3 things you need to earn notices, publish, and write

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sailing-boat-640There are three assets anyone needs for a career in books. See, you’ll craft a writing career out of your writing life. First you have a writing life, personal and intimate and regular. Then you move on to a writing career. Maybe not full-time, but you consider it your primary work.

The three assets are publicity, patience, and practice. Whether you choose to work with a publisher, a coach, or an editor—or strive to become one—those are three essentials. But no matter where you’re at in your career as a writer, using these three tools is crucial to finding the Joy of Writing. Sailing at the center of your journey of joy is help.

As you move into your career as a writer you’ll need publicity. At first that will be earning attention for your own work or the writing of your colleagues. Getting fluent with Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, mapping the landscape of book review websites, plumbing publicity portals like BookBub and Bookbuzz— it’s all essential to publishing yourself. However, in time, you might be inclined to form a publishing venture, at first limited to yourself and few fellow writers.

Publishing can become the province of writers when they collaborate on its business. The flavor of the business day is to corral experienced writers with popular backlists of books, and then get these authors the money they deserve. After all, traditional publishing’s payouts are changing. An author in this kind of boutique press will learn the publicity world to succeed at this venture. Such boutique publishers might even discover more great books, ones that couldn’t find a publisher, and build careers for the undiscovered authors. Very nice work indeed. Getting notice for good work is the heart of publishing.

That leads us to another kind of help: assisting creativity. This is the aid which demands patience. While an author is building skills and polishes their own books, there are opportunities to reach out and help other writers. You might be doing beta reads for your friends’ full drafts, or even catching typos in a late-stage revision of a book. Given enough of this patient work, you may hear a calling to coach writers—that’s where the asset of patience pays off. Coaches guide writers to develop books and edit the text. The level of accountability for a coach can feel greater than one for a classroom teacher. Students pass, they fail, they rate a teacher up or down in surveys: that’s what’s at stake while teaching. Sometimes a teacher only gets three or four hours in front of 30 writers and never sees their writing.

In contrast, during coaching the author will look a coach in the eye (if they use FaceTime, or they meet in a coffee shop) and say things like “Explain why I can’t have three first-person points of view for this cozy mystery.” A coach takes a breath and does their best–and later evaluates the writer’s next set of pages to see if the advice helped the author. That counsel is powered by the talent of the author and that writer’s willingness to put in the hours. You must become the hard-working author who loves to put your early efforts well behind you. Plenty of teaching happens via email and Track Changes.

Of course practice, the third asset, helps everything improve. Practice makes doing the work easier, too. (Okay, at least you don’t need as much effort to finish a section or an assignment.) In the beginning of an editor’s career the books take longer to edit well. After a decade or two of reading the writing of others and then making it better, everyone’s time is better used. The editor returns drafts with development notes sooner. An editor who can coach will have seen more styles, as well as become more practiced at preserving a writer’s tone and voice.

fathers-day-buzzNear the end of the movie Genius, the legendary editor Max Perkins expresses the editor’s worry. “We might not be making these books better,” he says. “We might just be making them different.” Your editor is your collaborator in writing, an art that people believe is solitary work. Lately a few publishers have begun to give an editor a credit on the book. Buzz Bissinger’s memoir Father’s Day is called An Eamon Dolan Book, right out on the back cover. Eamon is Bissinger’s editor, collaborating with him on three books so far. Buzz gives him fulsome praise in the acknowlegements.

With Eamon as fastidious editor and wordsmith (some chapters had more of his comments than they did my own words), what began as an earnest and rudderless first draft became a book.

An Eamon Dolan Book sounds like “A Steven Spielberg Film.” It’s Buzz’s book, yes. The collaboration was powered by publicity, patience, and practice. The first feels like magic when it works. But it’s earned by applying the other two in order to create something worthy of public notice. Buzz admits his fine memoir was rudderless, but at least it was moving. Patience helped him steer the story. Practice, of course, was the wind in his sails.

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Filling Out that Early Draft of Your Book

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hungry_babyNovels arrive, like babies, at expected weights. A writer who’s poked around websites or attended conferences knows the numbers. It’s tough to consider anything under 60,000 words a novel. The spot that most agents like to see for a debut novel is about 80,000 words. Science fiction and fantasy writers can go as high as 120,000 and get a commercial deal.

