So you’re writing a novel. 5 things to think about.

Hi, friends!

I tend to think a lot about process and the little things that go into working on a project and yeah, the overarching philosophy behind the act of writing.

I mean, obviously, if you’re writing a novel, you probably have the ultimate goal of being published. Let’s assume that’s the goal, anyway and let’s focus here on writing novels/fiction.

BUT.

Writers don’t write just to get published. If that’s the only reason you’re doing it, re-assess. Write because you love it, because you can’t NOT write, because if you didn’t your soul would wither into a desiccated carcass, left to bake on the salt flats of your future.

So with that in mind, I’m here to disavow you of some notions because writing a draft of a novel isn’t just hammering something out and then you’re ready to go get it published (and then make ass-loads of money).

I think most people probably are aware that more goes into this, but what they don’t realize is even when you have a draft hammered out, that draft will need to be re-written several times. Re-writing is a huge part of writing, and it can be tedious, but that’s the nature of the beast.

Writing, like any other skill or ability, requires a lot of practice and some new writers aren’t willing to put in the time, energy, or resources to learn the craft or the mechanics of it and develop from there.

Nobody starts out a perfect writer and honestly, there is no perfect writer. Even the really good ones aren’t perfect.

There are people who might have a better grasp of craft prior to writing a novel, and people who have read widely and taken classes and have an excellent command of the language, but their drafts are going to need work, too.

Also, writing isn’t necessarily a goal. It’s a journey, and as you travel, you will be kicked around, experience frustration and exhaustion/burnout, be subjected to harsh critique, deal with the constant of trying to market yourself, and chewed up and spit out by publishing, regardless of the platform you use.

So here are 5 things I’ve learned in the decade+ I’ve been professionally writing fiction about what you need to consider when you embark on your first novel-writing adventure.

1. Assess your reasons for doing this. Seriously. Really have a think about this. Because if you’re thinking writing a novel is a get-rich-quick scheme…oh, honey. Bless yer heart.

Not to suggest this doesn’t happen. But…generally, it doesn’t. Everybody in this business is hungry, and competing for various readers. Finding your audience is going to take much more than one book. So once you embark on this idea of being a novelist, that means you need to write many more than just one. You need to commit, and it’s a fuck-ton of work.

  • Who are you writing for?
  • What are you trying to say? (your message)
  • Have you found your writing voice?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice on this journey?

See: “Writing Tips to Make You Better” (writer Jeff Goins; lots of good stuff at his blog, btw)

That last one is something new/new-ish writers don’t seem to really consider, is what they’re willing to sacrifice on the journey. Because you will be making sacrifices. So it’s good to get to know yourself (if you don’t already) and understand what you’ll give up and what you won’t in order to do this.

Write because you feel the call. Not because you think there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that a bunch of dancing leprechauns are only too happy to give you. If you’re looking to make money out of writing, stop. Write because you want to, because it’s almost a need, because you’re compelled to tell stories.

See: 10 Inspiring Reasons to Become a Writer (HuffPo)
See: “Writers Don’t Write to Get Published” (writer Jeff Goins)

The majority of professional writers have day jobs, especially if you’re in the US because that’s the only way we’re able to access affordable health insurance and benefits (and that’s a whole other subject and rant). Which is not to suggest there aren’t writers who are able to make a living at this. But it’s a constant hustle, 24/7 and if you have family who depend on you or you have other commitments, you’re going to have to figure out how to make all that work, in addition to ensuring that you’re taking care of yourself and engaging in wellness. This can be a stressful business and you have to ensure you’re part of the wellness equation.

So really think about what your goals are in terms of writing. If you’re just wanting to hammer something out for NaNoWriMo to prove to yourself that you can do it, that’s one thing. But if you’re wanting to turn that project or something else into a published work and then embark on a writing life in some regard, that’s a whole other thing.

Think about what you intend to do with your project. And along those lines…

2. Focus on craft. There are a lot of moving parts to writing. Stories that are written well run smoothly, and you aren’t aware of all the moving parts because they’re flowing seamlessly together.

