Saturday, October 26, 2013

Write What You Love and Publication will Follow

Back in the 80s a book was published called "Do what you Love and the Money Will follow." I never got around to reading that book, but I always was intrigued by the title. Sometimes I thought it was genius. Other times ... well I don't use that type of language. But the older I got, I began to see the true meaning of that comment.

We too often get our careers backwards. We start with what has the highest salaries instead of what
will provide the most personal satisfaction. The problem with that approach is that we are generally unenthusiastic about those jobs chosen for the income potential alone, which means we don't do well on the job interviews and, if we get the job, we won't perform well.

The same holds true of writing. I've had writing students come into class with the first question being, "So, what is selling now?" It is as if they are saying, "I am not a unique person with a unique vision to share. I am simply a merchant looking for the right product to sell."

Certainly, one needs to be aware of publishing trends. Selling cozy mysteries, like I write is a bit harder than selling the more hard boiled PI or police procedural. That means I have to find my audience and be creative in reaching them. It also means, I'll have better luck with indie publishing or small publishers than with the Big Six who tend to play it safe with the trends.

What it does NOT mean is that I should not write cozy mysteries. There is a market for them. I just have to find them. But more important than that, I am likely to be more enthusiastic in my writing of a cozy, than a police procedural. That means I will do a better job, which in turn means, more people will recommend my books to their friends which will lead to more sales.

I know, some of you are saying, that's all well and good if you are an indie and control what does and does not get published yourself. But what about traditional authors? Well, this is where the indie publishing revolution can help traditional authors. Go ahead and write your passion. If your publisher or agent doesn't like it and you do, tell them you will just go indie with it. You might frame it as "test marketing." But you are no longer held hostage to a survey showing a decrease in sales of cozies nation wide. You can prove an interest in solid sales.

However, even if you do not go that route, your writing will be better if you write what you love. That means you will get a better reading from an editor or agent than if you just turned out something to fit into a trend.

Yes, if you write what you love, publication will follow, but more importantly you will also love what you write.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Quick Tips: Misdirection, Magic and Clues in Mystery Novels

One of the keys to keeping the clues from being too obvious is a bit a misdirection. I used to do magic during my younger days. My boss' fiance would hang out at the radio station where I worked at the time. I was supposed to amuse her I guess while he was dawdling over something. I would show her tricks, and she was so easy to fool. As long as I held her eyes I could march a line of elephants through the room and she wouldn't have noticed. So, I would do something big, but unimportant with one hand and then move something into place with the other, often in plain view if she had been looking that way.

You can do the same with clues in a story. Hide your clue like a leaf in a forest. Keep people looking at the trees and not the leaves. For instance, a cookie plays a role in one of my stories. However, it's just introduced by someone sitting around a table having coffee. They are offered a cookie and take it right in the middle of a discussion about the major suspects in the case. The cookie looks just like stage setting. Something not very important, just a sweet with coffee while discussing the important stuff.

Always make a big deal out of the unimportant stuff and be dismissive of the important clues.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Writing is a lonely profession - NOT!!

When I was in college journalism classes, you learned to write by being herded into a typing (yes, I'm that old, and they were manual typewriters) room, given some facts for a news story, given a 30 minute deadline and set to work. Later
photo by Amy Guth
working on newspapers and in radio stations, and eventually in academia, the collegiality of those social writing environments were both stimulating intellectually and comforting emotionally.

You could bounce ideas off each other, ask for help, or take a break and catch up on the office gossip, which sometimes was oddly refreshing. Just the knowledge of these other writers working around you made you feel not so much alone in this great endeavor to share words and ideas with the world.

I sometimes wonder why it is that I can produce 50,000+ words of fiction during National Novel Writing Month and barely get half that done any other time. But I know why. It's the knowledge that any time I sit down at the keyboard and begin that wrestling match with my characters and plot that there are thousands of other people doing the same. And they aren't just nameless, faceless people. I get burnt out or tired or need some inspiration or a question answered, I can click over to the discussion board and take part in a "word war" or give a suggestion or two about names in the future or philosophize about whether dystopic fiction is depressing or hopeful, or just share the frustration of the writing life.

One would think with all those digressions, that productivity would wane. Yet, the opposite is true. Just as that short gossip break in the middle of covering a big story or working on that course outline in a face-to-face setting can be the refreshing break you need to push through, seeing that "wordwarrior1978" didn't quite hit your high score for the day, or simply answering the question, "What is your character doing right now?" can help me get that second wind to push through to my daily writing goal in a way working alone cannot.

So, where is all this leading? Modern internet technology, what has been called Web 2.0, has created tools for us to move away from the isolation many of us can feel as writers. We are in a position to encourage one another, hold each other accountable, motivate, inspire, stimulate, assist and even provide those "water cooler" moments of diversion that refresh.

