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Magic of Writing

Magic of Writing

As a writer, I tend to write “organically”. This means I only draft a brief outline of the story and characters I’m writing, then allow myself to just fall into the story and let it, and my characters evolve. I find myself getting lost in the process of creating, and enjoy letting the characters lead the way. Sounds strange, I suppose, but it’s how I seem to work best.

 

I’ve attend a couple of workshops where other writers talk about how they detail almost every move a character makes, and every step along the journey is mapped out. Some actually even include detailed maps to help them along the way! I’m stunned and amazed, and impressed. I also know I couldn’t work that way. I’d get so caught up all that planning, that I don’t think I’d get to the actual writing.

 

What I know for sure is this; we each have to find our own way. For me, learning what method works best for me as individual is a private journey to be discovered through trial and error.  But don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from others and adapt what they do into what works for me. I do that all the time. It’s why I’m so interested in learning how and what other writers and/or artists of any nature do. I listen, and if I think there’s a nugget of inspiration for how I might make something work for me, I’ll use it. That’s my agenda for attending the workshops; I want to learn something I didn’t before. It’s a take-away I can shape and mould, or discard, as I see fit. I know there are no right or wrong ways to write, paint, create music, or do many of the things we all do each and every day.

 

Our Agendas

Our Agendas

In fact, each day we open our eyes, we have an agenda, which can be different from a goal. I might wake up with the goal of writing a certain amount of words that day, or fit grocery shopping and house-cleaning into my schedule, but my agenda is slightly larger. I want to get words written down so I can move the story along, and therefore, move that much closer to the conclusion, or to allow me the time to fit in some internet marketing and promotion. I might need to get the grocery shopping done that day, so we can have the necessary ingredients for the dinner I’ve planned. I do the house cleaning to ensure I feel comfortable and at ease during the evening hours when I’m relaxing. I simply cannot relax when a place is unkempt and dirty.

 

When I used to work in real estate and mortgage sales, or as BDM for a small incentive marketing company, everything work-related I did, I had an agenda. I had a reason for the tasks I assigned myself. As a commissioned salesperson, I had only myself to rely on to get the job, and tasks done. I hated cold calling. Hated it. But, I also knew that sometimes I just had to get it done if I had any hope of gaining that next bit of business. My task making those cold calls, but my agenda was to ensure I had income down the line.

 

It’s the same with my writing. I write five days a week, essentially from 9-5. I write because I love to write, but I set goals for my writing to fit my agenda; to get a book published within an established period of time. I might edit all day for days at a time to allow the publisher to continue with the next step, and hence, get the book published and in reader’s hands.

 

Marketing and promotion via social media also has a hidden agenda. As much as I love interacting with online family and friends, and I do, I also need to get the word out about my work, and to do that, I need to allow them to connect with me as well. So, I go to various forums, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even this blog, to create content that allows people to find me, learn a little about me, connect with me, and perhaps even discover my latest book. Dare I hope they’ll be intrigued enough to even purchase an ebook or print copy? Yep, I do.

 

I’ve learned, through years of reading avidly, that my characters also need agendas. They have to have a reason for being. They have to serve a purpose, whether as a main protagonist who is on a quest for love, justice, or whatever, or as a supporting character. The supporting character’s job is to provide someone for the protagonist to interact with, bounce things off of, and provide third party insights into the protagonist and the situation they’re dealing with. It’s an important job, and one not given much credit. Even villains have to have an agenda, one that moves the story, and the character along.

 

Spark of Life

Spark of Life

If my characters lack an agenda; that spark of why they’re doing what they’re doing, what motivates them and drives them to the conclusions they make, I’ll lose the interest of the reader. Characters, even paranormal ones like a handsome ghost, have to embody human elements a reader can relate to. They have to have reasons for being there, and reasons for wanting to achieve the goals and tasks set before him. Without that, they’re just going through the motions, lying flat on the page and providing no excitement or momentum to the story. Readers are going to tune into that, get bored, and close the book, which is definitely not the point of any story.

