The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Year: 2015 (page 1 of 4)

Guest Post: The Sweet Spot

Note from D_Sidd: Marcus Wearmouth is back with a great guest post to wrap up 2015 on the Everyday Author. Just like last year, we’ll be taking the month of December off to regroup for 2016, watch Star Wars repeatedly and spend time with family over the holidays (read: catch up on all the revising and editing we’ve got to do on our books before the end of the year). We wish you all a safe and happy holidays. From us, that means Merry Christmas! Now, here’s Marcus. Enjoy!

It’s slightly easier than many people think to write a breakout novel and become an author.  Merry Christmas and keep that simple notion with you when writing in the New Year!

Although the definition of a breakout novel is an economy of scale, to most it would be thousands of sales and high ranking on Amazon charts.  You have to be realistic.  The very peak of sales for breakout books is reserved for celebrities and the 0.001% rest of us.  Even so, there is a catalogue of authors who struck gold with their first book/s then made the jump to a full time writing career.   It takes hard work, ideas, a basic understanding of language and dogged persistence.

On a first book, pent up feelings and thoughts on the world gush out on the page/screen.  A lifetime of interactions, whimsy and storytelling coalesce into a magnum opus.  Like mining on a rich seam that you’ve kept hidden for years waiting for the right time to pull it all out into the sun.  On a first book, characters are raw and the plot feels unique.  It’s an inspirational experience to publish, market, sell and hopefully (fingers crossed etc.) receive an offer from a publisher (the warm feeling).  I perhaps missed out beta reading, content and copy editing that corrects English and tweaks the plot but essentially we all have a book inside us.

That’s all there is to it.  Years of ideas compressed into a jam-packed breakout novel that catches on and before you know it, a critic is praising your satisfying denouement (sic).  A lot can be forgiven in reviewing the work of a first time author.  If the narrative is strong then reviews sometimes overlook minor mistakes or weak characterisation.  There’s a difference between writing a story and being a wordsmith.  X Factor to Beethoven.  McDonalds to Michelin star. Can the first come close to the second with enough talent and effort?

The next book

So you begin to write your next book and discover the definition of writers block.  The seam is nearing empty but the writing needs to be stronger.  Writing the tricky second book is when problems begin to beset your brainwaves.  Carrying a story around in your head for years practically writes a novel.  The full plot has been imagined.  Every scene visualised.  When you start again with another new story, even if the idea was vaguely formed, it’s a bigger challenge.  It’s easier to rework the original story with a few tweaks and different setting.   That’s why a strong lead character series is a brilliant but insipid fallback position.

Changing genre dilutes your audience and diluting an audience is the single most perilous risk of a second novel.
As a spunky newbie, your rough edges are smoothed in the editing process but essentially it’s your original vision that is unique.  With the second novel you try to be all things to all people.  Maintain your momentum and so on.  Even in the same genre, writing a different story is challenging.  Remember that you can’t change genre.  It’s a rule of lower level writers that changing genre dilutes your audience and diluting an audience is the single most perilous risk of a second novel.

You hesitate over colourful language, erratic behaviour and anything contentious.  Desperately trying to appeal to a mass market and maintain your faux popularity.  It’s easier to say nothing than something controversial.  Not only are your ideas running out, but your creativity is watered down by the need to be popular.  The result is a slightly better written but ultimately uninspiring book that waters down your world view.

The challenge is to be both fresh and exciting but recognised and familiar.
The challenge is to be both fresh and exciting but recognised and familiar.  If writing is art then we should strive to elucidate our understanding of the world through narrative.  If writing is predominantly for sales then it is ultimately unfulfilling for the writer or reader.  At some point unless you are established, the ideas will dry up and your output will become hackneyed.

Never be a full time writer

As a fulltime author you can lose your connection with the world that you interacted in to stimulate your ideas.  So keep juggling your current responsibilities.  Feel pressure to write in bursts and store your thoughts while you’re busy with a day job.  Use interactions with people and situations to fuel your creativity.  Embrace those feelings of frustration and humility.  Continue to mine your mind.  Let your subconscious do the work with internal wanderings that trigger moments of inspiration.  When you can feel a truth at the very edge of your consciousness or turning over an idea until that eureka moment pops into your head.  Write it down and save it for later. Writing is an act of passion not a trick of grammar.

My advice is to never be a full time writer.  Maintain your creative control by being independent of writing revenues.  Eliminate the need to gratify a mass market with rehashed versions of the same story and characters.  Be bold.

If your writing can strike the perfect balance of inspiration, humility and skill then you can hit the sweet spot.
If your writing can strike the perfect balance of inspiration, humility and skill then you can hit the sweet spot.  You can force open a gap in the market that not only describes a story but lives the story.  A book that is onomatopoeic.  One that hits the mark so perfectly that it transcends your first novel and all others you have read.