A reader should stop reading because something was so awesome that they wanted to read it again. They shouldn’t stop because something isn’t working. Colleague and fellow author Joan Opyr told me that years ago. Good writing/story-telling is like a well-tuned engine. Everything works together so well that you don’t notice how well it works and you just enjoy the ride.

Work on your craft — on the mechanics of writing. Learn grammar, the parts of sentences, the parts of a story, how things fit together. Become a better writer before you go out in the world looking for a reward for it.

See: “Don’t Fake It–Learn the Craft” (Beth Hill at The Editor’s Blog)
See: “10 of My Favorite Writing Craft Sites” (author Kate Weiland)
See: “7 Craft Lessons Every Writer Must Learn” (writer and editor Michael Noll at HuffPo)
See: “The Most Neglected Writing Tip” (Jeff Goins)
See: “The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers” (Jeff Goins)

Take workshops/classes/webinars on writing and craft. Learn fundamentals. Read books on how to construct novels: plot, characterization, dialogue, pacing, narrative arcs. Types of fiction. What connotes style. What genres you’re interested in. How those types of stories are constructed.

If you want to write well, you have to work at it, which means you also need to read widely and often. Read writers better than you so you get a sense of what makes a good story. Read across genres to expose yourself to all kinds of approaches and styles. All of this will inform your style and craft, and will help you develop as a writer.

I’ll repeat: To write well, you have to WORK. You have to make the time to practice your craft and to learn the mechanics of writing. Sorry. There’s no easy way to do this. Good product requires a lot of work on the back end and in writing, you’re the back end.

3. “Hope for the best but expect nothing.” The late Harper Lee said that, which seems funny now because she didn’t publish more than a couple of novels and look what happened there. But her point is well-taken. It’s great to hope. Hope fuels a lot of cool things and without that, what the hell would ever get done?

But don’t expect that the world owes you a damn thing for your novel, no matter how much blood, sweat, or how many tears you poured into it. Refer to point 1, above. Write because you feel the call and you want to tell stories. But don’t expect that people will care about those stories. That’s part of writing. Don’t be looking for rock star status. If that’s your only reason for writing, re-assess.

Here’s more of Lee’s quote, from an interview she did in 1964 (Lee was notoriously press-shy, so this is a treat):

Hope for the best and expect nothing. Then you won’t be disappointed […] You must come to terms with yourself about your writing. You must not write ‘for’ something; you must not write with definite hopes of reward … People who write for reward by way of recognition or monetary gain don’t know what they’re doing. They’re in the category of those who write; they are not writers.

4. Read. I said this above, but I’ll say it again. All good writers read widely. Nonfiction, books, short stories, periodicals, long-form journalism — brain and soul food, friends. If you’re serious about improving your craft, do not lose sight of reading as an important ingredient in your writing life.

If you’re going to do this writing thing, you need to challenge yourself through reading. Writers need to be wordsmiths, and versed in the art of language. Don’t stick to one genre or one or two authors. Read widely, read often. You’ll find inspiration and ideas in other people’s words, and you can use that to improve your own writing and feed your brain.

Carlo Dolci: “St. Catherine Reading a Book” (EVEN SAINTS READ), early-mid 17th c.

See: “14 Reasons Why Writers Need to Read” (editor and author Jan Fortune at Noteworthy)
See: “3 Reasons Writers Read Books” (Joe Bunting at The Write Practice; excellent writing advice there)
Podcast: “Why is It So Important for Writers to Read?” (Write Now podcast with author, editor, podcaster Sarah Werner)

So if you’re serious about this writing stuff, READ.

5. Think about your writing life. What that means is, writing isn’t just about reading books and doing workshops/classes. It’s also about understanding that like any other skill, you need to practice just about every. freaking. day. Top athletes and musicians engage with their craft every day. If they take a break from the physical act of sports/music, they’re still thinking about it.

It becomes embedded in their bodies, brains, and lives.

I’m not suggesting you work 12-hour days at writing and take an hour off here and there. Like anything else, writing requires that you find a work/life balance, but if you’re new to this, you absolutely need to be realistic about how much time you’re willing to give to a writing life and if you can’t commit to engaging with your craft every day, then this isn’t the gig for you. And that’s fine. It’s not for everybody. Go, you, for giving it a shot! There’s no shame in not continuing and finding your groove elsewhere.