 

Not all agendas as positive ones though. Just as with people, characters within a story can have agendas that are harmful to themselves or other characters. They can be motivated by greed, jealousy, evil, and a host of other not so nice motivators. We all have and experience those feelings, and our agendas can sometimes be self-serving. So as a writer, I try to remember that. People, even good ones, don’t always make the right decisions for the right reasons. It’s what makes us human, and it makes for great story-telling. Characters who exhibit human flaws and skewed agendas are great, since they allow them to seem more “3D”.

 

It’s not easy to create characters on a page that will resonate with readers, but it is fun. As a writer, you have a vision in your mind of what the characters look like, sound like, and what drives them. Then you have to find a way to put that vision into words so you build a story, and a world, where the reader can get lost for a while. After all, the agenda of anygood fiction writer is to allow the reader to forget the outside world and settle in for a little dose of unreality. Still, not every writer gets it right every time. Ever read a story by a well-loved author and been disappointed to discover you just couldn’t connect with the characters and/or story line? That’s because writers are human, and there is no “one-size-fits-all.

Same is true for non-fiction. When dealing in facts, it’s equally important that the writer finds a way to do it in such a way that the reader will want to continue turning the pages to discover the wisdoms the book promises. Make it too dry and uninteresting, and you’ll lose people to boredom. They’ll look for something else that gives them what they need, in easy, enjoyable bites. Of course text books don’t need to be entertaining, and most of them are as dry as butterless toast, but they have an agenda; to teach and to share information. That’s it. The author of those texts though, has to ensure the information they provide is accurate to the very best of his/her ability, or risk being challenged on it. So, the agenda behind all the research a non-fiction writer might go to is to ensure the finished product delivers what’s promised; accurate information.

 

You and me

You and me

In fact, it occurs to me that virtually everything we do is with an agenda, with few exceptions. But we can, as human beings, do things “just because”. For example, I might compliment a woman in a grocery line for her lovely scarf and expect nothing in return. I might agree to help an artist title a new piece of artwork, which I did this weekend, just because she admits she struggles with finding the right words to put to her work, and not ask anything in return.

 

We can all do small acts of kindness for no reason other than, “just because”. The characters in a book can do it too. It’s a human quality that, when done right, comes off as genuine, but I believe the writer also has to see it as genuine. Of course you can argue that the writer might have an agenda when creating a scene where a character does something altruistic. The hidden agenda might be to create a picture of who the character is.

 

In real life, it’s argued that people engage in even small acts of altruism because they get something back in return; a smile, an acknowledgement, a feeling of “being good”. Maybe that’s so, but I don’t let it stop me, and please, don’t let it stop you. In writing, our book characters will benefit from engaging in that very human behaviour, and make them easier to relate to.

 

When it comes to those of us living outside the pages of a book, if doing something altruistic makes you feel good, and you want to feel good about yourself, I’d call that a great agenda!

I Feel Good!

I Feel Good!

 

 

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merry go roundI’m a huge believer in “what goes around, comes around”. This holds true for me in my personal life and in business. Of course I expect to be paid for my work, but I don’t always expect something in return for small things I do for others. For me, this is more an acknowledgement that the universe (or God, or Fate, what have you) is set up this way. I truly believe you get out of life what you are willing to put into it. I also know that human nature is generally one of selfishness. We have to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and pay our bills, but when we step outside ourselves and do something to help another person, purely because we can, then we benefit as well. This benefit most definitely may not be monetary, but it makes us feel better about ourselves, our own lives, and our capacity of effect change for other people.

 

As much as I admire huge accomplishments, like those performed by such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, the Gates family, and other proponents of social change, I’m equally as impressed by the small, individual acts of kindness and assistance we can all perform in our every day lives.

