Re-Inventing Yourself as a Writer

I haven’t been blogging over the past couple months, but I intend to change that today. To start, I’d like to share a few of the things I’ve learned recently.

I think it’s fair to say that every writer who’s experienced commercial success has had to undertake the task, at least once, of “re-inventing” themselves. I came across a really neat writing resource today, called Bookfox, which is written by author John Fox.

Fox explains in his bio that he’s all too familiar with rejection slips. After he got enough of them, though, he started thinking to himself, maybe it wasn’t everyone else who was wrong. Maybe he really needed to work on his writing.

He undertook the earnest office of learning from his failures, and using his mistakes to improve his writing. Eventually, he started winning prizes for his work.

Click here to have a look at Bookfox. (It’s filled with lots of great resources.)

It took me a while to learn the truth: we’re really never at the peak of our success as writers. Maybe monetarily, but not creatively. With every week that passes, and every story that we write, our works grows, takes a more pronounced shape, and gains more vivid colors. It’s like a forever-climbing house of cards that never falls down.

In a word, if you’re not succeeding as a writer, take another look at your work. It may very well be that you just haven’t caught your break yet — but it may also be that you need some re-inventing. I know that was the case for me.

 

Publishing Tip: “Don’t Be Hasty”

Hello, indie authors. And everyone else who has the kindness to read this post!

Now — this is a post geared towards “very new indies.” What do I mean by that? I mean indie authors who haven’t necessarily just started writing (that’s hardly anyone) but who’ve just started trying to really sell their work. Some people get the hang of it pretty quickly, and are only really “green” for about as long as Stanley’s thumb usually stays lit up that color in A Troll in Central Park. But some people — hem hem, like me — are about as hard to drill information into as a concrete Mafia boot.

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Pre-used concrete boots, fished fresh daily.

Whichever type of indie you are, I just have a small piece of advice for you today. It’s very simple, and consists of only three words.

DON’T BE HASTY.

When you’re just starting out, you want to do all you can to make a name for yourself. You’re competing against thousands and thousands of other people with quality content, and you want to make yourself stand out.

But you’re only going to do that if you’re peddling quality content, too. If you throw every book you’ve ever written on Kindle Direct Publishing, just trying to garner sales and increase the amount of money you get paid every month (which is relatively small for an indie anyway, no matter what you do), you’re going to hurt yourself in the long run.

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I think that I should think about this a little more.

Only publish quality content. Only publish when you’re sure it’s worthy of competing, not just with other indie selections in your genre, but even with the best-sellers in that category on the Barnes & Noble “new release” rack. Don’t skimp on your editing, don’t settle on your covers, don’t forget little things like justifying the text of your e-book. (I hate it when I download a book with text that’s not justified.)

Because, here’s a little tidbit for you. If you start to regret a title you’ve published, and you want to take it off of your author page — sometimes you can’t. Sometimes, when you unpublish them, they do disappear — but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they stay forever, like annoying whiny ghosts in your Aunt Susie’s attic, and they just say “Unavailable” until the day you die.

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Hey — I thought Aunt Susie said you guys weren’t real? 

If you ask Author Central to take an out-of-print book off your author page, they won’t. It’s all about “the best possible experience for the customer,” they say.

But hey, it’s not their fault you published something you shouldn’t have published in the first place.

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I think we may be onto something here.

Take it from me, my indie friends. Here are three life lessons, in a nutshell.

Don’t be unkind to people.

Don’t be too cheap when it comes to things you really need.

And for goodness’ sake, whatever you do — DON’T BE HASTY!!!

I Guess Authors Don’t Always Love Their Books’ Movies :(

THE NEVERENDING STORY was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. To be honest, I still love it. I even have it on DVD.

Turns out, though, the movie wasn’t a fave of the book’s author, Michael Ende. (The book was originally written in German in 1979, and was called Die unendliche Geschichte. An English translation by Ralph Manheim was published four years later.)

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1997 Dutton edition cover

I didn’t know this before, because honestly I’ve never read the book, but I guess the original film directed by Wolfgang Petersen only covered about the first half of the story. Apparently, Ende was not pleased, and he demanded to have his name removed from the film’s credits.