Like anything else that you want to do well, writing requires COMMITMENT and WORK and TIME and PERSEVERANCE. If that’s you, then GO, YOU again!

But really think about why you’re doing this.

Writer Jeff Goins wrote a manifesto for writers, and I totally agree with it. Here it is:

Jeff Goins, “A Writer’s Manifesto”

So there you go. If you’re working on your first novel, there are lots of things to consider. Like your platform. And in the great scheme of things, why you’re even doing this and what it’s going to entail.

Whatever you decide to do, GO, YOU! If this writing life is for you, welcome!

Happy Monday, happy READING, happy writing.

So you want to be a published author: 5 things to think about first

Hi, friends!

New year, new…whatever.

ANYWAY! Thought I’d get back into the groove here with some more blogging. Not that I haven’t been blogging/writing/podcasting, It’s just that I’ve kind of left my website all by itself and that ain’t right!

Okay. So I thought I’d bring some things up for y’all to think about — ESPECIALLY if you’re an unpublished author looking to be published and get your debut novel out there for the world to see.

What new authors don’t realize is that publishing is not end-game. It’s not even part of the game. Publishing is a goal — and an admirable one, whichever route you decide to go in that regard — but it’s only one aspect of this whole writing gig. There are all kinds of moving parts to being a published writer, and I see a lot of writers who complete a novel and then submit it somewhere and think everything’s copacetic, they’re on their way to all kinds of money and fame and…

no.

Disavow yourselves of that notion right now.

Indeed, there are working writers who do make a living writing and publishing and the whole enchilada. But there’s a lot of hard-ass work that goes into that, and oftentimes a bit of luck, too. In other words, just because you get published or you self-publish does not mean your work will sell.

Source

And many first-time/new authors don’t realize that there’s a whole helluva a lot that published writers need to be doing to market, promote, and brand themselves. So let’s talk about 5 things I think new/unpublished authors should think about doing.

1. Start thinking about your author BRAND. Do this months and months before you actually publish. This is one of those moving parts that will play into your website and your social media, so you need to start pondering that.

What exactly IS this thing called an author brand?

It’s how you present yourself to the reading world. You are selling something. That something is both the things you write and YOU, the person behind the writing. It’s your IMAGE. It’s what a reader is going to get from you and your writing. It’s the genres you write, and what someone can expect. There’s a reason, for example, that actors have PR firms and agents. Because they’re marketing themselves in addition to the roles they play in their work.

As an author, you, too, now have an image to get out there and maintain.

See: “Your Guide to Branding Yourself as an Author,” NY Book Editors
See: “7 Best Ways to Build an Authentic Author Brand“, Creative Penn
See: “How To Build Your Author Brand From Scratch (And Why You Need To)“, The Book Designer

2. Get yourself a website. Yeah, I know. Pain in the ass. But there are so many platforms now with easy-peasy dashboards and templates and low rates to get access to sexier templates that it makes no sense for you not to do this. And register your site as yourauthorname.com. Don’t do something like yourauthorname.blogspot.com or yourauthorname.wordpress.com. You want to be official-looking, and the way to do that is to spend about $15 a year on WordPress or whatever site to register as a dot.com.

Why do you need a website? Because when people try to find you online, it’s a good idea to have a static home address, if you will, where they can find you. Look up any well-known author that you read. Every single one of them has a website.

Here’s the thing. Get that website up and running even while you’re writing your first novel. Even before you’ve published anything. You can use it to blog (which plays into your branding) and to post free stories on so people get a sense of who you are as a writer. Link it to your social media. I launched a website two years before I published anything. And then I used it to post blogs and stories and the like. I still technically do that.

Also, when you approach a publishing house (or an agent) with your first manuscript, the first thing they’re going to do is do a search to find out if you have an online presence and what kind of presence that is. So get yourself a website.

See:”10 Best Website Builder Platforms for Writers and Authors“, Writing Cooperative
See: “Top 5 Platforms for Easily Creating Your Author Website
See: “Author Website: Examples, Templates, and How to Build One“, Booklaunch

3. Social media. There are two schools of thought on this. One argues that authors don’t need to engage on social media; they should use promotional tools and market that way and avoid social media in order to focus on writing instead.

