Write what you know, and what you don’t know

It’s a known saying to “write what you know.” And it’s true, your very best writing will come from areas of your life that you’re most familiar with. I’ve followed this advice in my own books – from writing about child loss and poverty in The Road to Hope,  to actual stories of my life in Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows.

But if you only wrote about stuff you knew, your book topics would be severely limited. How would books like Harry Potter come about, where the magical world of wizards is completely made up? Or Twilight, where humans fall in love with vampires and befriend shape-shifting wolves? Or my novel, A Symphony of Cicadas, where the majority of it takes place in the afterlife – a place I don’t plan on going for a very long time…

albert-einstein-imagination

While it’s important to use familiar themes in your writing, it’s probably a fair assessment that your story will include stuff you know nothing about. And that’s okay. That’s more than okay, that’s fantastic!

That’s where you get the opportunity to learn something new.

For instance, in The Road to Hope, one of the characters ends up at a winery in Sonoma County where she must learn the ins and outs of working in the vineyards. I grew up down the road from the winery I described in the book, and adding it in was like writing a love letter to my childhood.

However, I don’t know the first thing about working in a vineyard.

To compensate, I researched my patootie off. I studied what happened at each part of the season, how to graft vines…everything I could to learn what it would be like to work the fields at a winery. I think that was my favorite part about writing that novel, learning something I might never have known about before.

As you write, don’t be afraid to throw in a few interesting things you’re not an expert on. But follow a few rules when doing so:

Find an expert – You might not know much about that particular topic, but someone else does. Buy them a cup of coffee, and then have them tell you everything they know about the subject you’re writing on.

Read books – Become the expert on what you’re researching by taking from other people’s personal experience.

Search the net – This is my favorite, and easiest, way to find out information. Of course, be careful when you do use the internet to learn about your topic. Sometimes information can be a bit…wrong. Make sure you find several notable sources on your topic to ensure the information is correct.

Do it yourself – While you can’t exactly enter a world of wizardry to learn the ins and outs of attending a school like Hogwarts, you can work the fields at a vineyard when writing about being a winery worker. Take a class on your subject, grow something, travel, do whatever you can to get closer to knowledge on whatever it is you’re writing about. Don’t quote me, but you might even be able to get a tax write-off for your “research” expenses (so you should probably explore what it would be like to travel to Bali).

If you go off the cuff and write about something you don’t know anything about, someone who DOES know something about your subject will read your book and call you on your ignorance. Your whole book will be discredited just by stating misinformation as fact. So make sure all of your facts are in sync with what the reality would be through detailed research.

Have you learned about something new when writing your novel? Share in the comments!

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The argument for hiring an editor

I remember when I first started writing for the newspaper. I was pretty green at it, and would turn in pieces I thought were flowing with ideas and beautiful language. My editor would look over my work and let go of a good 30% of what I had said by striking out redundant thoughts, simplifying sentences, and deleting all the extra words I liked to use (like “that”, as in “I thought THAT she was going to cry” – and it still slips into my work, even after all these years!).

I learned a lot about writing from this editor, and there soon came a time when her edits consisted of changing a word here or there, and allowing the rest to remain the way it was.

When I decided my very first book, A Symphony of Cicadas, was finished enough to be a published piece, I knew from experience I couldn’t just put it out there without seeing a professional editor first. I figured my many years of writing for the newspaper gave me a little bit of an edge, and she wouldn’t find much to change. I had already gone over my novel several times, and had handed it over to my husband and even my mom (who is very meticulous in proof-reading). I changed all the places they thought needed work or could sound better. By the time I gave it to the editor, that thing, in my eyes, was pretty near perfect.

And boy, was I mistaken.

I found a fabulous editor through WritersMarket.com. We exchanged emails, and she had me send her a sample piece of my work so she could get a sense of my writing style, I could get a sense of her editing style, and we both could decide if this was a good match.

I had her edit my 5th chapter, because that was the one I was most proud of. In it, I had really gone to town with my description and prose, and the characters in that chapter were fully developed. But when she gave it back to me, I saw she had quite a few suggestions for edits. She left her edits marked, and added comments as to why things were changed. She noted where things didn’t “sing” for her, when she couldn’t picture what was going on, or when certain sentences seemed to interrupt the flow. She also mentioned a rule about adverbs I should be aware of – how I should show what’s going on instead of summing it up with “happily” or “morosely” or “softly” . . . you get the point.

(Check out my post on adverbs on my author blog for more.)