Of course you then have to think about the next book and that’s a whole other story!

The Everyday Author guide to podcasts for authors, round two

In the world of self-publishing, things can change overnight. Since we wrote our first Everyday Author’s guide to self publishing podcasts, a whole new slate of shows have popped up, offering a TON of value you won’t want to miss out on. Here’s a few of our favorite podcasts for authors we’ve added to our listening lineup:

sffm podcastScience Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast
Tune in here
Hosted by fantasy/sci-fi self-publishing veteran Lindsay Buroker, Joseph Lallo and Jeffrey Poole, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing podcast (SFFM for short), covers the unique aspects of writing, publishing and — you guessed it — marketing Science Fiction and Fantasy. If you write in either of these genres, this podcast is a must read. Many aspects of fantasy and/or sci-fi make these books more difficult to market than other genres and require different strategies. Lindsay, Joe and Jeff, along with their lineup of guests, make this podcast a can’t-miss for any author in the science fiction and fantasy realms. Episodes are released once a week and run anywhere from 50-70 minutes.

cwc-podcast-logo_v3Creative Writing Career Podcast
Tune in here
Brand new and just out of the gates, this podcast, hosted by Justin Sloan, Kevin Tumlinson and Stephan Bugaj provides tips and advice from the hosts and a wide array of creative writers in many different industries. Unlike the other podcasts we’ve listed, Creative Writing Career covers not just author careers but video game writing, screenwriting and other tracks as well.  Creative Writing Career’s interviews and unique perspectives provide insights found nowhere else. Episodes are weekly and run 30 minutes long.

 

RM-Podcast-Cover-12-350x350Rough Draft
Tune in here
Originally five minute episodes released daily, Rough Draft switched to a longer format in October to tackle meatier topics. The host is Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer at the one and only Copyblogger. He offers “essential web writing advice” designed to put a keen edge to the blade that is your writing skill. Although the podcast is tailored for copywriters, Demian’s advice will help your writing, no matter what you’re writing. Episodes are now weekly average around 60 minutes in length.

 

story grid podcast logoThe Story Grid Podcast
Tune in here
Another great new podcast  based on The Story Grid book by renowned editor Shawn Coyne. Together with book marketing master Tim Grahl, Shawn Coyne breaks down the nuts and bolts you never knew about storytelling. Shawn’s vast knowledge on the subject combined with Tim’s insightful, genuine questions make for some intriguing episodes. If you want to write fiction, you need to be listening to this podcast, no ifs ands or buts. Episodes are weekly and are around 60 minutes long.

What are some of your favorite podcasts for authors? Tell us in the comments!

Lessons learned two years into self-publishing

Deuces. Last Wednesday (November 11) marked two years since I self-published my first book, Out of Exile. Looking back, it’s amusing how little I understood about this business back when I dove in head first. I’m still not close to making a living (or even an part-time living) yet, but I’m still encouraged by how far I’ve come. While there’s been plenty of frustration to go with the celebration, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had and the relationships I’ve built chasing this passion for anything in the world.

In that spirit, here’s a sampling of the lessons I’ve learned over the past two years. Some might be obvious for the rest of you, but hopefully you’ll be able to find a few takeaways that help you on your own journey.

Lesson #1: Forget about overnight success.

When I hit the publish button on Out of Exile and saw it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I literally expected to be making a couple hundred bucks a month off my books, without doing anything but watch my bank account get fat. Overnight success does exist, but you’ve probably got better chances of being eaten by a grizzly bear than finding it. Stop daydreaming about catching that big break and get to work. You can’t count on catching lightning in a bottle, but you can make it easier to find you.

Lesson #2: Be patient and always keep improving.

It’s easy to get frustrated when other authors around you find success and you’re still struggling at the back of the pack. Instead of letting comparisonitis plague you, focus on the things in your control. The only person you’re trying to beat is the author you see in the mirror each day. Make each book better than your last, build connections with your readers and figure out what types of marketing strategies work for you.

Lesson #3: You can’t do it all yourself (plus you don’t need to).

You can’t publish an awesome book without help from others. And you shouldn’t attempt to. Authors can’t edit their own work and my guess would be 99.9% of them aren’t qualified to design their own covers, either. Building up a team around you helps you make your book look and read as legit as possible. These teammates will likely be some of your biggest supporters as well.

On the flip side of this, if you try every outlining, revising and marketing strategy out there, you’ll probably go bonkers. Don’t be overwhelmed and spread yourself too thin trying to make Wattpad, social media, blogging, voodoo rituals, etc. all happen at the same time. Rather than failing at everything, try picking out a few new things that appeal to you and focus on testing them.