But what if you’re 20,000 words short of even the 60K? How do you look for what that early draft of your book needs in order to grow to term, like babies do? It’s tough for a preemie to make it in the world, in the same way that a small book will scuffle to make an impact. Where do you look to fatten up that early draft?

Character is usually the broad-brush answer. Early versions of novels exist in the most complete fashion inside the writer’s head. You can see your hero, the story’s villain, all the trusty sidekicks and baffled authority figures, the mentor and the confidants. The question becomes, do your readers know them like you do? I like to tell writers that if it’s not on the page, then it’s probably not in the story.

Motives: I need to know what your main character wants desperately. I want to see the achievement or the object or the relationship that leaves a hole in their heart, because it’s missing. You can show me this in the part of the story where the story starts. Pixar calls this the “Every day…” part of the writing. I call it Life as Your Character Knows It. If at all possible, try to show that “Every day” instead of telling it to me.

Settings: It can be tempting to paint each loving detail of a house, a shop, a town, or a beloved car. In the same way, your early draft writing can linger on the physical details of significant characters. These details are only important to the story if they keep showing readers that missing element your hero wants. How does the hero feel about the peeling paint on the windowsills? Can you show me that feeling in a scene? There’s a great exercise called the Character of Setting, where details for descriptions are chosen based on what the feeling of the character is at that moment of the story.

Early drafts of novels often need to be unpacked, like the old sea monkey kits that would arrive from the cereal box companies. (That’s a Boomer reference if ever there was one. You used an eyedropper of water.) You drop emotions onto the little moments in your story. You slow down the narrative progress and linger over the sensory moments. Your early draft, if it’s short, doesn’t have to rush toward one event after the next. Plot is the events that happen in a book. Story is what makes the events matter. You can only create the meaning for a book if I understand the characters’ hearts.

If your characters start talking to each other in an early draft, that’s a fine spot to expand the sea monkeys. Conflict drives all lively dialogue. Let me see a bit of battle, confusion, or misunderstanding of one another while the characters sort things out in talk. In the best of scenes, there’s action to provide counterpoint to the talking.

History: Resist this if you can. Flashbacks are tolerable to a point, but what’s happening in the now of the story is the most important thing to a reader. Extended explanations to recount events about why something is significant are often shortcuts. Telling has a valuable place in story creation. Showing is more riveting, and it provides a hard-wired magnet for attention of the reader. Telling compresses time and scoots us through the story’s slow spots. Showing lets us walk through the garden with eyes on every flower.

Keeping your main character’s yearning in every part of the story will give your early draft the food it needs to grow to term. Some writers have to cut back when they get to later drafts. Some need to make more events take place, to cut back on the interior voice of the book and get out of the heads of characters. But for many an early draft, showing the character’s desires and fears, their hidden shame and forbidden joy, is the best nourishment to make it grow.

In Truth, It’s National Novel Re-Writing Month

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Interesting WriterIt’s November, the month when countless writers toil at their new and unfinished novels in a communal effort at slinging out 50,000 words in one month. People have published novels who’ve logged NaNoWriMo time. Do not be confused about NaNo’s role, through. Nobody creates a novel in 30 days that can be published. But a hefty draft, one that can be re-written and expanded and cut back, can start from a healthy work habit you establish during this month. One of the success stories logged by Mental Floss claims the novel The Night Circus came together over two NaNo’s. That, plus weeks of editing, to be sure.

Agent Kristen Nelson has offered three pieces of advice to her prospective writers about this month-long bash-fest. Bashers are the writers who plow through their stories, throwing caution, grammar, and precision to the winds. They want to see what the last page looks like, knowing they’ll be doubling back to make their writing look like a novel. Nelson’s advice is to understand that 50,000 words in 30 days is only a start. In short, write badly, because it frees you to write because “Sometimes there is a gem of an idea that will turn into “the one” and jumpstart your career.”

Also good advice for NaNo writers:

1. Write book jacket copy first. Summarize your story’s concept with the language you see on a book’s back cover — or if it’s a real high-rent title, a dust cover. Nelson’s got a superior take on why you’re doing this.