I ended up hiring her, and sent her my completed manuscript to edit. I had gone through it one more time to implement some of the suggested changes she’d mentioned. But truth be told, I left many of those adverbs untouched because I still didn’t quite believe her on the adverb rule.

I came to regret this.

When she handed the manuscript back, she changed a few of the adverbs in the beginning to show me how to strengthen a sentence with the “show, don’t tell” rule. But she left the vast majority of them up to me so I could A) learn my lesson and learn it well, and B) keep my voice in the piece when I changed those adverbs into “showing” sentences.

Along with the adverb situation, she also revised many of my sentences so they flowed. Here’s an example):

This sentence started out as:

“…The sarcasm had left her demeanor, replaced with a sense of seriousness I had never experienced from her. I got the sense that she would do her best to answer any questions I had in the moment, but I had so much confusion I didn’t even know where to start.”

It was changed to:

“Her sarcasm was gone, replaced with a seriousness I had never experienced from her. I sensed she would answer any questions I had in the moment, but I was so confused I didn’t even know where to start.”

In the world of self-publishing, it’s tempting to take a few shortcuts to get a novel out there and into the public’s hands. We indie authors are working on a much smaller budget than those with a traditional publishing deal. Everything we do for the novel comes out of our own pockets – cover design, editing, ISBN numbers, marketing, etc. Editing doesn’t run cheap. Depending on the word count, it can cost $800 or more! That’s not chump change, especially when most self-published novels won’t come close to making up the cost of producing a novel.

Some authors get around this by trusting their mom or a friend to do their editing. Or they send it to beta readers and make any suggested changes that come back. There is nothing wrong with utilizing these ways to help edit a book. But if that novel doesn’t see a professional editor as well, I can guarantee your words aren’t going to flow as beautifully as they could.

A good editor is trained to use the red pen without mercy, ensuring your story is going to be told without anything distracting the reader. An editor has the ability to see your work through unbiased eyes. They are not your mother – they don’t love you enough to try not to hurt your feelings. They’ll give you honest corrections of what works and what doesn’t work. And they don’t hold your story so close to their heart they’re unable to let go of certain paragraphs that just aren’t jiving.

Let me put it this way. Stephen King uses an editor. JK Rowling uses an editor. Every great author you have read and loved uses an editor. I think it’s a safe assumption to say you are not a better writer than they are. So how can you expect your story to be told the best way it could without a professional looking it over and making your words sing?

Hire an editor. If it’s too expensive, push back your anticipated pub date and save for an editor. It’s the one expense you can’t afford NOT to spend. Waiting to publish something that’s been properly polished will be far more valuable to you in the long run then rushing to put something out there that could be considered sub-par. If you don’t hire an editor, it will show in your work. You will be judged for what you publish. And in the long run, taking the shortcut of NOT hiring an editor could murder your aspirations of making it big in this business.

Bottom line: HIRE AN EDITOR.

If you’re looking for affordable assistance with formatting, editing, proofreading, or other indie author services, I can help. Visit northcoaststories.com/about for more information. 

Should authors self-publish or seek a traditional publisher?

typing

It is said that everyone has a book inside them just waiting to get out, and thanks to advances in self-publishing, getting that book out is easier now than ever. Authors who have previously experienced slammed doors from the gatekeepers (agents, editors, publishers, etc.) are skirting around these middlemen by going indie. By doing this, they are experiencing a multitude of benefits. Authors who self-publish can:

– write about whatever they want instead of what a publisher deems marketable.
– own complete control over the book process from start to finish.
– keep up to 70% of their royalties instead of paying the majority of the book’s profits to the gatekeepers.
– can publish as fast or as slow as they want.
– aren’t under contract.

Of course there are plenty of downfalls to being a self-published author, as well. An author who goes indie is in charge of making sure their book is formatted properly, has an enticing cover and title, is professionally edited, and so on. As you can imagine, this process can be quite costly. Producing just one book can cost more than $1,000. On top of that, the majority of self-published authors, especially those just starting out, won’t make back that amount…often not even close. 

Then there’s the purpose of those gatekeepers — there are many self-published books that should be edited and rewritten several times, but are still being published. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many self-published books that are wonderful reads. But there are also many that are, well, NOT. These books are the ones with the bad covers, the odd titles, contain spelling and grammar mistakes, and could probably use a few cuts.

Plus, self-published authors must do all of their own marketing, which is something that’s completely unnatural for writers. Often this can look like “Buy my book!” in a series of Tweets.

