Four Potent Sources of Encouragement for the Writer/Artist

ImageHave you subscribed to dozens of writer-support emails/newsletters and engaged in multiple artist/writer forums over the years? How much have they helped your life as a writer/artist? What I am looking for is probably the same thing you are looking for– encouragement. Encouragement comes from ideas that help me morph back into the creative spirit I most love being.

Such encouragement gives me courage and energy.

Does it feel as if it is in short supply?

Here are four hotspot articles of true encouragement recently found, and I am not talking about the clever, rambling email letters that attempt to sell you a book at the end of a long page.

1. Jon Morrow has written a thoughtful piece entitled “How to be Smart in a World of Dumb Bloggers” (Sept 17, 2013) Normally I would comment on his blog, but this is superior material and needs to be shared. It will make the reader think about his or her approach to life. Morrow’s suggestions are not that hard, and if followed, will make writers/artists feel better about life.

(Simply mentioning Morrow’s piece here will ensure  I go back to re-read it and be re-inspired!)

2. Morrow’s article came to my attention from an article entitled “49 Creative Geniuses Who Use Blogging to Promote Their Art” written by Leanne Regalla (Jan 23, 2014), and Morrow wasn’t even listed as one of the 49-ers, but his was the link that plucked me up the most.

3. My window onto the world above was opened by subscription to The Writer’s Weekly written by Kimberley Grabas. the most recent one being The Definition of Marketing (Issue #28) This was a fantastic post leading to multiple colored, glowing doors, almost all of which feel useful and helpful to writers and artists. Tell me if I am wrong.

4. Not all the best encouragement is found on the web, especially when you think of all the internet dross to be avoided. Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, edited by Laurie Lamson (2014) and published by Penguin is a valuable recent book I have added to my shelves. There is advice in it from speculative writers of every kind, from Dr. Seuss to screenwriters whose names you might not recognize but whose movies you will.

For instance, Jeremy Wagner (who wrote The Armegedon Chord) has a short piece encouraging writers (and artists) to be prolific. So many writers stop writing due to lack of encouragement–they become the opposite of prolific. Wagner uses a clear and simple argument: writing  more makes you a better writer.

Being better at anything opens doors.

Wagner’s idea took three minutes to read and has stayed with me for weeks.

May today be a day you find encouragement.

How to get an Agent

I’ve only done it once–get an agent. She was a prominent agent, too. Now I am thinking about the process again, knowing that with each passing year it becomes harder. Why? Population growth. There are more of us competing with each other. Moreover, as writing teacher, I am aware of how many people think they can write. That shoves writing teachers and agents in the same uncomfortable manuscript-strewn corner, having to shuffle through scores of poorly written flights of fancy. Wingless wonders, if you will.  Birds too stuffed with dressing to get off the ground.

It occurs to me that the old adage about finding an agent who represents books I like a lot is true–if he or she likes books I like, chances are good he or she will like my book. Wishful thinking, you say?

Ah, but how do I get the talented and busy agent’s attention? Do a cartwheel? From what I read, even bribery has lost its charm. Agents are tired of little trinket gifts in the mail. Or big fat gifts.

I am looking for books to love, and when I fall for them, you will hear about it, in more places than just this blog. It will take digging. Like good friends, a loved book is not always where I would hope. However, when I do find one, I shall do a cartwheel in words.

The e-book experiment: tentative results

As I mentioned in my post last week, the Grassroots’ Writers Guild is nearing its one year anniversary. As such, we feel it’s important to update readers on the concepts we initially put forth on this blog. Today’s topic is marketing via e-books. Does it work? The early answer is, yes and no. While Julia and I have sold some books that way, both via downloads and CDs, the numbers (for me, anyway) haven’t been high enough to grade it a success. On the other hand, it hasn’t been a failure either, so the fair thing to say is that the jury remains out. Our guess is once we get out into the writing community, doing some talks at bookstores and writers’ events around town, sales will pick up. But as with all experiments, we won’t know until we try. Meanwhile, we have opted to add some old-fashioned actual printed books to our repertoire prior to scheduling those appearances. That will be the best way to gauge peoples’ reaction. If they are willing to pay $12 to $20 for a printed book (price determined by length) versus $5 for a CD (book length inconsequental), that will give us a definitive answer. (A review of the printer we chose will appear on this blog in the near future.)