See: “Why Authors Should Not Use Social Media“, TCK Publishing

And then there’s the other school of thought that encourages authors to engage with social media, and integrate it with other platforms.

I fall into the latter school.

I mean, I agree that you need to make some decisions about work/life/writing balance, and social media can be a huge time suck, so use it wisely.

Choose the platforms that work best for you. I use Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook. I detest the latter, but it comes in handy for engaging with people. And sadly, Facebook owns Instagram, which pisses me off. And Tumblr has also irritated me recently with a shift in its terms of service that have gutted it. But, hopefully, something new will come along that will be awesome. We’ll see.

Anyway, don’t just randomly go out there and get an account on every platform you can find. Use platforms you’re already comfortable on. That’s the key. Why?

Because social media is NOT for selling books. Not really. It’s super freaking annoying to potential readers if you do nothing on your social media accounts except demand that everybody buy your books. You’ve seen THOSE authors, right? All they post anywhere is “BUY MY BOOK.” You get no sense of who they are or what they’re doing.

They’re that person standing outside the grocery store with a clipboard wanting to talk to you about signing something. It’s annoying af, amirite? The people who are successful at that approach ENGAGE you with something other than “SAVE THE ENDANGERED SCREAMING CHEETAHS BY SIGNING THIS PETITION.” They might say, “Hey, can I show you this cool cat video? I found my cat under a house down the street from me. Here’s a photo. This is Buster. Isn’t he the cutest?” And then they’ll tell you about the endangered screaming cheetahs, but the point is, they gave you a little bit of themselves before they asked you to do something.

So don’t just take to social media and post a constant stream of BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK OMG BUY IT NOW. People tune out after the first one of those. And besides, don’t you have some writing to do? HMMM?

What you’ll be doing on social media is helping reinforce your BRAND. That is, who you are as a writer and what readers can expect when they read your stuff. You are ENGAGING on social media. INTERACTING. Posting interesting links about writing or something that personally interests you. You’re chatting with people. You’re NETWORKING. THAT is the purpose of social media. Sure, it’s okay to announce the release of a book and to remind people now and again, but if that’s ALL you’re doing on social media, you are failing at social media.

See: “How NOT to Sell Books: Top 10 Social Media Marketing No-Nos for Authors,” Anne R. Allen

I’m going to send you to a blog by Jane Friedman, who is a total guru about writing and publishing. I get that some writers/authors have real issues with social media, and Friedman notes that there are lots of other ways to reach people via the interwebz without having to do social media. I’ll let her talk about these things:

See: “So You’re an Author Without a Social Media Presence: Now What?

4. Marketing isn’t an option. You have to do it. And you have to figure out what’s going to work for you as a person and as a brand and you have to commit to getting all of that out there. It takes a LOT of time (and money, in some cases), but if you’re going to write and publish, you HAVE to market yourself and your work, no matter what publishing route you go.

You need to start thinking about marketing NOW, before your book is written. Think about its genre. What is it? What audience are you hoping to find? That is, who’s going to want to read this book? How might you reach those readers? These are questions the publisher is going to ask you, too (if you go that route). So you need to think about what MARKETS your book will appeal to and about how you’re going to reach those markets.

See what I mean about moving parts? Marketing, social media, website, author brand all work together in this business. And you have to understand that an author who doesn’t self-promote or engage or work on getting their brand out there is not going to sell books, and if that’s one of your goals, well, sorry. You have to market.

There are so many ways to market and so many approaches that I’m not going to try to explain how to go about doing it because here’s the thing. The best marketers in terms of writing know themselves, and they try different things and approaches and find the ones that work with their style as people AND as an author brand. So there’s a lot of trial and error here, friends, and again, that’s going to take lots of time (and probably some money), but you have to find your groove in this, and you have to remember not to smack people in the face with your promotion.