 

As writers, we reach out with our words to audiences we may never meet. We extend ourselves to hopefully touch the lives of our readers in some manner. It may be for pure entertainment that readers read our stories, articles or blogs, but even that small touch point means something. If we are successful and have done our jobs correctly, each reader takes something personal away from our work. The interpretations of our words and stories are as varied as the people who read them, but that’s the beauty of it. It is completely and utterly subjective.

 

How can I helpThat’s all very well and good, but how can we really pay it forward? How can we go beyond our work, our lives, and ourselves to help others? It’s really so easy. Whenever a writer shares information with another writer via social networking groups or blogs, or stops in their busy day to answer a question posed on one of these forums, we can help other writers. When we attend a book signing, reading, or seminar we’re giving, we help when we answer questions of attendees. The questions may not seem particularly earth-shattering, but to the person posing the question, it’s important. If we take the time to answer the questions thoughtfully and honestly, we may be helping not only the questioner, but others in the audience who were too timid to ask.

 

I’ve always been a questioner. I listen to what’s being said, then I want to know how, where, why, when?  That’s how I build my own conclusions. I’m not always right, and I don’t profess to know and understand all the nuances of any particular subject, but I ask. As a writer, I also read. I read industry related articles in on-line magazines like Forbes and Writer’s Digest. I read other writer’s blogs for the information they have to share, such as Bestseller Labs, and Writing Secrets of 7 Scribes. When I’m front and center and asked a question, I do my best to be honest and forthright, and if I don’t know an answer, I admit it. No shame in that, even in a public appearance where we’re supposed to be the “experts”.

Paying it forward can be as easy as forwarding an email you know would be of interest to others in your circle. Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter have become the ultimate sharing sites, but there are literally tons of others. I share everything from inspirational quotes that might brighten someone’s day, to articles I’ve discovered from another writer or journalist that I think would benefit someone else.

 

What does this gain me for my work, my books? Maybe nothing, but perhaps just one person will be interested enough to look a little further and see what else I have to say, or share. Maybe they’ll Google my name and see that I’ve written a book, or have a blog and website, and check it out. Maybe they won’t be interested, but forward the information along to someone else who might. The truth is, I’ll never know, and I’m good with that. I don’t need to know what’s in it for me every time I do something. There are enough people like that out there, scrabbling in business to make a sale, to undercut the competition, to lure the customer in. It isn’t that I’m above all that, I was in sales for over ten years, so I know how hard it is to earn every dollar. I’m also far from independently wealthy. In fact, my husband and I are pretty monetarily strapped right now, trying to live on his small pension since being downsized out of a huge corporate company after thirty years service (that’s another discussion altogether). We have to watch every penny that comes in and goes out, but I can still do small things that don’t cost me anything but my time.

 Book writingAs writers, we often feel pressured to “produce”. We’re always working on the current WIP, the next project, marketing, promotion, personal appearances, etc. So who has the time to help someone else? Heck, we may be struggling to figure it all out ourselves. I know I am. That’s exactly when it’s important to share what information we have and come across. It doesn’t take a great deal more time to share a timely article you’ve read with followers on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog. As writers, we also know how important ratings and reviews of our work are, so if you’re reading something, take a few moments to post a review and rating! You know how thrilled the other writer will be to hear your comments, and what it means to algorithms (if you don’t you need to learn about this too, then share your findings).

 

In fact, there are so many ways we can “pay it forward” as writers. Don’t worry about what’s in it for you, just get out there and do it. You may be surprised where it leads down the road.

We're off to see the Wizard...

We’re off to see the Wizard…

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Cheers!

Cheers!

So, now that I’ve written and had my first book published, drank the congratulatory champagne and danced the victory dance, I’m left to wonder, now what?

Of course I have the WIP to continue, which is work enough, but what about getting the word out there about my book. I mean, much as I’m thrilled with the response from family and friends (and I definitely am), there’s the whole wide world I need to reach out to now. Separate and apart from the writing is the marketing and promotion, a beast unto itself.