Lesson #4: Don’t be a tight wad.

Hiring professionals to do professional things costs money. Don’t cheat a manuscript by skimping on a quality editor and slapping a cheap cover on it. In the long run, you’ll be costing yourself, money, not saving it. It takes money to make money. If you’re treating your writing like a business, you need to invest. But at the same time…

Lesson #5: Be smart about where you put your money.

There are hundreds and hundreds of people out there looking to make a quick buck off of unsuspecting indie authors. While you need to invest money in your writing career (see above), make sure you do your homework before writing out the check. Don’t fall for gimmicks and empty promises. Remember, the people who struck it rich during the gold rush were the ones selling picks.

Lesson #6: Celebrate the small victories.

This quote from Neil Gaiman says it all: “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” Testify! If you hit your word count for the day, give yourself a pat on the back. Everything else is a bonus. Enjoy the mile marks you pass along the journey — they can be just as rewarding as the destination.

Lesson #7: Small and simple things lead to big results.

All those small victories we just talked about add up. One day, you’re going to look back and realize you’ve wrote a whole crapload of books. Careers are made out of doing the little things repeatedly. Book are written one word at a time and a living made one sale at a time.

Lesson #8: Avoid burnout.

Being an indie author is hard. Not so much physically, but it can be a humongous mental drain. You write day in an day out, sometimes with nothing but a bunch of (what you probably think are sub-par) words and strange looks from your relatives to show for it. Know when you need a day (or even a week or more) off. That being said, there’s a fine line between slacking and overdoing it. No one else but you knows where that is.

Lesson #9: You’re not alone.

Here at the Everyday Author and all across the big wide land of internets, there are authors just like us on the same journey. We’ve either gone through it or are still going through whatever you’re currently struggling with. One of the best things you can do is make other writer friends online and support one another. Only you can write your words, but that doesn’t mean you have to always be in solitary confinement.

Lesson #10: There is life beyond your writing desk.

Even though most of us probably don’t have the luxury of allowing our writing to overtake our lives, we should still be aware neglecting other responsibilities in the pursuit of this dream. Don’t let all your free time become consumed with writing. You have loved ones who want to spend time with you. Get out sometimes, fellow writer-hermits. There’s a big wide world you’re missing out on. Take a walk, do some pushups, LIVE A LITTLE!

I’m playing the long game and, with any luck, I’ll be able to write a ten, twenty and fifty year post just like this someday. But until then, I’ll keep on writing. Deuces.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in your author career? Share with us in the comments.

wpid-imag0065_1-e1410915663557-960x913Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.

Guest Post: How to keep creating when you need a day job

Chances are you’re reading this blog because you have a day job, and some part of you wants to make it as a writer. You’re spending your days in a job you really don’t care about, dreaming about getting home and putting fingers to keyboard. Over time it can seem like the soul is being sucked right out of you because no matter what, you aren’t spending as much time writing as you feel you should. How do you persevere?

A little about me – I’m an independent creative. I write. I make movies and I’m moving into animation as I write this. People often ask me “How do you do it all?”

It’s really simple – if something is important to you, you’ll make time for it. I make time for creativity. What follows is some of my advice for staying motivated:

Make the Writing the Reward

If something is important to you, you’ll make time for it.

I do a lot of stuff in addition to my day job, and most of it revolves around writing. A lot of people ask me how I accomplish so much. The answer is simple and a bit profound, and when you think about it, really powerful.

I make writing my reward. I work in I.T., a field where long hours are supposed to be the norm. Sure, I occasionally have to work late to meet a deadline, but overall I spend more time with my nose to the grindstone so I can leave on time. I can leave the office, hit the gym, and then go spend some time writing.

You would be amazed at how productive you can be when something outside the job motivates you to work efficiently.

Do Not Fear Technology

I know many writers that are downright technophobic. The thought of learning new software sends chills down their spines, and they just want to spin yarns on a word processor. Many of these same people run around with a smartphone in their pocket, blasting Meghan Trainor or playing the zombie app of the month.

That phone in your pocket can become one of your greatest allies on your writing journey. Most people treat their phone like a toy – a flashy, fun toy that that use to stream movies, play music, or make the occasional phone call with.

Tons of Information is Available – Most of It’s Free

There is a wealth of information for independent creatives (heck, anyone else as well), and most of it is free. You want to write, but can’t afford a class? Sign up for Critters.org. It’s a free site to join, and you read and provide feedback for other writers. You read a number of stories, then your work gets into the queue. I went to grad school, and found some of the writers on there are as serious and dedicated as the grad students were.

