Archive for the ‘writing advice’ Tag

Lessons of A Lifetime   10 comments

What have I learned from writing, editing, publishing and marketing three novels?

Uh ….

This is me stalling …

Go see what my fellow authors have learned while I contemplate my answer.

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Everything we do in life has the potential for being a learning experience.  Where I started in the publishing game is not where I ended up.

Compared to many writers I know, I actually had some contact with publishing before I became a novelist. I trained as a journalist and worked as a reporter. I sold magazine articles and had short stories in a few of magazines and a couple of anthologies. And then I got busy with life and the need to pay my bills and I stopped writing to submit because I really didn’t have time. Back in those days, submitting was an ordeal of snail mail and the most I ever made was $300 for an Alaska Magazine article. I had other things to do with my life.

But I never quit writing because the voices in my head want to tell their story and it’s not crazy if you write them down. It’s creative!

The first lesson I learned was how really hard it is to find a publisher that is accepting submissions. I mean … really, really hard. Lots of publishers out there, but none of them are accepting submissions.

The second lesson I learned (from my squishy rejection letters from two agents who knew one another and liked my book … just not for either of their agencies) was that I am a good writer who doesn’t quite fit into the genres. Ah, the genres … ARGGH! The genres … (makes mean mug!)


The third lesson I learned was actually a lesson I knew without knowing. Halfway through my life, I learned that when I’m done being patient, I’m pretty brave and will set out on a path with a vague map and trust myself to get where I’m going.

This is actually something I knew about myself from traveling and hiking, but had never applied to myself in writing. I was willing to take the road less traveled … just as a brand new publication road was opening up.

Self-publishing works for me because I am willing to make mistakes and learn from them, which means I’m constantly in the process of learning new lessons.

WolfsBane_Cover_2015A killer cover is essential (like my friend Dyane’s here) — but if you haven’t got the money to buy quality, you can create the cover yourself … or pay a college student in blueberries to teach you how to do it. I’m not an artist. I can draw a reasonable facsimile of something I can see, but I can’t create anything from my imagination (my mind’s eye has perspective and shadow issues). I don’t paint either. But these days, that is not absolutely necessary. You can buy photos off the Internet and use a photo editing program to crop images to create a collage that looks like a real scene. My daughter (an actual artist) informs me that newly acquired skill makes me an artist, but I think it makes me a good technician in the graphic arts field. I use my circle of Internet friends as beta testers. And, here’s the thing … if I can do it, anyone can do it. It just takes some bravery, a lot of hours searching for the right images, and many more hours editing the images and layering them for the Willow Branch Blue White Recreation Covereffect  you want. You’ll then have to apply typographical principles to the text overlaying the cover image so that readers will be captivated at first glance. The one abiding key to this is — a cover should provide a hint of what you will find in the book and, personally, I think color makes readers click on those thumbnails on Amazon. The beauty of doing the cover yourself is that if one cover doesn’t work, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars trying another one.

I learned that I can edit my own writing, but it’s better if someone else does it too. If I, who spent four years in college learning the writing and journalism trade and have double digit years of using those skills in the job market, cannot edit my own writing to a degree of quality needed to be a professional novelist … most other people cannot either. That’s not a criticism. The fact is — we’re just too close to our own work to see our errors. Yes, editors cost money. You can make up for that by having several beta readers, which you will pay for (probably) in the time it takes to beta read their novels. Editors cost, no matter how you look at it. If I had to spend my money on an editor or a cover designer, I choose the editor.

Formatting is a pain in the neck, but well-worth it. Yes, you can hire people to do it for you, but I’m a control freak, so I do it myself … and formatting for e-book really is pretty easy with Smashwords Formatting Guide. I also take the time to format for print because I personally love to read print books (as opposed to the sanitized experience of an ebook) and I think it says something about me as indie publisher as well as a writer — that I will take the time to produce a high quality print book speaks to a commitment to quality. There’s also a local bookstore that will sell my print books.

These days social media is a necessary instrument for marketing. You are probably reading this article on social media … enough proof of the first statement. But … but, social media can consume a writer’s life and make it so we don’t get any writing done. Believe me, I know this. I wasted about 18 months on the Authonomy website discussing silliness when I could have been working toward publishing The Willow Branch. It was easy to do because Autho gave me access to beta readers who were invaluable. I made some great connections that I am still using years later, but … I also wasted a lot of time that could have been better spent. Same with Facebook and Twitter and Word Press and …. Have a social media plan and stick to it. In fact, keep a social media diary, so you can monitor how much time you’re spending there and prove to yourself when you are letting it interfere with your writing. I sometimes turn my back on my favorite groups for a while because I’ve become too involved there. When I go back and my friends ask “Where have you been?” I say, “I published that book” and they understand because some of them stayed and didn’t publish any books, but wish they had. Don’t let social media marketing become socializing to the point where it eats your next book.