So many writers focus on stories that don’t have a concept big enough to merit a novel. Knowing how your jacket copy could read before you jump in and write an entire novel forces you to boil your story down to its essence to see if your idea is solid. Then share your jacket copy with other writers. Ask, “Would you read this novel?” So much of success in this business depends on luck and timing. You have to have the right story at the right time for the market.

Indie-published writers shouldn’t worry about this so much, she adds. I’d beg to differ. Knowing your story well enough to tell it in a few sentences will save you months of wandering among words. It will also save the time of readers who try to enjoy your book.

2. Hitting 50,000 words in 30 days is not the measure of success. Finishing the manuscript, then revising it, is success. One of the seminal books of the NaNo phenomenon is “No Plot, No Problem.” Well, it’s not a problem while bashing the words, but making a book requires plotting. Revision creates plots.

3. You don’t have to share everything you write, so you can write crap. Here Nelson says something delicious: “Every author writes crap sometimes. Repeat after me: Even bestselling authors write crap sometimes. It’s a fact of the writing life.”

Have fun, dream big — and set aside time in December and January to make that novel worth reading.

NaNoWriMo begins one week from midnight. Get your writing planned

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NaNoWriMoHalloween will deliver more than costumes, debauched parties and tons of candy corn. At midnight it’s also the start of National Novel Writing Month, a worldwide 30-day event where the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Those are aimed to be words for a novel — although you can hijack this event to fill the pages of your memoir or creative nonfiction project.

You can sign up for free, and register your book in progress, at the NaNoWriMo dashboard. The roots of this event are aimed at novel writers, but the collective creativity month serves any long project. You see, memoir, creative nonfiction and novel all share the same powerful elements. Characterization. Scene. Dialogue. Setting. Metaphor. Theme. Structure. Story. Plot. Dramatic arc. Transformation.

All of the above are tools to use in telling any story. It doesn’t matter if your book’s bones have elements of fact for memoir or the long-form essay, or stand up as a fabricated tale that is, like all great ones, “based upon a true story.” The point is that the community of NaNoWriMo is at your beck and call starting next Friday night.

Your goal is to write 50,000 words. They’re unpolished, rough-draft words. You don’t edit during NaNo. That’s work for EdiMo — not really an official event, but there should be a National Novel Editing Month for December. Don’t look for EdiMo. Just look for the delicious experience of drafting all those words without making it perfect. Pat Conroy, who wrote The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, said “Write like you are a lover. Edit like you are in charge.”

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3 Ways to Succeed at NaNoWriMo

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NaNoWriMoEvery November, thousands of writers take the 30-day challenge that’s National Novel Writing Month. The goal is 50,000 unrevised words over a month, or about 1,700 every day. You “win” if you can post a file (which is then scrambled for your protection) with a 50K word count or more.

Win or not, you write among a community both local and worldwide. It’s fun, and it will at least get tens of thousands of words out of you even if you fall short.

NaNoWriMo has three ways to succeed, according to its website shared on its Facebook page:

  1. Never edit as you go. If you get caught up with editing, your story will never meet your expectations and you’ll get bored. You don’t want to get bored. Fall in love with your story!
  2. Don’t quit if you get behind. You’ll still feel happy if you finish a book in December.
  3. Remember you are doing this for you. Not to impress friends. Not to get published. Do this because it makes you happy. Remember that you love to write, even when it’s hard.

Make money writing erotica. It’s harder work to create complex stories of art.

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People read books for many reasons. Lots of them just enjoy a good plot. Others get their groove on as they enjoy rich, unique characters, or people and places drawn with superb details.

Rock HardThen there are the books that tell stories with subject matter you don’t see elsewhere. There was a time when erotica like Olivia Cunning’s Sinners on Tour books could only be found in adult bookstores. (That’s why they call them bookstores, although many of them don’t sell any printed matter by now.)

But today we can buy books like the Sinners without even putting on pants, straight off Amazon. The covers really help. But the books’ novelty doesn’t lie in the characterizations, or the plots, or even the subject of erotica. Erotica’s everywhere now, like duckweed.