That phone also gives you access to podcasts. Most of these are also free. Yes, you can listen to conservative talk shows, or the celebrity buzz podcast, or you can feed your brain and listen to writing podcasts. There are lots of them out there and the bulk of them are free.

The good thing about a podcast is you can be doing something else – writing, slinging code, or washing dishes – and you can learn about writing. And I don’t just mean grammar and punctuation – I mean storytelling. Marketing. Editing. These are things that will help you as an independent author.

I’m kind of lucky – my day job allows me to spend chunks of time working alone, with headphones plugged in so I can listen to a podcast. Some of you may not be as fortunate, but you could still benefit. Listen to a podcast while cooking dinner, washing dishes, riding the bus, or writing. You’ll be glad you did.

Some of my favorite podcasts: (all free on iTunes)

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list, but these should get you started.

I Should Be Writing
Mur Lafferty hosts a podcast that’s supposedly focused for aspiring writers, but I find her advice and guests can benefit writers of all levels, Mur focuses on scifi and fantasy, but most shows have advice that transcends genre.

On the Page
Pilar Alessandra’s posdcast targets screenwriters. She interviews screenwriters – period. If you’re remotely interested in writing movies, this should be on your must-listen list. And since movies are so driven by structure, any writer can benefit from the writing advice Pilar and her guests impart.

The Creative Penn
Joanna Penn writes genre, but also works in nonfiction as well. She offers a well-rounded podcast that offers lots of business advice and marketing tips as well as solid writing tips. It’s a great podcast for writers at any level.

Odyssey Workshop
If you haven’t heard of it, the Odyssey Workshop is an intensive summer workshop for writers of horror, scifi and fantasy. Only 15 people are admitted every year, and the experience can be so intense some people stop writing. The episodes in this series are short – most clock in at under a half hour, many are less than 15 minutes – but they contain some of the best writing advice on the web. In my eyes, at least. A must listen for any writer.

Sometimes the Stories Will Need to Wait

Life is life – there will be ups, there will be downs. There will be times when you can write a lot and there will be times when it feels like no words will ever come again.

As I wrap up this post, I know some of you have gone through spurts. I know I did. I went to college, got away from writing for a while, thought I was going to give it up (and those were undoubtedly the worst two years of my life, but that’s another story), then got back to it.

Over the course of my life I’ve gotten married, raised two children, survived three layoffs, the 9/11 attacks, the deaths of my parents and my kids heading off to college. And yes, there’s a LOT more but I don’t have the space to fit it all in. It seems like the one thing that’s stayed constant is I still need to write and create.

Life is life – there will be ups, there will be downs. There will be times when you can write a lot and there will be times when it feels like no words will ever come again.

When I was an undergrad, one of my mentors gave me awesome advice that I often share with aspiring writers to this day. The art will always be there. If you’ve got the spark it will never leave you. In those dark hours when you just can’t create, remember that. At some point the clouds will life – they always do – and you’ll be able to write again.

Tim MorganTim Morgan is a New Hampshire based independent writer and filmmaker. He is the author of the zombie novel The Trip, and producer of numerous short films. You can find out more about Tim, what he’s done, and what he’s working on at his web site: http://www.timmorgan.us  You can also follow Tim on Twitter @tmorgan_2100

So how do you make money as an author these days?

It’s time we all faced a certain, somewhat deflating fact: no matter how you slice it, making a full-time living from writing books isn’t an easy thing to do these days. In fact, for most of us, it may be close to impossible.

Kameron Hurley wrote a great post that delivered some cold hard truth on the matter. Although you should read it in full, I’ll give you the CliffNotes version to help move things along:

  • Whether you’re traditionally or self-published, the average book doesn’t sell all that well in its lifetime
  • Your book has to be in the right place at the right time to gain traction (I’ll add in that some of these variables you can control, but luck is still a factor.)
  • No matter how bad things suck, keep working on the things in your control. “Level up your craft.”
  • Don’t quit your day job. (For more on this, I highly, highly recommend this Austin Kleon post.)

In a well-crafted response to Hurley’s post, Chuck Wendig gives some honest insights and helpful advice to combat this grim reality. Essentially, you’ve got to spread the wealth. There will be good times and there will be bad. During the good times, prepare to weather the bad.

Depending on who you ask, it’s the best of times and the worst of times right now. One day, indie authors are outselling traditionals on Amazon . The next, ebook sales are falling. Blah blah blah. No one’s sure if the sky is falling or raining dollar bills. As far as I can tell, success differs from author to author.

