Are Writers…Gasp…Entrepreneurs? 5 Tips For Beginning Authors

A friend of mine, Liz Schulte, said something to me a while back that has got me thinking. She said, “To be a writer, you have to be an entrepreneur, too.” Considering that this chick is a successful author and a book-writing-machine and a pretty awesome lady anyway, when she gives me advice, I generally listen.

The word “entrepreneur” at first made me cringe a little. I find that’s not uncommon with writers. Marketing yourself and your work sounds like too much drudgery. We want to be writing, not marketing. We want to be creating, not selling. However, Liz is right. There is an idea among much of the writing community that publishing equals an automatic “in” with readers. Like once you’ve got that finished piece, that wonderful book you’ve spent so much time on and poured so much of yourself into, it will magically be brought to the attention of a vast majority of people. In reality, no matter what publishing rout a writer takes, if the writer doesn’t market, if the writer doesn’t build some kind of platform, the book will not usually sell well.

Now, let me clarify. If you are a writer who writes only for self-satisfaction or only for the art of language, good for you. If you are satisfied with that, by all means, write your heart out and save that stuff for generations of your own family to read and enjoy. That is perfectly okay. I’m talking about writers who write, maybe for the same things, but also for more. I do write for self-satisfaction and for the creative outlet. I love the process of writing a book. But I write for other reasons too. I’m a writer because I love the relationships I build in the writing community. Other writers simply understand something about me that *ahem* normal people don’t (we writers are weird; we have to stick together). I write to be read. I want people to read what I write and hopefully come away with something they didn’t have before, maybe ask questions they didn’t ask before. I want people to read what I write. And yes, I write, because eventually, I hope to make some money doing the thing that I love. And so, for writers like me, I think it’s true: we have to be entrepreneurs.

How do we do that? How do we take entrepreneurial steps to set up a good foundation for our writing careers? The closer I come to beginning the process of publishing, the more that question seems to hover over me. There is a lot more to this than I know. A lot more that I have to learn. But here are a few suggestions that I’ve been given by various writers, applicable especially to writers who are where I am–on the road to publishing, but not there yet.

1. Take tips from small business owners and entrepreneur magazines.

2. Learn from writers who are already there, who are selling books and making money. How did they build a platform? How do they connect to readers? What kind of marketing tools do they suggest for newly published/almost published writers?

3. Have an online presence. Do you enjoy blogging? Could you have an author’s page on Facebook? What about an author’s website? Twitter? LinkedIn? There are so many options in social media that can serve to help build a platform for when your books are published. And who knows? Maybe you’ll start a blog for that purpose and find you actually really enjoy it!

4. Make up a business card. Business cards are awesome for when you are at writer’s groups or conferences. If you don’t have one at a conference, you’ll be writing your information on napkins and the backs of other people’s business cards all day long. Or you just won’t make any lasting connections and will have missed a major opportunity. Plus, it just feels cool to whip out a business card and be like, “Yeah, I’ve got one of these. I’m legit.” 🙂

5. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur, or at least an entrepreneur in training. It’s kind of the same thing as: you’ll never be a writer if you don’t think of yourself as one. You won’t see opportunities or have the confidence to make any steps forward if you are afraid of that word. And you’ll certainly never make a living as a writer.

Now, I’m in the beginning stages of all this. Does anyone have any more suggestions for how to be an entrepreneur in the beginning before you’ve published?

 

Backwards Plotting: ORAcon2013

Basically backwards plotting is starting your outline with the ultimate result of your story. The speaker that chose to talk about backwards plotting at ORAcon2013 probably had a lot more to say than she was able to get out (because people were not listening and she was trying to have an interactive lecture; it did not go well). Anyway, the one thing I took away from this session was that backwards plotting involves asking a lot of questions in order to make the story believable and in order to work out all the kinks.

Before beginning, a good thing to do is define your characters, figure out the ending, and figure out motivations that get your characters to the ending. Then, start asking questions. How did they get to this result? What are the problems? What would be too coincidental or cliche (and then avoid those solutions)? What secrets are being kept? How do we establish this or that fact without giving away the ultimate ending?