The point is, marketing remains the key to success as a writer. If readers don’t know who we are, they aren’t likely to buy our book(s). Given the number of books currently available via electronic format, that makes sense from a reader’s point of view. Readers can go onto Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple, and probably a dozen other sites, and browse through literally hundreds of thousands of titles, be they self-published or electronic versions of current best sellers. What are their criteria for picking a certain book? Do they search via subject, key words, author name, previously published works? Probably all of those and many others I haven’t thought about. Basically, it’s a crap shoot. About the only foolproof method to make a sale would be for a reader to go onto the site with an author’s name and book title already in hand. How do we make that happen? By getting our names out there, any and every way we can think of. Creativity must be the name of our game.

I will be updating my personal page and my Elvis section this week, so please stop by again and check it out. As always, we welcome your comments. Have a good and productive week!

Agents and marketing

Let’s be honest: there isn’t a writer among us who doesn’t want to get an agent and see his or her book(s) published by a major house. It isn’t our purpose here on The Grassroots Writer’s Guild to suggest otherwise. Our point is that we can’t just sit around on our hands, waiting for a contract to drop out of the sky. We all know it’s incredibly difficult to get an agent, and harder than ever to sell to our work to publishers directly. Much of that is due to conglomeration among publishers, but that’s a topic for another day. What’s relevant to this post is that as writers attempting to secure quality representation for our work, we must come up with ways to make that work stand out from the ever-increasing competition.

Agents are very skeptical of new authors, and, looking at it from their prospective, it’s hard to blame them. Literary agents run a business, and that business is to sell books that generate income. The expanse of the internet and e-mail, not to mention social networks like Facebook and Twitter, has made it a snap for anyone to “write” a book and push it to weary agents and editors without investing so much as a stamp. Given how tight the market has become, with fewer and fewer people actually reading for pleasure, agents must be incredibly selective with their client lists, especially fiction. They can no longer afford to take on writers whose work they personally fall in love with unless that work suggests a sure sale, or very close to it.

The question is, how do we convince them our book qualifies?

First and most importantly, we make sure it’s the best it can be before sending out queries. (That’s rudimentary advice, but you’d be surprised how many writers ignore it.) Write a good first draft, flush out the characters, write a second draft, tighten the plot, then rewrite it all again. When the story and characters have been shored up via a third draft, get some input from writing peers. Set aside emotions and digest their comments honestly. Edit some more and rewrite again. Strive for perfection, but—and this is important—don’t dwell on it or the project will never be complete.

Another thing we can do is develop strong marketing skills. It’s imperative to put ourselves and our books out there so readers can find us. Make a website and blog. Post sample chapters. Sell e-books and CDs. Offer to do readings at local bookstores and radio stations. Invest in a small number of printed copies and submit them for local reviews. Sell them as limited first editions. Do interviews. Get people talking. Develop an audience. Prove we have what it takes not only to write a good book but assist in promoting it. Doing so might not land us that elusive contract, but it might be enough to get a toe in the door.

Why writers hate marketing

It takes time away from writing. That’s the main drag for me, anyway. Other writers may cite various reasons, things like “I’m not good at marketing, I don’t know how to market, I’m a writer so it’s not my job to market.” Unfortunately, all the reasons in the world, logical or not, aren’t going to erase the fact that no matter how or why we hate to market, we have to do it if we’re to have any hope of being read.

The good news is, technology has vastly improved our venue. Blogging is, at least for the time being, one of the best ways to get the job done. It’s cost effective (free in most cases) and simple to update. We literally have the world at our fingertips. Bringing that world to our virtual doorstep, however, takes a heck of a lot of work. In fact, I’ve found that since I started putting this blog together in September, I’ve had absolutely no time to work on anything else writing-related. I’m still in the process of learning how to get exposure for this site and probably will be for at least the rest of this year. A year I could have spent completing the first draft of a new novel. But every day I have to ask myself, what would be the point of writing another book no one is ever going to read?

I don’t entertain illusions of becoming a bestselling author; those dreams have long passed. All I want now, as I approach my mid 50s, is to develop a following of a few thousand readers—people who enjoy my stories and let me know they’re waiting for me to write another. I’m very a very logic-centered person, so to me that doesn’t sound like an unattainable goal. What I have to do now is find a way to reach those potential readers. As with most things, the key will be persistence.