One thing for sure is this: more people are publishing books than ever before. We’re all fighting like rabid alley rats for a piece of the pie. The semi good news is we’re all getting some, albeit most are getting crumbs and crust. More people than ever are making money selling books but the majority aren’t making enough to march into the office and tell their boss to take this job and shove it.

Unfortunately, it’s a long, slow build for most of us. But the good news is, it is possible, especially if you’re willing to think outside the box and be smart about your income streams.

So how do you make money as an author these days?

Thing is, ebooks don’t really have a shelf life. And, as far as I care to look into the foreseeable future, they aren’t going anywhere, even if their popularity ebbs and flows. When I read that a digital-only book will sell less than 250 copies in its lifetime, I can’t help but scoff a little. How can you predict the lifetime sales of something that lasts forever? Sure, the grid might go down, but in that case, you’re going to be more worried about collecting canned corn and fighting off zombies than selling books.

In the meantime take some sick, twisted comfort knowing we’re all in the same boat and keep your eyes open for other opportunities. You never know where a gold mine might be hiding.

wpid-imag0065_1-e1410915663557-960x913Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.

Author Origins: Jacqueline Garlick

Jacqueline GarlickJacqueline Garlick is an author of young adult, adult, and women’s fiction. She loves strong heroines, despises whiny sidekicks, and adores a good story about a triumphant underdog. (Doesn’t everyone?)  Her edgy, rule-breaking, Tim Burton-esque style of writing has earned her the nickname…the Quentin Tarantino of YA…among close writing friends.

In her former life, Jacqueline was a teacher (both grade school and college, don’t ask) but more recently she has been the graduate of Ellen Hopkin’s Nevada Mentor Program, and a student of James Scott Bell, Christopher Vogler and Don Maass. An excerpt from Lumière earned her the prestigious Donald Maass Break Out Novel Intensive Scholarship, in 2012. Lumière—a romantic steampunk action adventure fantasy—is also the winner of the 2013 LYRA award for best YA, and was also awarded an indieBRAG Medallion, in 2014. Contact Jacqueline on her website www.jacquelinegarlick.com or catch up with her on Twitter @garlickbooks  or on Facebook.

Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

I’m Jacqueline Garlick. I guess I decided to be an author around grade three. Or so the story goes. Apparently, I drove my teacher Mrs. Martin, crazy asking to write and illustrated my own stories on a daily basis. She was very supportive; thus, I started my first series right there in her room. After that, it took me forty long years to take writing seriously again. The loss of my career (due to an illness inflicted by my employer…long story, another blog), an extended sick leave, and finally, expulsion from my teaching position (over sticking up for my rights!) were all motivators in my decision to pursue my life-long passion of writing as a career. Right now, career wise, I’d say, I’m ticking along nicely, still learning the ropes, but swinging from most. One happy writing monkey over here!

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job. What’s still the hardest thing to balance with everyday life?

Well, for me, as I said, I’d lost the day job, so that took care of that pesky little detail, HA! But seriously, ultimately, that put more pressure on me to succeed as a writer. I felt the need to succeed, and hurry up about it, which I don’t recommend to anyone. Self Publishing (as is Traditional Publishing) is more of a slow burn game. Publishing Rome is seldom an overnight sensation kind of thing. The hardest part about balancing writing with everyday life is that fact that I want to write all the time, all day long, and there are things like dinner, and husbands, and kids, that need tending to…occasionally. HA! I’m a bit of a workaholic. I find it hard to take breaks. If I’m on a break, I feel like I’m cheating my business, slacking off…which is unacceptable when you’re running your own business, or at least in my books. So, taking time for myself is a tough one, but a very necessary one, to preserved creativity. A double-edged sword for sure.

Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

The one thing I do that hasn’t changed is…I write every single day. Whether it be for one hour, twenty mins, two mins, or the whole day…I write EVERY SINGLE DAY. My schedule is easy. I get up, shower, make a protein shake, and I write until my family comes home again. I work on marketing in the evenings. Then I wake up and do it all over again. It is nothing for me to work from 7:30 am to 11:00 pm, sometimes 2 the next morning, around other things, but uninterrupted until at least 4 pm everyday. As I said, I’m a bit of a workaholic.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

Lumiere had only been out for the first year, so I had really just gotten started when Amazon came calling and bought the series from me. I had planned to bring out Noir on my own (book two) as book two’s usually generate a leap in sales, but, as I said, Amazon/Skyscape made me a deal, and I sold them both, so I don’t really know. I can say; however, that my other series (actually a serial) IF ONLY, really started to take off in popularity by book three, IF ONLY SHE HADN’T. I like to theorize that it’s because it features Aubrey, my villain, and people love to hate her so much that they rushed to read it, but then again, it might just have been that by book three, readers trusted in me enough to finish the five book serial and were willing to invest. I’d say, it’s tough to make too much traction with just one book (although there are one-hit wonders out there, for sure!), by two or three books, readers are willing to jump in and check you out. They’ve seen your work around and been impressed by your covers (hopefully)(covers are KEY), and by writing multiple material you’ve proven to them that you’re a serious artist in it for the long haul, so they are willing to try you out.