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THE NEVERENDING STORY original movie poster

Personally, I thought the movie was extremely well-made. The special effects (considering it was 1984) were great. I’ll never forget the Rock Biter, sitting all alone in the desolate expanse when the Nothing comes to destroy the small bit of Fantasia that’s left. He’s just sitting there, looking lost — when Atreyu passes by him, and he says to Atreyu: “I couldn’t hold onto them. [Referring to his lost friends.] The Nothing just whisked them away. Look at my hands — they look like big, strong hands, don’t they?”

Atreyu nods wordlessly, and continues on his mission, not knowing what to say. Who would?

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Atreyu with Falkor the luckdragon (2016 Google Doodle)

The most heartbreaking moment of the movie, of course, was when Artax got sucked into the Swamp of Sadness. I cry every time.

But oh, well. I guess Ende had a specific vision in mind for his masterpiece (just as all us authors do), and Petersen’s film didn’t live up to his expectations. For my own part, though, I’ll always love THE NEVERENDING STORY. I’m so excited that Google decided to honor the book’s 37th anniversary today with a special series of Doodles!

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The Palace of the Childlike Empress (2016 Google Doodle)

Book Review: A SOCIAL HISTORY OF GREECE & ROME

Let’s start off by saying that I enjoyed this book immensely. Michael Grant is one of those writers who words history in a very palatable way, making it fun and exciting.

 

One of my favorite things about this little volume was its prolific reference to classical literature, with the dual purpose of making the text more interesting, and offering the reader a nice background of published work in the time period. Literature, too, is obviously a huge outlet for social information. The literary minds of the time recorded their own views of the social hierarchy, whether it was in commentary like Plato’s or fiction like Homer’s. Now, those views have been handed down to us, to shed a better light on what life was like in the classical world.

The book was organized in this way. Women were detailed first: Greek women, then Roman women. Then came men: Rich men and poor men. Obviously, the greater difference between men would have existed due to rank and station; not nationality. Whether Greek or Roman, men enjoyed the same privileges.

The last, and meatiest, section, deals with “The Unfree and the Freed,” seeing as there were so many unfree people in the classical world. There are chapters about serfs (very different from slaves, but hardly better); Greek slaves; Roman slaves; and finally, freedmen and freedwomen. The freeing of slaves was very popular, for a time, in ancient Rome in particular. Slaveholders dangled the opportunity of freedom in front of slaves, to produce better effort from them. Sometimes, freedmen rose to very high rank and station, even becoming members of government.

If you’re looking for a quick read on classical history from a social, rather than a political, perspective, take a look at Grant’s volume. He’s written many books on the classical world, perhaps the most prominent of which are The Founders of the Western World and The Fall of the Roman Empire, both of which I’m perusing at the moment.

Michael Grant is a former Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Professor of Humanity at Edinburgh University. He lives in Italy.

Lovely choice of residence for a Roman scholar!

Indie Author? Seeking Reviews? Read This.

This is a post designed to aid indie authors in garnering reviews. It is an excerpt from the Amazon sample of Christine Pinheiro’s book, The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages: A Book Marketing Guide for Authors and Publishers. 

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I found this excerpt very helpful, and will use it to even further increase my own chances of getting reviewed.

One of the most disheartening things an indie author can hear is “sorry, we do not review self-published works.” And yet, everywhere we look in other forms of media creation — music, video, film — the indie media artist is a respected individual creator.

What is it about book publishing that brings out the selectiveness in reviewers?

One factor is the time it takes us to determine our interest in a book compared to, say, a few seconds of a song. In the case of books, there is both the package (design and formatting), as well as the writing itself. Another factor is the sheer number of books published each year. Popular reviewers have to have some kind of filter or criteria to automatically eliminate submissions.

INCREASING THE ODDS IN YOUR FAVOR

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1. Your cover. 

Make sure your cover is on par with the covers of the top-selling books in your category.

(My note: Personally, I struggled for years with covers. But no more. It’s not necessary! I’ll tell you why.

My secret weapon is a combination of Canva and Pixabay. They’re both entirely free to use [just be careful with Canva, because there are paid options]. Once, I even used Canstock, another excellent venue for images, but a paid one. Very reasonable, though, if you can’t find what you’re looking for on Pixabay.

So stop using that Kindle Cover Creator! It’ll do you in. Go to Canva, and make professional-looking covers.)

2. Your copyright page.

Include:

A. a disclaimer (legal notice)

B. ISBN info

C. contact info 

D. Recognition of contributors (i.e., editor)

3. Your front and back matter. 

(My note: This is not as relevant with e-books, given there are no page numbers, and no need to worry about incorrect Roman numerals, etc.)