The other big thing I took away from this session was to avoid coincidences at all costs! Don’t do what’s been done a million times in the same way that it’s been done a million times. They suggested looking up cliches for your genre. I looked up cliches for fantasy and these are some of the ones I found:

  • Purely Evil/Purely Good. No one is purely evil or purely good. Your villain should have reasons for what he does. Your hero/heroine should have struggles.
  • Magic saves us all. Just when the poo hits the fan, a magician shouldn’t show up with a giant magical pooper scooper and fix everything or poof in to give the hero the right tool or whatever. Likewise, unlimited magic is an all too common, unrealistic, lazy way to write a story.
  • Good people are beautiful; Bad people are ugly. ‘Nuff said.
  • Women are damsels in distress-always. Now, I would say that if there is one character that is a damsel type of lady (I know some of those, and that’s okay) then fine. But women in any story should be deeper than that, even if they do need to be rescued.
  • Men are dumb or useless. This, I believe is a newer cliche, and over reaction to the damsel in distress.
  • The one vs. twenty and the one wins scenerio. Yeah. That pretty much never really happens.

There are more, but those are the ones that a lot of people agree are cliches to be avoided.  So, when backwards plotting, you can better anticipate and avoid these cliches and coincidences.

Here are a few helpful articles I found concerning backwards plotting:

http://www.novel-writing-help.com/developing-a-plot.html

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2011/05/get-back-working-backward-to-flesh-out.html

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2009/10/should-you-outline-backwards.html

Do you have any suggestions or methods for backwards plotting?

ORAcon2013: Worldbuilding

The first topic covered at ORAcon2013 was worldbuilding. Here are the basic bullet point notes that I took:

  • People always interact with their settings in a way unique to themselves. So, an OCD character would notice things out of place, a photographer would notice any pictures, a purple heart on display might catch the attention of a military person or a police officer, signs of a battered wife/child/husband might be recognized by a counselor, etc. Know who your characters are and when writing from their point of view, write what they would see.
  • The setting becomes a character too. I found this statement especially well worded. I have never thought about my world as another character, or in a sense, even the different cultures in my novels could be considered different characters.
  • Create and know the norms for the culture and how the people live.

Research

  • Do Lots of Research. Use original sources such as mythology, history, etc. Use academic writings, google, wiki, and the internet in general (be careful! double check your facts!)
  • Interview!! Get real people to answer your questions for you about how hospitals work or how police stations run or how travel works in the country you are writing. These details will throw off any reader that knows better.
  • Research Vacations. Well, this one is obviously a little more difficult if you don’t have the funds, but it would be a good thing to do if you can.
  • Read Real Life Accounts.

Setting Details

  • Specific details lend authenticity. Little details and unique specifics allow a quicker pace but still creates a good setting. There is no need to go into long bouts of irrelevent detail.
  • A few well-chosen, distinctive details go a long way. Make sure details are pertinent to your character’s point of view. Different characters should notice different things.
  • Terrain/Geography can add setting detail, be an obstacle, be a symbol or shape your entire world. Use description of terrain/geography wisely.

Sample questions to consider when wondering if your world is fully built

  • Give AT LEAST three details that are particular and distinctive to your world: sight, sound, smells?
  • Can you identify the most powerful detail of your world for each character’s POV?
  • What is/has/will go wrong in this world?
  • Who is the most outrageous character?
  • What is the class system?

Last thoughts

  • If your POV character doesn’t see, touch, or feel it, should it be described in your book?
  • It’s about the expectations you’ve built for the reader. Don’t build your character in a certain way, say as a smart alec, and then have some scene where they are super respectful with no explanation.
  • Write a “Series Bible” and a “Character Bible” where you lay your ground rules, limitations, and basic descriptions of culture and people.
  • Don’t answer all the questions in the first book of a series, but don’t leave everything up in the air. The reader needs to want more, but be satisfied at the same time. This reminds me of chocolate or cheesecake.
  • Your characters should not be surprised by the world- other than the character who might be a stranger in the world.
  • If any detail or scene pulls the reader away from the story or confuses the reader unnecessarily, leave it out!