At one point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?

As I mentioned above, the decision was sort of made for me, but I can tell you, it was a terrifying one. Change is always nerve-racking, you know you what? If things don’t change, they’ll always stay the same!

Do you support yourself completely from writing books or through a variety of work? If so, what else do you do to pay the bills?

I do a variety of things, but mostly, I focus at this, point on the writing. For example: I’m a well sought after story development editing coach, (not many people know that) helping writer’s write their best books. I very much enjoy story developing, but I only take on a handful of students each year. If I do more, I find I end up neglecting my own writing, and as I say, that is my focus at the moment.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? What are some of your interests outside of writing?

One thing that people might not know about me is that I LOVE to public speak. What makes other’s sweat, makes me SMILE. In fact, just for fun I’m starting up an new Book Tuber channel tomorrow, called “Two Old Chicks Pics” with a long-time writing friend of mine, Rosemary Danielis. Together will be reviewing books we like to read and suggesting more! So, come by and check us out, won’t you?

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

Focus on the writing. In this game, productivity is key. You need to just write and write and write. Write YOUR best book, put it out as flawlessly as possible, with an alluring cover, and then get onto the next product. I say product, because that is essentially what your manuscript becomes. First it’s art. Then it’s a product. For consumers to consume. And you want them to keep consuming; thus, you need to produce more products…so, get that but in your chair and CREATE!

Molding your story

A few weekends ago, I spent some time in the mountains, cleaning out the head of our irrigation ditch. (In addition to writing and publishing on the side, I also work on a family farm). Over the course of the summer, a layer of silt about a foot deep formed over the tarp dam of the creek, followed by another layer of red clay, about half an inch thick.

As I watched the backhoe clearing out the sediment along the ditch, I peeled back a handful of clay and started rolling it in my hands. The red-brown clay molded easy under my palms and fingertips, but when I’d removed it from the layer of dark silt beneath it, some of the silt stuck to the clay. Shaping it in my hands, I found the veins of dark silt running through the clay crumbled and refused to mold with the clay. I also found no matter how many times I rolled and pinched and smoothed, I couldn’t make the clay ball into a perfect circle with my mean skill — there was always a lump sticking out somewhere.

No matter how much I caressed the clay and picked out the “flawed” silt from the clay, it would have still been impossible to make a perfect ball of clay. Eventually, I reached a point where all my little tweaks and pokes made no different. It was as good as my skills could make it.

I continued to turn the ball of clay over in my hands and my thoughts drifted to the revision process. In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the revising process with a couple of authors. Although we all did some things a little different, in the end we were all working toward the goal of a shaping a book that’s ready to be enjoyed by readers.

Much like shaping that ball of clay, writing is a process of picking out the flawed parts and turning the words over in your mind and on the page — kneading them with perfection in mind. But eventually, we reach a point where our skills are played out — we can’t make the book any better. Much like a master potter could have made a better circle than me, there are master authors out there who can craft better stories than us. If we keep working at the craft, however, we’ll eventually get to a point where the lumps get smaller, the flawed parts are picked out and we’ve got something special in our hands.

This can only happen if we keep pressing onward. As important as continual improvement is, you’ve also go to realize when a book is as good as it’s going to get. When you reach that point, it’s time to get it out there and start another, remembering everything you just learned and applying it to the new work. Keep on molding.

wpid-imag0065_1-e1410915663557-960x913Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.

You Can’t See The Forest For The Trees

Dark spooky forest at night in shades of blue
STORY CRAFTING

Picture yourself in the middle of a primeval forest of tall, thickly growing trees with a canopy that excludes most light and any sign of the daily path of the sun. The ground is relatively uncluttered with underbrush, but the few trails that are there, wind around the many tree trunks and crisscross each other, offering no clear way out. Everywhere that you look, trees sprout from the earth as thick as the hair on a dog’s back. Try as you might, you cannot find your way to open country.

As a writer, you can easily get yourself stranded in the middle of a primeval novel with multiple storylines, characters, conflicts with no clear path to open country. There are five essential elements to a story: Character, Setting, Plot, Conflict-Tension-Drama, and Resolution. I have found that although they are all important, they may not all play equally into your story. In some way, you should include enough of each to make your story interesting, inspiring, and enticing. It should be just long enough to keep you engaged but not so long as to make it a chore to finish.