Finally, there are those who just believe self-publishing is an insult to the written word, as author Laurie Gough wrote on The Huffington Post in a controversial article that has since been shared thousands of times by irate self-published authors.

So what if you go traditional? The reasons to find a publisher are solid. With the backing of these book professionals, you get the golden stamp of approval that your book is quality. While a few lemons still squeeze by, in general terms, a traditionally published book has a good storyline, is free (or mostly free) of errors, and is an enjoyable read for those in its demographic. A traditionally published author doesn’t have to deal with much more than writing the book, as a team of professionals will edit it, format it, and give it a gorgeous cover. These authors have a straight shot to book stores and libraries, and they also land some pretty awesome speaking gigs, depending on the awesomeness of their agent. They have a team of professionals who want their book to succeed, as they all have a vested interest in this book.

However, traditional authors are not free of some of the harder aspects of the book business — namely, marketing. Both traditional and self-published authors must market their own books, and it’s in their best interest to have a solid platform (mailing list, social media followers, etc.). For traditionally published authors, this is even more important. I’ve heard some publishers refusing to even talk to an author unless they have at least 50,000 fans on Facebook. That’s a hard number just to get in the door, especially for an author who is just trying to get discovered.

A traditionally published author may find they have less control over their books than they want. They may be on contract to write a certain number of books, or to slow down their publishing process. They may be told they can’t write a certain book because it’s in direct competition with one of the publisher’s other authors. They may be told the story needs to lean in a different direction to match the market, even if the author disagrees. They may not even be able to write what they want at all, just to be able to continue working with that publisher.

Finally, there’s the money thing. Sure, there might be an advance, but it’s usually small. Plus, selling enough books to make up that advance is no easy feat. Once the gatekeepers have been paid, there really isn’t much left over for the author.

So which is better? As a self-published author myself, I still lean in that direction. Sure, I’ve yet to hit the big time. However, I love the control I have over my own books, and I can still see the possibilities. If I go traditional, I might make more money. But I just can’t fathom giving up that control.

But maybe I’m wrong. Whether you publish indie or traditional, share your triumphs and gripes in the comments below.

Note: This post is also published at crissilangwell.com.

If you’re looking for help with formatting, editing, proofreading, or other indie author services, I can help. Visit northcoaststories.com/about for more information. 

 

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5 reasons the newspaper isn’t covering your book

dog newspaper

It happened again today. Two books were placed on my desk in our busy newspaper newsroom, sent by a hopeful author.

“Do you think you can do anything with these?” my editor asked.

I thumbed through them, my face surely revealing the doubt I was feeling.

“I’ll try,” I said, and I placed them on my growing to-do list.

I revisited these books by this mysterious author the next day. There was no press release included with them. There were no pages that told anything about the author. The book description on the back cover didn’t tell me anything remarkable about the books at all. There wasn’t even a link pointing me to the author’s website. Googling his name didn’t come up with much else, as he had a very common moniker. I finally found his books on Amazon and Google Play, but there was no author page on either of these sites, nor anything that pointed me toward any kind of website.

Now, had I been just a regular writer at the newspaper, I probably would have tossed this author’s books in a pile of other books by hopeful authors, and that would end his chance of any kind of coverage. However, I, too, am an author who is struggling to make my books known to others. I know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into these books. I know that any kind of mention by a newspaper can be worth its weight in gold to an author. So I gathered all the information I could find from the Amazon book page and what I could gather through a quick scan of the book, and I created a small web item that pointed to where you could find the book online. It was meager at best, but still offered a chance for readers to find this author’s books and purchase them.

In my last two posts, I covered how to take advantage of the media spotlight, and how to write a rocking press release. Today I want to reveal 5 possible reasons why I or any other writer at the newspaper isn’t covering your book.

1. We don’t have time to read your book. I’m sorry. I wish we did. As an avid reader, I want to read every book that crosses my desk. As an author, I especially want to read books by other local authors. Unfortunately, the dozens of books I see every week are only a small portion of my job in the newsroom. So if I’m handed a book with no other information, it’s highly unlikely it will ever get any press.

2. A press release can make or break your chance for coverage. Consider this kind of like the first page of your novel. The information you present on this sheet of paper or personal email tells us whether or not we want to cover you, or whether we’re intrigued enough to find out more about you. If we find you interesting, then so will our readers.

