient team can do things which larger, more cumbersome, and less efficient organizations couldn’t.  An A-Team is a force multiplier, which can have an effect far beyond the scope of most teams.  It’s the most formidable military organization in the world.

Jen worked full time for all of  2010 and neither of us were able to take even a single dollar out of the business. We had to put every hard-earned dime right back into it.  In essence, working for nothing.  Very few people would have worked as hard as Jen did for as long as she did, with little reward and no guarantee it would work.

The first author we brought on board besides my books was Kristen Lamb with We Are Not Alone: The Writers’ Guide to Social Media.  I think that’s telling.  We knew back then that the key to success in the electronic world was promoting via social media, and it’s the first thing we published.  And we incorporated the things she espouses in the book; the primary one is have your content first, before you start blasting things out on social media. The fact Jen and I were able to evolve into the Write It Forward blog we now have here and the new Write It Forward book that was just published last week is a key part of our success.

Slowly, we brought other authors on board. Amy Shojai, a well known multi-published pet expert and speaker. Natalie C. Markey, expert in special needs dogs and also teaches Writing Mom’s. Victoria Martinez, an expert in unique and unusual tidbits of Royal History. Marius Gabriel, best-selling author of Romantic Thrillers.  What we were looking for, besides great content, were authors who were willing to promote, to be part of a team.

We also had some authors shy away, not willing to take a chance with us.  Some ran back to their traditional publishers and signed deals with very low e-royalty rates, but they were going for the known, rather than be willing to take a chance.  I’ve seen none of those author’s books doing much of anything on Kindle or PubIt, so I’m not sure how that worked out for them.  In fact, I haven’t seen any of the backlist titles we’d already have available for sale even published yet in eBook.  I imagine those titles are sitting somewhere in that publisher’s queue waiting for it’s chance.  Meanwhile, they are earning nothing.

In the space of 24 hours I went from feeling bummed over a rejection to feeling very excited with the realization that we did it right at Who Dares Wins Publishing and we’re continuing to do it right.  That a rejection is actually a blessing, that frees me once more to focus on taking Who Dares Wins to the next level.  The key is that we can move to the next level because we’re not reacting to try to achieve what others are scrambling to do right now, because we already did all those things that publishers and authors are trying to comprehend.  We’re moving into the future because we’re acting, not reacting.

Write It Forward!

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