Before the release of my book, I did invest quite a bit of time investigating websites, becoming proactive in social networking via FaceBook, but what about Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest? What about requesting honest reviews of readers and asking them to post them on sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and so on? What about face-to-face appearances, readings and book signings?

Whoa, this is starting to look like a TON of work, and it is. I read a while back that book marketing and promotion can take up considerable time for an author, because he/she needs to reach out to readers to let them know their book is available for sale. Not only that, but as an author, you want the feedback. ‘Am I on the right track?’ ‘Do people like and respond to my story and characters?’ ‘Do they like me?’

And so it goes. As I mentioned before, writing is a lot like life, and the similarities continue to intrigue me. In order to do well in this world, we need to be willing to risk something of ourselves. We need to be willing to invest in ourselves and trust that at least some others will respond positively to our efforts. Otherwise, why bother? Why put ourselves through the pain and anguish of exposing our deepest hopes and dreams?

storytellingIt’s because we believe we have some talent for storytelling. We believe we have something of value for others to relate to, even if only for entertainment sake. We strike out on this lonely path, and along the way, if we’re lucky, we meet others whose paths merge or intersect with ours. We realize we are not alone, and that they too share the dream. Authors come together, sometimes loosely, and sometimes very tightly knit, to support and encourage.

Ah, but when the reader reaches back and gives praise or useful comment, the writer is blessed. They are validated. They have been heard. The fact that another person has invested his/her time and hard-earned money to purchase your book resonates in a special place within the writer’s heart. It is a warm, sunny space.

 But how to reach the reader, and how to connect with other writers? In my opinion, one step at a time. I recommend researching the options and trying the ones that seem to connect with you. On-line networking has become globally massive, with the potential to connect with more people than ever before, but you have to be willing to participate, and participate with care and professionalism. Still, what works well for one writer may not suit the personality of another, but make no mistake, EVERY writer must put themselves out there and connect on some level.  Even the long-held masters of the craft can’t expect to sit in their writing caves and ignore the outside world for long. Yes, the Work In Progress (WIP) is of paramount importance, but so too is connecting with your audience. Agents and publicity people notwithstanding, readers love to hear from the author directly. They love to ask those burning questions and know that the writer is human.

Now I’m such a newbie, I had no idea how to go about things like press releases and book tours, but I did compose a press release and sent it out to many of the local newspapers. A week ago I was contacted by one of the larger ones and asked if I’d be interested in an interview. Are you kidding me? I was ecstatic! One week to the date of the interview, I purchased several copies of that newspaper and there it was – the cover art of my book, my photo, and the article. A half-page of information about me and my work shone back at me. I learned something from that exercise; ask and ye shall receive. Keep quiet, and no one knows you have something to share.

Another example of something that always works well is word of mouth. When my daughter talked to her local librarian last week, she mentioned my book. The librarian was quite interested in learning of this new (local) author and asked my daughter to have me stop in at the branch and bring along a copy of my book. I was thrilled at the opportunity. It’s no surprise that librarians love and support books, so this was an ideal fit. I had ordered fifty-five copies of my book to sell to family and friends who had asked for a signed copy. Now this librarian said she’d like to purchase and read it. It doesn’t get better than that. A complete stranger wants to read your book and possibly recommend it to others who trust her judgement.

Librarians Rock!

Librarians Rock!

After meeting that first librarian, I then gathered up the courage to contact another librarian at a separate branch and ask if she’d be interested as well. Well lo and behold, that gracious lady immediately jumped on board, asking me to bring her five copies of my book to distribute to other county branches in her area! We chatted when I brought in my books and she asked if I would consider doing a chapter reading, Q & A, and book signing in the Spring. You bet I would!

And so it begins. I’ve now begun contacting the local libraries (we have a lot of them), and have been thrilled with the response. In two days I pre-booked two book readings and sold eight books to libraries. Even though my books are primarily available on e-readers and e-devices, I was pleased to learn that libraries not only promote this venue, but assist patrons with selecting and downloading books they’re interested in. One of our small libraries actually has three e-readers available for loan, to be signed out on a two week basis and returned, exactly like a book! Now that’s being proactive.