Here are some articles that I’ve found dealing with worldbuilding that are extremely helpful:

http://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/

http://io9.com/7-deadly-sins-of-worldbuilding-998817537

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/09/17/25-things-you-should-know-about-worldbuilding/

3 Ways for Writers to Be Wise With Reading

As a writer, sometimes I get too busy with life and writing that I don’t have time to read. That might not seem like such a big deal. However, reading is like studying for writers. If you are a writer, whether seasoned or inexperienced, reading is essential to developing your craft. That doesn’t erase the fact that we are busy people. How do we best utilize our reading time? Here are a few tips:

  1. Reading within the genre you write. This is the most obvious and easiest way to be wise with our reading time. In order to write mystery, you must read mystery. To write fantasy, you must read fantasy. You write best what you know, and reading quality pieces within your genre will help you put together the best story possible.
  2. Branch out into purely literary work (or if you write literary work, check out genre work). Literary work is all about the art of language. Genre writers often get so caught up in the art of storytelling, of advancing the plot, that they leave out important details or description. I am writing a series of other world fantasy novels. My first draft of the first book has far too little description; the reader won’t be able to picture the world I’ve created. Purely literary writing can be more work in reading than I’m used to, but it forces me to think about description, details, and the art of language. Adding a little of those things to my own work will improve it. I’ve bought a few back issues of The Glimmer Train, a well known literary magazine. It has short stories so I don’t feel bogged down, and it has quality work full of truly artful use of language. Now, I’m not saying to add in a bunch of flowery sentences and long drawn out descriptions. I am saying that poorly written sentences ruin a story and that too little description can leave a reader confused and disconnected.
  3. Read different lengths of work. Especially if you write novels, throw in a few flash fiction and short stories into your reading regimine. I would suggest trying to write some flash fiction and short stories as well. Short stories are great for studying how to make a scene concise. There are no wasted words in quality short stories and flash fiction, which is an excellent attribute of truly great novels.

Writers, how do you choose what to read?

Top 4 Benefits of Joining a Critique Group

If you are serious about being a writer, I would highly recommend getting involved in a writing group.  I’ve gotten involved in three groups here in Columbia: The Columbia Novelist Group, Columbia Chapter Writer’s Guild, and a MeetUp group for fiction writers.

There are at least five benefits to joining a writing group:

1. Encouragement. Simply being around other writers always gives me a boost of encouragement to keep going, to keep writing and to have a little more confidence and motivation. Other writers understand what it means to sit in front of your computer banging your head against the desk, just trying to get one sentence out. They have conversations in their heads with their characters, too. When they watch a movie or read a book, they think about plot and how the audience is engaged.  When you are the only one you know who writes, sometimes you feel a little out of place or you don’t write as often because it feels like it shouldn’t be a priority, but other writers can be a great source of encouragement.

2. Critiques. It is very difficult to see all the problems with your own work. Critiques can help you see the holes, the areas where you added too much or put too little, the strength of your dialogue, and so much more. But hearing your own work critiqued isn’t the only benefit of belonging to a critique group. I’ve found that listening to other writer’s work being critiqued gives me a lot to bring home to my own writing project.

3. Expanded Knowledge. Many critique groups also have speakers and some even host conferences. I’ve listened to writer’s talk about self-publishing, character development, and plot. I’ve learned so much about the art of writing just by having conversations with other writers. I’ve gotten recommendations on books and materials that have helped me with technique.

4. Exchange of Ideas. When you don’t know where to go with your work or when you know something is missing, belonging to critique groups means that you have someone to brainstorm with you. You don’t have to always figure it out on your own. You can talk it out, hear what it sounds like, and find the right direction before you even begin writing it out.

Do you belong to a critique group? What benefits have you found from being a part of one?

5 Steps to a Customized Blog Planner

Blogging is harder for me than other types of writing. I have no idea why, but when writing fiction everything is normally pretty smooth. Once I get that idea or I have a direction, fiction writing to me is natural. Don’t get me wrong, writing fiction, especially a longer work, is HARD. One of these days I will probably give myself a concussion from banging my head against the wall when trying to fix a plot point or when I realize that my dialogue is BORING or when I just spent two hours and all I could get out was maybe two hundred words. But overall, fiction writing is my thing, it’s what makes me excited to call myself a writer. But blogging? Good grief. Figuring out what I’m going to write about each new post drives me nuts. When I write fiction, I write fantasy; I can make things up. Not so with blogging. It’s nonfiction. It has to be relevant and to some degree personal. And, at least for me, it has to be planned out in advance. Otherwise, I skip posting days and the content of my blog becomes inconsistent.