See: “10 Essential Marketing Tips for New Authors,” Book Marketing Tools
See: “Opinion: If You Want to Sell More Books, Skill Up,” Alliance of Independent Authors
See: “The Psychology of Author Marketing,” Jane Friedman (Guru)
See: “Wait, Keep Talking: Author Self-Promo That Actually Works,” Delilah Dawson

Source

5. Don’t be a douche. I dunno, maybe this one should’ve been number one up there. But this is a mantra that you need to carry with you in your author branding mission and in marketing, and in your public life as an author. Hell, it’s good life practice in general.

People do tend to notice if you’re behaving badly on social media or at conferences and if they decide you’re an asshat, they’re not going to buy your books and they’re going to tell other people why they don’t buy your books.

People may say that they “separate the art from the artist,” but DO they? I’d argue not. And people can have long memories about such things. You know what has an even longer memory? The Internet. Even if you delete something, it’s never gone. And if you said something that was douchey, chances are, somebody screen-shotted it and they’re going to re-post it to remind people of your douchery.

So if you screw up and say/do something douchey, own it and apologize. You’ll probably have to do that a lot of times, but eventually, the point will get across that you are a responsible adult and you recognized you said/did something that was a mistake and you are now trying to make amends.

But the best medicine is always prevention. Do your very best not to be a douche and/or behave badly in real life or on social media (the two can merge). You will screw something up. You’re human, after all. But self-awareness goes a long way in life.

All right friends! Leave other tips for new authors in the comments if you’ve got ’em.

Happy writing.

10 things to help you get your manuscript ready for submission

Hi, peeps!

So here we are in a new year and I know for a fact that bunches of you are working on manuscripts and once you’re done with your draft, you’re going to hopefully get it submission-ready. That is, you’re going to prep it in hopes that a publisher will think it’s awesome and sexy.

First things first. Not all houses accept a full manuscript for a read. They might just want the first few chapters. Or maybe the first few chapters and the last few. That’s fine. The point is, if you have a full manuscript that’s ready to go, you can easily extract the chapters or first 50 pages or whatever it is the potential publisher may want to see. And you want those to be clean and ready for viewing. So here are 10 things you can do to help you get it that way.

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Some reminder writing tip posts

Hey, all!

Damn. Been a while. But you can always find me over at Women and Words, on Twitter, or Facebook.

I’m working on several see-krit projects at the moment. A not see-krit project is the fanfic I’m doing over at Archive of Our Own. It’s a Clexa piece, and it’s over 180K words, now. Still going. Basically, I rebooted season 3. You’re welcome. 😀

Anyway! Here are some writing tips just for you, in a few different (oldies but goodies) blogs that I wrote. I still get requests for these, so here they are again:

On writing dialogue

On Point-of-view (POV)

On headhopping

“As you know, Bob…” (part of the writer’s adage, show-don’t-tell)

Participial Phrases

Get your write on!

Happy Tuesday.

Tips for Newbies

HI, kids!

Ermahgerd. I’ve been crazy busy over at Women and Words, the other place where I blog and admin and carry on. We’ve started a Women and Words podcast, which is me and my co-admin, author Jove Belle, chatting about the week’s crazy/fun and other things related to writing, editing, publishing of interest to LGBT writers and readers. We hope.

You can find us AT THIS LINK RIGHT HERE (or, the Lesbian Talk Show).

I also just finished up a novella that’s in editing AND I’m getting ready to go through the edits of another project AND my colleague R.G. Emanuelle and I JUST RELEASED our second anthology of food-themed romance and erotica (F/F). It’s called Order Up: A Menu of Lesbian Romance & Erotica. Our first food-themed anthology, All You Can Eat: A Buffet of Lesbian Romance and Erotica, was a Lambda finalist last year. Hope you check those out. Heh.

And now, onto the business of this blog. I got to thinking about this because I’ve been working with some new writers, and I thought some quick n’ dirty tips might prove useful to those of you who are on the cusp of publication or have JUST published something If so, GO, YOU! And if that’s the case, then you need to…

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Powers of Observation

Well, hello there, peeps!

I hope your holidays were wonderful and that you had some fun and got some rest. As you know, I was outta control over at Women and Words with our giant 12-day giveaway we call the Hootenanny. And things get CRAY CRAY over there. This year we also did a concurrent Rafflecopter giveaway that included a couple of Kindle Fires and…well, it was insane and fun but kind of exhausting.