It’s an old axiom, but true — you have to spend money to make money. My marketing budget is extremely limited, so I suck the life out of “free” before I plunk down the grocery money on ads. My books always start out on Kindle Select now. As a capitalist, I take it as a given that monopolies are bad, but after the dismal launch of The Willow Branch on Amazon, Smashwords and its extended network, I realized that Amazon Select has some great advantages with Countdown deals and free days. What I lose by submitting to a monopoly, I make up for by using their advertising (which is only available by submitting to the monopoly). I make use of Select’s promos until they don’t work anymore and then I release the book to Smashwords and all its extended network … which, by the way, appears to have revitalized The Willow Branch. Maybe it’s because I can do sales now without having to submit to Kindle Select’s rules, though I think it is more likely that Mirklin Wood is driving the sales of The Willow Branch because they are not stand alone books. Mirklin Wood is on Select, so it’s attracting attention to the whole series.

Let’s talk about “free”, shall we? Free days on Kindle Select is giving your book away for free … or is it? I now see it as advertising. Here’s the phenomenon I’ve observed. I put one book on free and my other books increase their sales during that period. I’m forgoing profit to make profit. I come out ahead in the end, so I’m not really giving the book away for free, I’m chumming the water.

In marketing, some “free” is more high quality than other “free”. Posting to author groups is largely a waste of time. Why would I read your book? I’m writing my own and if I spend money buying your book, I have less money to pay for advertising … or editing … or cover design. When posting to an author’s group, you are largely shouting into an echo chamber filled with whirling echoes … unless …

Some groups have secondary sites where they post your promo. Some groups are so good at this that they now charge their members for the service. I join those groups that have both a free and paid version and pay their fees because I’ve experienced the boost of their “free” promotions. Obviously, do your homework before you give them money. What are other authors saying about that group?

Now, I haven’t talked about spending money on advertising and that’s because I don’t have a huge budget, so I don’t buy a lot of ads. What little I have spent has convinced me of a few things. One … ads are not a guarantee of better sales and you really want to advertise where readers are. Goodreads is a good investment, though a particular campaign may not work. Amazon probably would be if you can afford it. Facebook and Twitter are affordable options, but less likely to get readers because of the wider focus on their audience.

Although I could go on with the lessons, here’s one final one and then I’m done for now. Authors on Amazon live and die by reviews. As a reader, paid reviews feel suspect to me, so I avoid them as a writer. It’s okay to ask family, friends and other authors to review your book — else a new author may never get any reviews. It doesn’t really bother me when a reviewer says “I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.” Again, you may be giving away some copies in order to get a little bit back, but it’s worth it. A lack of reviews affects your ability to advertise. But the best reviews are not always the 5 stars from your friends. The best reviews are the 3- and 4-stars that weren’t quite over the moon about your book. One or two of those adds credibility to the rest of the reviews. So don’t let them crush your spirit. Critics are sometimes our best friends.

Overall lesson from this indie author – be brave, take risks, carry a nice raincoat for when people rain on your parade and remember to dance in the puddles.

The Agony of Criticism   Leave a comment

Willow Branch Blue White Recreation CoverThere are writers and there are authors. Unlike some in the publishing field, I am not convinced that all that separates a writer from becoming an author is publishing a book. I think some unpublished writers are authors in progress while some published writers will never be authors.

It’s a painful truth, but one does not simply sit down and write a good novel. There’s research, there’s writing, there’s rewriting and editing … and more than anything else, there is critique.

How you accept critique is part of what separates writers and authors.

I’ve been scribbling stories since I was 12. I had some critique on my fiction in high school from my teachers, but for most of the decades between then and publishing my first novel I was writing fiction for my own amazement. Then I decided I really wanted to advance a book to publication and I started to submit it to friends to read.