As I continue working and networking, I find I’m meeting some amazing people, and I’m learning new things every day. The first draft WIP is almost complete, as I now have people continually asking when the sequel going to be ready. Kind of lights a fire under the butt when you have people clamouring for your next work.

For now I’ll keep working and learning as I go, growing my base and putting down roots. What I know for sure is that this writing gig is what I was meant to do. At long last, after a lifetime of trials and errors, of mountains and valleys, I’ve found something that fills a part of my soul I hadn’t even realized was there. What more could I ask?

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So just how importantare rating and reviews to book rankings?

Juding by the information I’ve been able to gather over the past few months and the inside talk-very. To investigate a little further, I Googled ‘how to review a book’, and found an article called, “So you’d like to get your book reviewed on Amazon and boost your sales“. Okay, perfect. This is just was I was looking for. According to Amazon, “Good reviews on Amazon are particularly crucial for books by new authors and for niche books, and it stands to reason that they boost sales not only at that site but everywhere people are buying books, although we don’t yet know what percentage of buyers at brick-and-mortar bookstores made their choice by reading Amazon customer reviews.”. This article also went on to explain how to approach Amazon’s top reviewers, and even provides a sample script to try to elicit the review.

Of course there’s a downside to reviews, and that is the dreaded negative review. In that same Amazon article, they point out, “Yes, negative reviews can hurt sales in the short term, but over the long term, allowing criticism builds credibility and helps shoppers decide what to buy, Bezos says: “We don’t make money when we sell things; we make money when we help people make purchase decisions.”

Rampant Techpress has an excellent article on Amazon Sales Rank Tracking that’s well worth taking a look at, as it breaks down how the giant book seller actually ranks an author’s book. I found this really useful in understanding the mechanics behind rankings.

Opinions seem to vary between “no, not important and it’s just an author’s vanity”, to “yes, extremely important”. With the advent of indie publishing, self-publishing and ebooks, I believe book rankings has become one of those hot topics everyone is trying to figure out. According the big hitters, ranking is definitely important. After all, what is the New York Times Bestseller’s List, but a ranking of books the publisher’s and critics like? Why are the readers’ opinions less important. To authors, they aren’t. In the grand scheme of things, readers buy books, not publishers, agents, critics or even book stores.

Can rankings be padded or faked, of course they can, and sometimes are. Word is spreading that some of the big publishing houses are actually even hiring individuals to post poor reviews for indie authors for the sole purpose of bringing their rankings down. I have no idea if this is true, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Selling books has long been big business, and in today’s highly competitive publishing industry, with the increasing rise and popularity of ebooks, it’s no wonder.

So, are rankings and reviews important. I think so, but hey, I’m an author, so I care what others think of my work. It’s how I plan to grow and improve my craft, as well as how I hope to sell my books.

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I just read an excellent article in The Huffington Post this morning about how to use social media for new start ups.

Writing is a business, as much as it’s a craft. In order to gain the readers we want and followers we need, we are constantly trying to find the most efficient and effective means of connecting with our audience. Social media has been a major boon to writers of all genres. It helps us connect with family and friends to let them know what we’re doing, it allows us to connect with others who might be interested in our work, but more importantly, it needs to be about connecting with others-period.

In order to be well received, we have to show respect, listen to what others have to say, contribute thoughtfully and intelligently to the conversations that interest us, and if we want others to help us promote our work, start by promoting theirs. Pay it forward before asking for paybacks. I guess I think of like this: If you walk into a room and start boasting about your accomplishments, talk only about yourself and what you’re doing or think, and monopolize the conversations, you’ll quickly find yourself standing in that room alone. On the other hand, be polite, listen and contribute intelligently, ask about others and be genuinely interested in them (not faking it till it’s your turn), and be prepared to offer assistance where you can, others will gravitate to you. No pushing needed.

What  are your thoughts or pet peeves on social media?

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