3.You don’t have a website.  This is especially true if I need to know more about you in a hurry, or want a place to point readers so they can purchase your books. I’d much rather point readers to an author’s website than to some other bookseller’s website. You deserve that traffic much more than they do. Also, you have more control over what’s shown on your website than some third-party seller’s website. Think about it this way—if you decide to stop selling on a third-party website, that link becomes dead. But if readers are directed to your own website, you can change the buy links at any time, allowing readers to always be able to find your books. Wouldn’t you rather have readers pointed to your own website from a media article?

4. Your book is your only selling point for an article. It’s not enough that you wrote a book. Lots of people have written books. Even if your book is excellent—and I’m sure that it is—it may not be enough to garner attention. Authors that share something beyond just their book are easier to cover. If you will be at a signing event, or you plan to take part in a writer’s conference, or you will be reading at an open mic, that gives us an interesting event to share with our readers, plus a chance to mention your book. If you are helping the community—either through your book’s subject, sales from your books, or as a side project on top of being an author—that gives us a chance to tug at our reader’s heartstrings. Give us something to share with our readers that is beyond just the book you’ve written, and we will be more likely to cover you.

5. The harder it is to find out about you, the more likely it is that we’ll just give up. It’s not because we’re lazy. It’s because the workload inside a newsroom has grown exponentially in the past few years. Our assignments have increased. We are being introduced to new, innovative ways to reach readers. And the shrinking number of newsroom employees has increased the responsibilities of those of us left covering their work plus our own. So when a book is placed on my desk with no press release, no author bio, no website, and not even an email, there’s really no way to gauge whether this is worth our limited time or not. If we’re handed only a book, it’s more than likely it will end up on the slush pile.

I cannot stress this enough. If you want your book to be covered by the media, you MUST make it as easy as possible for your book to be covered.

To close, here’s your checklist of bare minimum items you must do as an author:

  • Create a website with an author bio, pages about your books and links to where you can purchase, and great photos of you and your books.
    ***
  • Write a press release for each one of your books that tells about why your book is a must-read, and describes the interesting person you are. When you send it, be sure to address your recipient by name and why you thought they, personally, would be interested in your book.
    ***
  • Join local author events, like open mics or signing events. Tell the media when this happens in hopes that they’ll cover the event and you as an author. Bonus: The more times they see your name, the more familiar they will be with you as an author. The more familiar they are with you, the more likely you’ll be covered.

Other things you can do to increase your chance of being covered by the media:

  • Create a following via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media outlets. (I’ll go more in depth on this at a later date)
    ***
  • Become an expert in a specific field of writing careers, and share your expertise through seminars or essays. The more the community recognizes you, the more the media will, too.
    ***
  • Become somewhat of a philanthropist. Focus your passion of being an author toward helping your community. You can organize a book drive to raise funds for the homeless. You can use the skills you’ve gained to help authors who are just starting out. Find a way to use your love of writing, marketing, or some other aspect of being an author to benefit others. In doing so, more and more people will want to help you, as well. And the media will be clamoring to write about all you are doing in your community.

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Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

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12 steps toward seeing results in your book stats

book stats

Hi, my name is Crissi, and I’m a stats-aholic.

You might also be a stats-aholic if you do the following things:

  • Check your book stats numerous times a day, whether it’s reviews or sales.
  • Obsess about whether it’s moving or not.
  • Spam your social media accounts to create movement in your stats.
  • Repeat.

So why doesn’t this work? Let’s put it in terms of dieting.

You want to lose weight, and so you purchase a scale. You then proceed to eat the food you always eat, and spend the majority of the day enjoying sedentary activity. The next day, you check your weight to see if there were any changes, and are surprised that the number hasn’t decreased. The rest of the day, you continue your regular routine. Except this time, you weigh yourself several times a day. Still, nothing is happening!

Why? Because you’ve done nothing to actually lose weight.

It’s going to take more than checking your stats obsessively to actually sell your books. And no, spamming your social media accounts won’t help.

So how can you stop the obsessive stats checking and use your energy to actually spread the word about your book? Here are 12 things you can do now.