I guess my friends love me. They all said pretty glowing things about the manuscript that would become the seedbed for Daermad Cycle. Somehow I knew that wasn’t completely honest. I went one step further and submitted it to the writers site Authonomy. Mostly I got good reviews and that felt a little bit more honest because these people didn’t know me. Some of the reviewers gave minor critique — moves a bit slowly, takes a long time to get to the point, it’s awfully long — but I wasn’t really sure what to do with that critique.

Then it happened. Somehow I attracted the attention of a notorious misanthrope on the site and he (or that iteration was a she, I think) decided to critique my book.

If you’ve never been run over by a Mac truck, I don’t recommend it.

I knew this was a mean, mean person, but her words bit deep. She (or he) really hated my book. Worse, though a truly miserable human being, this person was also a great writer.

There are three ways to handle that sort of critique:

  • throw the project in the trash bin where the critic suggested … thereby proving that you’re a writer and not an author in progress;
  • ignore the critique and keep the project as it is … also suggesting that you may not be an author in progress;
  • learn from the critique what is worth learning.

The author in progress does the third thing. After I got done being mad and sad in cycles, I resolved to come back to the critique in a while (that turned out to be three months) and mine it for what was worthwhile. Because this person had a history of being deleted from the site, I printed out the critique and put it away for later consumption. In the meantime, more nicer reviews came in that sort of agreed (in a nice way) with the mean review. I recognized that this mean critic had given me solid advice in a truly despicable manner and her critique was really not substantially different from the more soft-soap critique of the nicer reviews. He was brutally honest and that was exactly what I needed.

I went back to the book and applied the critique in a reasonable manner. I broke the manuscript into smaller more manageable portions (thereby creating a series, which is almost never a bad thing in epic fantasy). I was honest about how slow it was and I resolved to change that. I included death and mayhem much earlier than I was comfortable with. I excised the info dumps and limited the beautifully detailed descriptions I like. I added more complex characters, including some actual bad guys. And I got a better book, which got better reviews, but I also gained the confidence to pick a date to publish. You see, buried in that really mean review, was a off-hand statement that I had to mull for a long while and when I came back to it after the rewrite of the book that would become The Willow Branch, Book 1 of the Daermad Cycle, I realized that it was a very subtle compliment. Nasty guy actually thought there was a kernal of something in the book worth saving.

But if I’d done what I thought he was advising — burn the manuscript, eat dirt and die — I never would have come to that realization and either one of two things would have happened. Either The Willow Branch never would have been published or … I shudder to think this — the book entitled that would have been a mediocre book that should not have been published.

One of the major things separating writers from authors in progress is how they handle critique. All critique is useful to those who are willing to use it.

Lela Markham is the author of two published books The Willow Branch (Book 1 of Daermad Cycle), an epic fantasy, and Life As We Knew It (Book 1 of Transformation Project), an apocalyptic headed toward dystopian.

The Long Trail   Leave a comment

I’m involved with a book promotion thread on Facebook, which has its own website. From time to time, I might run articles from there as part of my author promotions.

I have spoken with some authors impatient to see promotional efforts produce instant results, rarely give it the time to blossom, or see little or no fruit, decide the tree is dead, and uproot it.

Stop Burning Bridges – Paula’s This and That Blog

PictureThis is burning bridges by lopping off tails, trails, or roots by leaving groups because of disagreements, or because the group is perceived to be ineffectual.  This is not to say there are times, one must fold one’s tent, pack the bag, and head off, but think before exiting.  I have watched books snatched from selling sites because their stats were not up to author’s expectations, the baby out with the bath water syndrome.

Selling a story is a job, one of salesmanship, and customer service.  No matter you want to eviscerate critics of your creation, sit on your hands until the rage passes or until you can write that emotion in an upcoming story.  I would recommend one sits on the urge to bolt and run from selling sites, too.  Chalk up reselling of your book as promotion, not as a rejection or as a loss of revenue.  Few people have the room to shelve every book, bought and read.

Learn to listen to your customer needs, in this case, wants to read, and supply the products/books.  This ties in with being a writer, and becoming a better, or a more effective writer.  However, there is a market for all types of stories and the point of The Long Tail for me was learning  my niche.  The Long Tail will point you in the direction you need with little to no cash outlay, only motivation, determination, and perseverance.  This is internet marketing 101, if you will, and is slightly less than 300 pages.

Business 2.0 ~ “If you are selling anything that can be aggregated, such as books, music, film, software, and digital products that don’t need distribution centers, The Long Tail could be your guide to becoming the next big dog.”

The Long Tail                                    Your Local Library                                     Chris Anderson on Amazon


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