4. Formatting, layout and design. 

Basically, you need consistency of formatting — i.e., headings of the same font and size, consistent spacing and indentation, etc.

(My note: No-brainer, right? Who likes to read sloppy-looking books?)

5. Your metadata.

Metadata is the info about your book: title, subtitle, description, cover, price, size, weight.

(My note: Is this info consistent on all platforms? Is it the same on Amazon as it is in your review query? If not, you’ll look unprofessional.)

The recurring theme in all five of these categories is CARE. An author who cares enough about these details probably cares about their writing, as well. By not standing out as an amateur, the reviewer might not be so quick to dismiss your book.

Click here to have a look at The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages

Well, that about wraps it up! For an indie reviewers who are struggling to get reviews (myself included), I hope this helps.

Cheers,

C.M.

 

Put Your Writing in the Right Box

PUT YOUR WRITING IN THE RIGHT BOX. Maybe you’re wondering what that means, exactly? Well, let me explain.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that a writer has to “know their audience.” It’s a topic for heated debate. Literary fic writers love to say that “anyone can enjoy their books.” If you love romance, suspense, magic, and everything else under the sun – says the literary fic writer – then you’re going to love MY book.

But that’s not the way the cookie crumbles. People like to have things divided neatly into categories: boxed up in clean and pretty receptacles that hold the things they love. But they don’t want everything in ONE box.

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For example, say one of your favorite foods is steak. Say your other favorite food is pea soup. But if someone poured pea soup all over your steak, and then said “Bon appétit,” you’d be a little mad, right? You’d be like – what the hell? Why did you just pour pea soup on my friggin’ steak?

Exactly.

Most people don’t just like one type of book. In fact, most people love many types of books. But they still only want to read one kind at a time. Maybe they’re in the mood for a thriller – or maybe they’re craving a passionate romance. They want to know what they’re reaching for on the shelf, so they can satisfy their craving quickly.

But I learned that the hard way. In the past, I wrote for a small and singular audience: ME. The problem is, most people’s tastes and preferences don’t match up EXACTLY with mine. This isn’t to say that, every now and then, I don’t find someone who really enjoys one of my old books. It also doesn’t erase the literary merit of old work. I’m only saying that, if you want to be commercially successful – and trust me, I haven’t managed that yet! – you have to cater to the needs of your audience.

I’ve always written stories with a lesbian-based theme. If you’re a lesbian, you’re going to want to write books with main characters who are lesbians. That just brings you back to the basic adage, WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.

But I was a little too all-over-the-place. I had too many sub-genres, and my work was too heavily influenced by classic literature. My favorite author has always been Charles Dickens, so my writing style, as a younger person, was very old-fashioned.

Now, don’t get me wrong – some people still love ‘em some good old classic lit. But other people don’t care for it all that much. And you have to WRITE FOR YOUR AUDIENCE. So I worked long and hard at simplifying, and clarifying, my writing style.

Now, as an author, you can’t forget to READ WHAT YOUR WRITE. If you’re writing a thriller, read some hair-raising thrillers. If you’re writing a romance, read some sizzling romances. Let the voices of other talented authors, who have already managed to become commercially successful, guide your own writer’s voice.

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Recently, I’ve been reading The Chess Machine by Robert Löhr. It’s a historical novel about the famed Mechanical Turk, an amazing chess-playing automaton that was eventually proven to be a hoax. The book I’m finishing up at the moment is a historical mystery, and The Chess Machine has helped a lot with getting me focused and centered.

So, to sum it all up:

  1. Simplify your writing style. Make it clean and easy to get lost in. (And, by the way – I don’t mean “clean” as in kid-friendly. Most adults don’t want to read novels that their own kids could read. A little sex and violence thrown in for spices is only going to help, as long as you don’t overdo it.)
  2. Select a major genre that you can have fun with, and stick with it. Don’t be afraid to throw in your own creative touches — but make sure that the genre is clear-cut. Personally, I’ve decided to go with murder mysteries. The main characters are still lesbians, but the genre is, as we said, clear-cut.

How do LESBIAN MURDER MYSTERIES sound to you? It’s mildly intriguing, right? The trick is, I think, to still try and be original, but to not be so original that no one knows what the hell you’re doing.

 

And that about wraps it up, my friends. I hope I’ve touched on a few important subjects, without merely repeating what fifty million other people have already told you.

 

Thanks for reading!

C.M.