If this sentence — “Jessica’s confident smile faded as the grade on her final paper burned its ugly red image into her retina” — doesn’t yank you out of the Dream State of the Story — as John Gardner calls that hypnotic effect — then the Sinners series will give you exactly what you’re seeking.

There’s two reasons that Olivia was able to write six of these, plus two more in the One Night anthology series, in just four years. The first reason she does eight books in 48 months is that Olivia has great work habits. (If she was on an auto assembly line, she’d never back up the manufacture.) The other reason is that these aren’t complex books. There’s a rule of thumb that says the less time a book takes to write, the less complex (and rich) it reads. Compare Twilight to Harry Potter to see what I mean.

Good books do need sex and erotica. Sex is a part of who we are. Erotica books must have both sex and love; the rest is often just a setup for those elements. Pornography just needs the sex. That’s why the cover lines in this series promise that you’ll enjoy the love as much as the sex. If you’re reading these on Kindle, get the Kindle Unlimited membership. This Series is among the 600,000 titles in Kindle’s Netflix-of-Books club.

Unlimited is a poor deal for bestsellers, for books rich and with high art (Potter), or anything you can check out at your library. But it’s great for titles like these. I’m not sure how Olivia is compensated for getting checkouts from Amazon’s Unlimited library. But it might be better suited to the effort I can see to create a salacious series.

Do you enjoy a good erotica read? Do you enjoy it enough to try to write one?

A boatload of books on making fiction: tools to use on a cruise

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bookstoreA coaching client who’s developing a novel recently asked me a delicious question. What books would I recommend to a fellow fiction writer, one who’s setting sail for a cruise around the Pacific?

There are so many on my shelves here, and on my Kindle as well. Collected, curated and used over the last 12 years, these are the ones I’d grab if my boat was leaving the slip.

A list of fiction books to take on a sail around the Pacific. What a fun assignment

1. Gotham Writer’s Workshop: Writing Fiction. Great overview of the craft.

2. The Making of a Story, by Alice LaPlante. 650 pages covering every aspect. About 150 of them are writing, top-notch. Exercises in each chapter, too.

3. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. Get it in paper. Worth every glorious page.

4. Scene and Structure, by Jack Bickham. How to flow between scene and sequel.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 1.26.29 PM5. Showing & Telling, by Laurie Alberts. Finally gives Telling its due in creating a story

6. The Scene Book, by Sandra Scofield. Everything you want to know about making compelling scenes.

7. The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman. Crafting an opening to a book that agents want to pick up.

8. Story, by Robert McKee. Brilliant 400 pages on story structure, with movies as examples. Get the audiobook as a companion.

scene-structure bickham9. The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler. Joseph Campbell’s classic story archetypes (like The Mentor, The Gatekeeper) illustrated with examples from movie stories.

10. Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas. The master of making tension on every page. Has a dandy workbook as a companion novel, too

11. Characters and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card. Sci-Fi master has a great style while showing the way to start a character.

12. What Would Your Character Do? by Eric Maisel and Ann Maisel. Psychologist to artists (and Creativity Coaching trainer) Maisel, writing with his wife, has great personality quizzes for your characters.

13. The Novelist’s Notebook, by Laurie Henry. (Another one you should buy in paper.) This one is special, a book with essential questions and rules you establish to explore for your novel. You write upon the pages of this hardback book, the size of a nice journal. I used one for my novel Viral Times, and now another for the forthcoming Monsignor Dad. A place to store ideas and get concepts for meta-writing — the scaffolding of your book’s structure.

14. Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark. Great instruction on making anything more clear and compelling. Branch to the right, to put the noun+verb combo as close to the sentence’s start as possible, for example.

15. Now Write! Fiction Writing Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers, by Sherry Ellis. My essential text for leading the creativity nights and mornings in the Workshop’s meetings.

There are many, many more. Inspiration takes up a whole shelf. Some others are focused on poetry, and still more on the art and craft of creative non-fiction. They say you have to make time to read if you want to write, and it is also true about reading these textbooks and guides. Grab a few from your library to audition them before you buy.

A list of fiction books to take on a sail around the Pacific. What a fun assignment. What are your go-to books to make your fiction glitter on the page?

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