You are blocked, unable to see where you are going and not seeing the path to your goal you sit on the ground amid the trees. You try to craft a plan to get out of this mess. Ideas flicker through your brain, you test everyone one to determine the right way to move. Then you leap to your feet, you have seen the right way to go. You look up—the path is clear. You must find your way to the top of the trees in able to clear the view. You climb a likely tree, you struggle your way up through the foliage, grunting with the effort, scratching your arms on the thick branches. Suddenly you burst through the canopy into the bright sunshine and look across acres and acres of trees. On the horizon you see the verge of the forest, beyond it is a rolling meadow. The goal.The beauty of Farmland

A good tale follows a pattern of “chasing a man up a tree, then finding a way to get him down”. In other words, you begin a story, you create tension, then resolve it somehow. It doesn’t have to be in that order, but the elements should be in there. Your reader should be able to follow along, even if the flow of the story isn’t logically crafted. If your story follows the beginning, middle, end template the reader can follow the story but may become bored because it is too simple and predictable. Conversely, if the story elements are too chaotic you will lose readers because it is too complicated.
So where is the balance? Your story should be just long enough to keep you engaged but not so long as to make it a chore to finish. Haiku poetry can tell an amazing story in just three lines of text. An Icelandic Saga may roll on for days. Each form is appropriate in its own time and place.

 Over the wintry
Forest, winds howl in rage
With no leaves to blow.      Natsume Soseki.

So, as a writer, what is next? The characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution, all the elements of a story, are the tree trunks of your story/forest. I wish that I could tell you that the climb out of that primeval novel is as simple as finding the right tree with enough branches to lead you to the light. That you will find the view of the whole forest before you, that you might see beyond the forest and not just the blocking view of tree trunks. You could look at my hard drive and see the stories lined up for their time in the sun and know that it isn’t as simple as all that.

How do you craft that story so that you as the writer and me as the reader are not lost amid the dark, thick trees with no hope of seeing of seeing the complete forest? You as the writer must not blind yourself with the minutiae of setting and multiple plot lines, characters, and conflicts. Stephen King, well known for his many horror stories, has written a memoir/how-to book On Writing that includes 7 great tips/insights into the process. You can see a synopsis of these tips at the Positivity Blog.

Remember, it isn’t easy to see the forest when all you focus on are the trees. Forests are much more complex than a field full of trees. A forest is a multi-layered ecosystem of flora and fauna that rely on each other to thrive. Your stories should model that ecosystem. You can craft that kind of story; your readers will be able to see it from a bird’s eye view that encompasses the whole picture not just the limited view of the trees.

DSCN0042_2_3Michael, “Mike” to his friends, is a writer, striving to be an Author. He has been a spinner of tales since elementary school and garnered a slew of rejections from even that early age. Mike graduated from a small high school on the edge of Utah’s West Desert with more than a passing knowledge of how to read and write. Mike has an undergraduate degree from the University of Hard Knocks also sports a collection of writing and literature classes from traditional institutions. From the Dictionary to Louis L’Amour, religion and philosophy, political science, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Mike boasts an extensive and diverse reading repertoire. The journey has been and continues to be enlightening to say the least. Author of Ghost of the Black Bull found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Mike has been married for 40 years and is the parent to one daughter and “poppa” to three grandsons. You can see more of his writing here at Everyday Author.com and at http://skullvalleytales.wordpress.com/

Guest Post: Authors, this is why you need community

Community, as it relates to authors, is a word so loaded with meaning that it runs the danger of being misunderstood entirely. To make things more difficult, the role of community in any particular author’s story is often misunderstood, hidden behind a veil of uncertainty, or ignored altogether.

As a result, authors often decide that this whole community thing isn’t for them, or—perhaps worse—engage in an ineffective way.

I’m here to make a case for community: Why it matters, how to find the pulse of your local community, and how this discovery can bring your author journey to life.

Take a chance

I won’t lie to you. Community is no panacea. It’s not a healing potion or a magic elixir. It won’t necessarily make you sit down and put words on the page, although healthy competition has a tendency inspire and motivate.

That said, finding a community has the potential to make you a better, more knowledgeable writer. I’ve seen it first hand. For instance, I’ve watched authors find editors and beta readers and collaborative projects. I’ve witnessed them discover critique groups and meet business partners. Most importantly, I’ve seen the joy in people’s faces when they learned or were inspired with a group of like-minded individuals. I’ve learned and been inspired myself!

I have the privilege of witnessing this process of growth twice a month at Indie Publishing Austin, a Meetup group I started because I couldn’t find one like it. I’m not bragging, I simply offer the group and others on Meetup.com llike it as evidence that local communities of authors do exist, and they are effective.