    1. First, make a vow to stop the stats obsession NOW. The least you can do is to refrain from checking your stats more than once a day. If you’re not doing anything proactive to make that number move, it’s akin to checking your weight when you know you’re not eating well. It’s an ego boost or an ego deflater – nothing more, nothing less. By checking your stats repeatedly, you are placing your worth on your findings. But the honest to goodness truth is, you’re worth more than whatever those stats will tell you. So just stop, okay?
      ***
    2. Limit the mentions of your book on social media. The reason to have social media is to be social with others. But if you’re constantly shouting about your book, no one is going to want to interact with you. Think about it as if it was a dinner party. The people who are the most fun to talk with are those who shine the spotlight on everyone around them. They are the people who make others feel good about themselves, who ask questions, who are genuinely interested in what others have to say. But those who can’t stop talking about themselves? They are the ones everyone avoids. Be the first guy. You can mention your book now and then. But focus more on drawing people in by putting the spotlight on others, sharing something that makes people feel good, and shedding light on who YOU are instead of what you wrote. Need an example? Go to the pages of your favorite authors and see what they’re doing to draw people in.
      ***
    3. Create a website. It doesn’t even need to be anything fancy. I prefer WordPress, but there are many different platforms you can create a website on, even for free! Your website should have information about you, your books and where to find them, how to contact you, and links to your social media. (If you need help creating a website, this is just one of the services I offer. Let me know how I can help)
      I also recommend hosting a blog on your website, which brings me to step #4.
      ***
    4. Start blogging! First off, if you blog regularly on your website, it helps you with your Google rankings. It also gives people a reason to keep visiting your website (where all your book links are!). Blogging gives potential readers a glimpse at your writing style. It allows you to shed light on a topic you’re passionate about. It’s another form of connecting with others. It helps people to get to know you, and entice them to want to read the books you have for sale. Need ideas on what to blog about? Here are 50 ideas.
      ***
    5. Start a newsletter. The best way to reach readers is directly to their inbox. Social media and blog posts work, but kind of in the same way as posting an ad on a billboard. However, emailing a reader is like knocking on their door. It’s more personal. What can you include in your newsletter? I’ve posted blog posts, or excerpts from the last several blog posts. I’ve shared book news and events. I’ve offered a tip of the week. The topics are endless. How often should you send out a newsletter? That’s up to you. I suggest not sending out more than 1 a week so you don’t overwhelm people’s inboxes or make them feel like you’re spamming them. And I suggest sending at least 1 newsletter a month so that people don’t forget about you. The ideal method is to send newsletters on a schedule, like every other Thursday or on the 2nd Tuesday of each month. Need some inspiration? Join my newsletter here.
      ***
    6. Reach readers through their ears. Consider starting a podcast, or a video series on YouTube. These don’t have to be complicated at all, and they offer you something else to share on your website or social media to help potential readers become more interested in you. This blog post offers a few great pointers on vlogging, aka video blogging.
      ***
    7. Team up with other authors. Many hands make light work, especially in the way of marketing. If you want news about your book to spread, enlist the help of other authors. In exchange, share news about their book. Another benefit of teaming up with other authors is that you can help each other with otherwise-costly book services, like book formatting, proofreading, etc.
      ***
    8. Offer your services on the things you know how to do. This is how North Coast Stories came about. I am a writer at heart. But I also love editing and book formatting. Being an author, I quickly learned how expensive these services were for authors just starting out. This is why I keep my prices low, because I want other authors to have a chance to get their books published without spending money they don’t have on getting it ready for publication. I’ve even accepted trades in offer of services. If you are an expert in a certain area of book writing or publishing, share the wealth with others. After all, Karma goes a long way.
      ***
    9. Add a link to your website or books to your email signature. Every time you send an email, the recipient will automatically learn about your books.
      ***
    10. Let someone else market your books for you – specifically other company’s email lists. Author Marketing Club has a nifty list of websites where you can enter your book when it’s free or discounted, and they will email potential readers about it. It takes a little bit of time to enter them all, but it’s well worth it. Access this list here, and then scroll to the bottom of the page.
      ***
    11. Do just one thing at a time. This is serious. Know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you don’t have to do everything at once. First off, that’s overwhelming. Second, trying to wrap your mind around too many marketing ideas can petrify you into doing nothing. However, doing one thing at a time will offer you baby steps forward to real results. So make a list of all the things you’d like to do in spreading news about your book, and then vow to do one thing every day. Even the smallest steps will move you in the right direction.
      ***
    12. Need more ideas? Here are 98 of them from Bookbub.

Whether your book does well or not ultimately depends on the energy you are spending toward its potential success. Checking your book stats obsessively won’t help you sell more books. But if you focus on methods to get your books in more readers’ hands, you will start experiencing more satisfaction from your efforts than any worth you place on a silly graph of sales numbers.

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Are you having a hard time finding time for your writing? Are the mundane parts of your full-time life eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Learn how to fully engage in your creativity without quitting your day job in Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

Pre-order now to receive this book on March 15th.