While social networking like Twitter, Facebook, Shoutlife, Linked in and MySpace, not to mention more traditional networking like discussion boards and email discussion lists can become a time sink if restraint is not exercised, they also can provide the writer, especially the writer who works at home, with a social support network.

For instance, say you are on Twitter with a lot of other writers in your own area of expertise. You need some piece of information. You post your question. It may just sit there. Or someone might "tweet" back with an answer. Or while you are writing, a tweet comes through telling you a friend just sold the article they have been working on, and you have been following their progress. That is an encouragement for you to keep writing.

So, here is a proposal. Begin to build your own writing support network. Start with your Facebook account. You probably have writing friends, create a list of just those friends. Then periodically when things are going well (or not so well) post status updates that only other writers can understand.

You can also use hashtags on Twitter such as #amwriting, #amediting and #nanowrimo during November.

You can also declare a "word war" on one of your social media sites. Set a time and encourage everyone to compete to see how many words you can write in say 30 minutes. Compare results and even share favorite paragraphs on your main newsfeed or possibly in a private group you can form such as a video hangout on Google plus or a Facebook Group.

You don't have to be all alone in your writing. Support can help

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Motivation? Inspiration? The Muse? Forget them all.

Another short tip. Don't sit around and wait to become motivated or inspired to work. If you want to be a pro, you don't wait until you feel like working. Back when I was teaching, I couldn't call in and say to my dean, "I'm not coming in today. I just don't feel inspired." He would have suggested that if I didn't get inspired quickly, I would have many more days that I didn't have to show up to work.

Discipline is more important than inspiration. Many times I find that my "inspiration" or "motivation" doesn't appear until after I've been writing for some time and not before.

Set a schedule for writing. It doesn't have to be a long time. It can be ten-minutes a day if that's all the time you have. It can be at different types during the day if you work a variable shift, but put it down in your calendar just like an appointment and treat it with as much respect as you have for a business meeting or a family outing.

Be realistic. If you can't do an hour a day, don't set that as your goal. It is better to do 10 minutes a day every day than an hour once every ten days.

There was a sign up at an insurance agency where I worked breifly many years ago. It read, "Plan your Work, then Work your Plan." Set up a plan to write on a regular basis and even if you just type random words, do so. The muse will visit more often, when you create a nice work environment for her daily.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Short Tips: How to Find just about Anything Online

I'm going to start posting short tips. These won't be like the longer articles I post and will likely be not as well edited, but I'm hoping to build up some readership and they say posting more often helps. By the way, if you follow this blog and enjoy these posts, I would appreciate it if you click the little buttons in the margins to post them to Facebook and Twitter.

Anyway, this tip has to do with using search engines effectively. Frequently, people will ask me a question about something like grammar, writing or technology. It takes me ten minutes or so to come up with an answer. Usually, all I have to do is type in one search into the search engines. So, how do we use them more effectively.

First, go for the "long tail" search. That means type in an entire sentence or phrase instead of just one or two words. Search engines are much smarter now than in the past. You can search most in normal language. For instance, today I needed some information about sales tax in California. I just typed into Google: "What are the sales tax requirements in the state of California for home businesses on the internet?"

The top result was a listing of pages from the State Board of Equalization (the sales tax people). One click on one page and there was a publication about selling over the internet.

Second, go to the source. Okay, I've got a blog. But don't take everything I say as gospel without checking it out for yourself. Anyone can create a blog or a webpage. So, when you look something up online, see who is putting it out. If you want to know about sales tax, your best bet is to go to the state agency that governs sales tax and not a blog by someone who may or may not know what they are talking about.

Finally, compare results. When the question is something for which there may be a variety of possible answers, compare them and look for both similarities and variabilities. For instance, I'm constantly looking up stuff about punctuation and grammar. Some "old school" sites may give the traditional answer, but they may not recognize that even language changes over time. So, by comparing a number of sites you can see what is the most common use which may or may not be the traditional favorite.

I hope these tips help.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Marketing and Time Management for the Writer

I find myself reading with interest all the "must haves" the "experts" say every author should have. They "must" write a blog at least three times a week. (Yeah, it's been three weeks or more since I posted here. Failed there.) They "must" have a Facebook page and post to it at least five times a day. They must do the same on Twitter. They "must" have a website and update it frequently. They "must".... They "must".... They "must"....

And many of us gleefully go along with all this because, well, it means I can feel
Photo by Moyan Brenn
like I'm doing something for my writing career when I'm not actually writing. This type of writing is simple. It's easy. It doesn't involve editing, tweaking the language or really putting yourself out for rejection or bad reviews.

However, there is, as I have said before, only one absolute rule for writers. They must write.

But, you say, what about the "experts" and what they say. Shouldn't we be doing those things?