So, I made myself a blog post planner for the year. It cost me about ten bucks to make, and it’s exactly what I need. I looked around for one I could just buy, but I couldn’t find anything that fit my exact needs. Here is how I put together my own customized blog planner:

1. I found the perfect (free) blog post planner page and printed out enough for three posts a week for the year. This step took up the most time. I had to search the internet for a free page that I felt would best help me plan out my blogs in advance. Here is the one I chose:

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This blog planner (from Confessions of a Homeschooler) and this one (a whole blogging binder set from Measuring Flower) seemed good for someone who had a very large audience and performed giveaways or made money off of their blog and things like that.

Here are a few other planners I found: From Oh My Handmade Goodness! (includes a marketing worksheet); From Living Locurto; From The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking

2. I bought a set of monthly dividers.

3. I organized the dividers and the printed blog post planning pages.

4. I took everything to Office Depot and had them coil bind the whole thing. Why coil binding? You could just hole punch the pages and put them in a binder, but coil binding is only $3.99-5, which is not much more than you’d spend on a binder. It looks better, it lays flat on a table, and you never have to worry about the pages bunching up or ripping because they got stuck on the binder.

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5. The last step of making my blog planner is…planning my blog posts!!!

What do you use to plan your blogs? Do you have a planner or do you just wing it?

5 Tips for CampNaNo Success

I DID IT!!!!!

Last night I reached 50,035 words for the month of July bringing my total word count for my novel up to just past 62,000 words. I started Camp NaNo with 12,000 words, and those 12,000 words took me four months to write. So, I am super excited and maybe a little proud of myself for hunkering down and getting out those 50,000 words in just one month! YAY!!!! My story isn’t finished, but I’ve got a basic skeleton to work from and flesh out. I’m excited about the story, and I have more confidence in who I am as a writer. I would definitely recommend Camp NaNo to writers, both new and experienced. You can always jack the word count up if 50,000 words isn’t as much of challenge to you.

So, how does a busy Momma find the time to get 50,000 words down in one month? It wasn’t easy, but here’s how I did it:

1. I had the support of my husband. I suppose you could tackle this sort of thing without the support of your significant other (or if you rock the single crowd, the support of your family and/or friends), but I wouldn’t recommend it. Really, I couldn’t have done this without my husband. He went solo many nights with the kiddos, and every Saturday. And when I still had 15,000 words with less than a week to go, he made me believe I could do it; he encouraged me and pushed me and enabled me. (I love that guy!)

2. I practiced writing when my kids were in the room. Before Camp NaNo, I couldn’t write with the kids in the room because they are 4 and 2, and in case you haven’t heard, very young children always have a lot to say, a lot of questions, and require pretty much constant attention (not to mention all the daily chores and meetings with friends and errands to run). But I knew that if I could knock out a couple hundred words here and there during the day when my kiddos were climbing on me and in between listening to their stories and for the five minutes they were coloring or playing nicely together, those words would bring me a little closer to my goal.

3. I developed more discipline as a writer. Even if I didn’t want to, I kept writing. Even if I wasn’t sure or I had that nagging from my Inner Editor to go back and fix something, I just kept writing. I made a note to the side of my document and I just kept writing my story. My goal was to get that beginning, middle and end, not to make the story perfect on the first go around.

4. I recognized and utilized the places where I could be most productive.  I went out to do most of my writing. For me, I am most productive when I am sitting in a coffee house or at subway with my ear-buds playing white noise and my chromebook out in front of me. That uninterrupted time of writing was essential to my success.

5. I recognized and utilized the times I could be most productive. I did my writing at home with the kids before lunch; that’s when I found my mind could do the most multitasking. And when I knew I would get to go out to write in the evening, I took a nap with my kids (something I don’t normally do). I knew that if I wanted to be productive in the evening, I couldn’t be tired, and I’m almost always tired in the evenings these days. I did what I had to do to make use of the times when my mind was at it’s sharpest, when I wouldn’t have to sit in front of the screen slamming my head on the table trying to figure out how to spell liqueur  or  spend twenty minutes coming up with a name for a minor character.

If you attempted CampNano, do you have any tips for success?! Did you reach your word count goal?