In the absence of a sizable community organized around indie publishing in my hometown, I saw potential. Whether you find an existing group and join them or start your own thing, you can experience and benefit from this potential too—if you’re willing to take a chance.

Search for a good fit

How do you find a group of community that’s a good fit for you? Start by reading Brook McIntyre’s detailed article on the possibilities of found communities, from critique groups to Meetups to NaNoWriMo to groups like Indie Pub Austin.

You don’t necessarily have to go local, though if you have the opportunity to join a vibrant group of writers in your area, I highly suggest it. Meeting in person, whether you’re actively involved or a quiet, passive listener, can impart by osmosis more than you might find online with effort. The Internet is a great tool, but introverted writers can make the mistake of thinking that interaction on the interweb is on-par with genuine connection in person.

They’re wrong. There is no substitute for humanity.

We’re all human, and as such we’re also all different. Don’t settle for a group if it doesn’t feel valuable, or if it’s the only show in town. Try several groups. Search online and in person. As a last resort, form your own community. You might be surprised, as I was, at the sheer enthusiasm and interest from those in your area who are looking for the same thing you want.

Make the most of community

I can’t stress this enough: you get out of a community what you put in. Just like your book won’t write itself, community is engaging in proportion to how much you engage with the people in it.

Don’t be a passive lump. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. Get involved.

This isn’t rocket science. Community is made up of people, and people want to be treated with respect, as equals. Look them in the eye, be interested in them, and they’ll be interested in return. Shoving business cards and book covers in people’s faces is a surefire way to fail at the process of engaging—this goes for social media as well as in person interactions.

For shy writers who think making friends is a challenge, I suggest starting by asking questions about common interests. With other authors, it’s easy: Ask about their books, about what genres they like, about their favorite authors. The conversation will trail naturally from there.

Once you’ve established relationships with people, you can start digging a little deeper. Questions like “Who do you use for your editor/cover designer/beta readers?” are cards people keep close to their chest, so save the prying questions for down the road. Once they see that you’re a genuine person who is genuinely interested in them, they’ll be more than willing to offer their help in return.

Give back to your community

Giving back is the factor that most people discount. Often, a person finds a community, becomes interested for a little while, and then stops attending or falls out of touch. They mistakenly think, they’ve got all they can out of it, and that there’s no reason to go back.

It’s one thing if the group is a bad fit, and you’re on the hunt for something better. But more often than not, a person hits a wall and just gives up, instead of delving deeper.

So what’s the most effective way to get more out of your community? Contribute to its richness by finding a way to add value. This doesn’t have to be anything big. I’m not proposing you give a moving speech or anything so intimidating. You don’t even have to offer anything unique—but you do have to be willing to get involved.

A good place for writers to start is by offering to read another writer’s work-in-progress. A simple gesture like going out of your way to read something they’ve published, leaving an unsolicited review, or commenting on a blog post also works wonders. Even small generosities can make people smile.

This is what’s so hard to understand about community, and why so many go wrong. Community is a process, a give and take, a two-way street. Finding a way to give back will get other people noticing you at the same time. It will make you an active part of the community instead of a passive bystander.

At the end of the day, becoming a part of an author community is no different than becoming a part of any other community. Fortunately, community is part of being human, so it comes naturally to all of us—as long as you’re willing to put in the effort.

Resources and Roadmaps

If you’re interested in the topic of community, you should know that I’m far from the first to discuss it. Jane Friedman and Betty Kelly Sargent have both written informatively on the subject as well.

Mark Coker from Smashwords wrote at Huffington Post about how libraries can serve as the local publishing portal. If you’re starting your own thing, the presentations Coker gave are also made available online, and you can use that content to help you in your early community-building efforts.

If you happen to be in Austin, TX, drop by Indie Publishing Austin sometime. It’s free and open to all. You might also like the notes from past Indie Publishing Austin events, all of which are collected on my blog—you can find a ton of valuable indie author information there, from platform building to audiobooks to how indie authors get reviews to a breakdown of publicity for authors.

Above all, I ask that you keep an open mind. Community is filled with potential, and those with open minds are most likely to see it. Once you find the pulse of an author community, it can work wonders to get your blood flowing, too.

matt-baba-square-round-transparentM. G. Herron (@mgherron) is speculative fiction author. After earning an English Lit degree from McMaster University, he spent two years traveling abroad while he honed his craft. Since he relocated to Austin in 2012, he has been earning a living as a writer in various capacities. He lives there still, with his girlfriend and his dog. Check out his latest novel, a scifi thriller called The Auriga Project or learn more about him at mgherron.com.

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