At any rate, let’s get back to work!

Today I wanted to talk about observation. I bring this up because a huge part of writing is (or should be) observation. Think about it. How your characters speak and act. The quirks they have. Their surroundings. The settings of your stories. And, going a bit meta, the things your characters actually observe during the course of your plot, how they filter it, how they relate it to others.

So let’s chat further about this.

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Link round-up: helpful posts for writing

Hi, all! I just finished up a short (for me) novel and I’m getting it ready to send to a potential publisher. While I’m pondering that, I thought I’d do a round-up of hopefully helpful posts I’ve done that will provide some helpful info for those of you racing around writing.

HERE!

10 things to do when you finish a manuscript.

On point-of-view.

On headhopping.

On dialogue.

On why craft is important.

On maintaining effective plotlines and arcs.

On participial phrases.

On creating characters.

On info-dumping and “As you know, Bob.”

And if you’ve got links to help with specifics about writing, post ’em in the comments. Share the luv!

Thanks, all!

Happy Monday.

Why you need to care about craft

Hi, peeps!

Hope the weekend treated you well. Writer and editor Nann Dunne posted this link on a Yahoo discussion list a couple days ago and I’m sharing it here because Larry Brooks knows whereof he speaks.

In this particular blog, Larry points out 7 things that will make you a better novelist (and, by extension, writer).

Guess what?

It involves WORK.

So let’s have a think about this.

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10 things not to say (or do) to your editor

Hi, kids! Hope this past week has treated you well. The usual crazy going on here, but let’s take a moment and chat about something else writing-related.

EDITING.

OMG your blood is pumping, your juices are flowing and you’re just salivating at the mention of the word EDITING. It’s okay. I totally understand.

Anyway, yes, I am a writer but I started professionally editing way back in the early 1990s, during the Dark Ages when starving peasants tilled the soil outside the castle and if you wanted to talk to somebody you had to walk to the other side of the village before dark, because that was when the wolves came out to gnaw on hapless villagers who didn’t fall under the purview of the manor lord’s protection. If not wolves, then witches, werewolves, and vampires.

Shit was scary back in the day.

But now, thanks to technology, we know all that scary shit isn’t on the edge of the village. IT’S ON THE INTERWEBZ. Whew.

Anyway, I worked in publishing for about 15 years, either managing in-house or freelance editing out-of-house. I’m still an editor, and I still keep up with the publishing industry, but I’m a writer, too. Which means I have been on both sides of the fence and I have a certain amount of empathy for both perspectives.

I know what it feels like to be working with an editor who you think is missing the point of your vision, who is crushing your writing dreams by saying a scene doesn’t work, who just might be a cross between a werewolf and a vampire and is merely toying with your emotions before stomping on your ego. I get that. But I also know what it’s like to help a writer realize her vision in clearer, stronger prose so that she goes on to write better prose later and she remains a colleague and works with you many times after that because she trusts you.

That is the essence of an editor-writer relationship. Trust. It’s important to trust that an editor has the professional background and training to work with a writer on craft as well as narrative. On the other side of that, it’s important that an editor trust that a writer is open to edits, is open to realizing that sometimes, a writer is much too close to a project to see clearly, and that a writer wants to improve her craft.

That’s the ideal. So with that in mind, what should you NOT say to an editor with whom you are working?

Let’s go see…

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“It was a dark and stormy night”: on openers

Howdy, peeps!

So a couple of folks expressed interest in how to write an effective opener for a novel.

To which I say, “good luck.”

Heh.

And then I supply links LIKE THIS, which have the alleged “100 best first lines from novels”, posted by the American Book Review site. I must say, Iain M. Banks’ line from The Crow Road is a grabber: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.”

Hit that link at Amazon and you’ll be able to read the first few pages to determine what that’s about.

At any rate, what makes a great opening line? Well, I’d say that’s a topic up for debate, depending on a reader’s taste. But overall, let’s try to dissect what makes a great first line in terms of writing craft. Here are five things to think about.

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