Maybe, and I will discuss some time management approaches to that a bit later, but remember, those "experts" are usually full time in the publishing industry. They don't have a day job which they juggle with home responsibilities, church, social obligations and the like. They have a full 8 to 10 to 12 hours a day to work on their writing careers. And, if they ever were, juggling the day job and the writing career, that has been a long time ago.

Currently, I'm fortunate to be retired with a decent income, so I can write "full-time." However, health issues mean that I have only about five really healthy productive hours a day in which to take care of business, do marketing, teach my online classes, answer email and, yes, write.  So, I understand a bit about having a  limited amount of time to work.

So, how do we handle the demands of marketing and those of writing? The same way we handle any other time management issue - prioritizing.

Is your first priority writing your blog entry or working on your novel? Okay, some days, it will be the blog or the website. Today, I'm revamping my author's website that I've been putting off (ironically, because I've been doing websites for others). So, that will take precedence today. But the question applies to your overall time usage. I have to admit that recently, I've probably spent more time promoting than writing. Like a pastor of mine once said, "God always preaches the sermon to me before I preach it to you." I'm getting this message now and will be revising my priorities over the next several weeks so that writing and my classes will always be number one.

But we do have to consider marketing or we won't get our books in front of readers. What do we do? Again, prioritize. In order to do this well, you will need to do a bit of analysis. First, determine the numbers.

How many followers do you have on your blog? What are the average number of views of each blog post. Right now, I have about 20 followers, and I get about three times that seeing each blog post.

How many Facebook friends do you have on your friend feed? How many likes do you have on your Author page? How many followers do you have on Twitter? How many followers on Pinterest, Google Plus, Linked In, Goodreads, etc.

Start by placing them in order of number of followers. If you are like most of us, Facebook will have the highest number followed by either Twitter or Google Plus and the blog will be at the bottom of the list. Your results, though, may be different.

There are some changes to Facebook, you should also take into account. Unlike Twitter, which has always allowed searching of all public tweets, Facebook search was limited to the names of people, pages and groups. Now, all posts marked as public can be searched. (Not posts set to friends only, but those designated public) That means that you can actually optimize your posts like you can a webpage making it searchable by the 1.15 Billion monthly Facebook users.

So, between Twitter and Facebook, you have a potential pool of people searching for your topics of close to one and a half billion people. Let's say you have a topic that is only of interest to say one percent of the population, that's still 10 million potential readers. Even if only one percent of those actively searched for that topic that's 100,000 potential searchers.

What does all this number crunching do for us? It's part of the process of determining priorities. I have a blog with maybe 100 monthly readers and a Facebook page with 1000 friends (and the search potential of 1000 times that). On the basis of the numbers alone, I have a longer reach on Facebook than I do on my blog.

Of course, numbers aren't the only criteria for prioritizing. We also need to think about the quality of those numbers. I have fewer readers of this blog than I do my Facebook friend page, but they are nearly all writers. So, I am building up relationships with other writers here that can help me in networking as well as promoting online writing classes and books on writing.

So, leading up to the release of a book on writing or a new course launch, spending more time blogging makes sense. However, leading up to the release of a fiction book, time spent on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads may be more worthwhile.

Know both the numbers and the type of people in each of your venues so you can "work smarter and not harder."

Don't try to do everything. Find out what works best for you an focus on that. Don't let the pronouncements of "experts" override what you see that works for you, and what does not work for you. Many very successful authors do not have facebook pages, blogs or twitter accounts. Others do. Some lose visibility by not having them others do not. You have to figure things out for yourself. But don't try to do it all. Identify 2-3 venues you consider your best choices.

Next, budget your time according to the priorities. This blog post will take me about an hour to write, edit, post and promote. It will reach maybe 100 people at the most. In that same time, I could post an interesting link to an article about space exploration (I write science fiction), a comment about working on my new website, post a Facebook update about a new class and a link to one of my Bible studies available on Kindle and reach a primary audience of 1000 people with at least a few of them sharing my links with others expanding that to about 5000 people.

So, I'm writing this for reasons other than promotion. I'm writing it because first, I enjoy writing things like this. Secondly, it's my way of giving back. I have my own little class of writing students who follow these posts and maybe they learn something. That makes me feel good. But I don't add blogging into my marketing mix or time.

Now, someone else might have 1000 blog followers but only a few hundred Facebook friends. Their priorities would be different. Go where the people are.

Finally, set a limit on your marketing effort. If you get to the end of the day and have done three hours of marketing and now find you don't have any time left for writing, you are doing it wrong. Aim for at least 50-50 but preferable 3-1 with the three being writing and the one being marketing.

No, I'm not there yet. But I'm getting there. As another pastor of mine once said: Always keep the Main Thing The Main Thing. And for the writer, the Main Thing, is writing.