Post-Showcase, More Thoughts

In my last post, I opened up about some things I learned from the author showcase. The environment, the presentation, the reception – all of the good and the bad of what made the experience memorable. And what I need to do to improve for next time.

But, now that I’ve properly digested everything, I want to get down to business. I’ve been self-publishing my work for a couple years and Amazon is my current distributor. Overall, I’m happy to be working with them. The platform is solid and remarkably user-friendly. Those are the pluses. And though I have no aspirations to find an agent at the moment, I’m always open to the possibility of having one.

All that being said, here’s my debacle: talking with others about self-publishing. To any aspiring writer, self-publishing has been sold as “the way to go.” You can “make it big overnight” and do so without the hassle of paying an agent or big publisher. And as I spoke with other authors last Saturday, the consensus was this: “give self-publishing a shot – it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it lets you reach a wide audience, faster.”

I want to address each of these statements separately. And hopefully do so without sounding like a curmudgeon. Here goes:

1) It’s easy. Yes and no. First of all, self-publishing has changed the landscape of the reader’s experience. Aspiring authors can go directly to a mass distributor – like Amazon – and publish a story within hours. This puts their work among thousands of others like it, leaving readers just a search away from finding the writer’s work. That’s the easy part. And it’s the most attractive one to an ambitious writer.

Now, here’s the dose of reality: writing a book is hard. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Most people will tell you, “I have an idea for a story. I’d like to write a book someday.” But, how many people actually go through with that idea? Not many. Why? Because it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to bring an idea to completion. If you want to do it right, you can’t rush your work. Again, this is not easy. I spoke with an individual at the showcase who told me she’d had an idea for a book for the past decade. Yes, a whole decade! Can you imagine beginning a business that takes 10 years to kick start? That’d be asinine. And you’d quickly have to consider other options for your career.

2) It’s cheap. That depends on where you go and who you shop with. Self-publishing was initially touted as the “new wave” for publishing material. A writer with some change in his pocket could search for and pay a publisher to distribute his work. Yes, pay the publisher to mass produce what he’d written. In the old days, agents would seek out hopeful writers. Now, it’s the other way around. And because of that, many publishing companies have become less concerned with the quality of their authors – only the volume. Possessing a large library of clients is far more attractive than one that’s without. Why advertise when you have hordes of people coming to you?

This is a conundrum. And it applies to more than just new and upcoming scribes. Established writers, those born out of the initial social media explosion, may encourage newbies to share work for free. Advising to do so because their success – the writers – was often found through sharing work on a blog or social media site. This helped them gain a following, but it also made them accessible to agents and publishers. As I talked with other authors at the showcase, most people seemed excited to share their work freely while others were holding their cards close to the vest.

As for me, I’m more inclined to believe in the latter. This blog, for instance, is a free service to any who want to read it. And that’s where I want to draw the line. I can share work all day long, but where is my investment meeting my reward? At what point do I break even and stop giving it away for free? Obviously, it’s when you have a few things going for you: the first being a readership, a definitive following that looks forward to every new piece you shell out.

Financially-speaking, it’s cheap to start up a blog or begin a new website. But, what about the time it takes to write one? There’s the daily, weekly, even yearly grind of posting material that may or may not catch the eyes of readers. This can be draining. And unless you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll find yourself at odds with what you’d been originally sold on: write a blog and the readers will come. Not exactly. Self-publishing is not the “Field of Dreams” on the Internet. A writer must be willing to invest deeply in what he’s begun. Success stories crop up after long hours – even years – of trudging through mud to come out looking clean.

3) It lets you reach a wide audience, fast. Am I going to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to this one too? Yes. And here’s an example why: let’s say you’re sitting on a bench, somewhere at a busy intersection, reading your newly hatched story as people pass you by. You’re talking loudly, loud enough for people to hear you, but no one is stopping to ask what you’re saying. So you talk louder. You repeat favorite phrases or lines from your manuscript, looking for a reaction. And let’s say you start to receive some. If the listeners like you, you encourage them to tell others – share what they’ve heard – and trust that when they walk away, they do just that. And feeling encouraged by this, you keep at it. Maybe you set up shop at another park bench and start reciting your lines again – the ones that worked – and stay at it.

This process, if repeated, may warrant some eventual success. You’ll establish a small following of individuals who don’t mind stopping amidst their busy schedule and hearing you for a few minutes. That’s the good news. And marks the end of this metaphor for social media spamming.

Now, here’s the difficult news: doing it all on your own is an arduous, grinding, and oftentimes, tedious task. Marketing a book requires HUGE amounts of attention and time on the part of the author. That’s why I shake my head when I talk with other writers who say, “Once I get a blog going, I’ll be doing it right.” No, actually you won’t. Where is your reading base? Do you have people all ready interested in your work? Have you created a strategy for reaching multiple channels without extending yourself beyond your means? These are business questions a writer has to be asking of himself, and if he isn’t, then he might want to consider another hobby or vocation. Readers just don’t appear over night.

Agents and publishing companies specialize in doing this kind of leg work. Their success, and their paycheck, depends upon how well they reach more than the passerby. That’s a team effort, not just the efforts of one.

Closing Thoughts: This is the longest post I’ve done in a while, but I hope you’ve stuck around till the end. Truly, the self-publishing “explosion” is something that shouldn’t be overstated or understated. Just keep this in mind: the quick route to something worth having isn’t quick, at all. It’s more than that. It’s full of persistence, diligence, and hard work. Self-publishing is merely another tool available for hopeful writers. It could be the future of writing, but it’s certainly not the easiest one.

So Your Book is Out – Now What?

Yesterday, I finally got to release The Scientist’s Dilemma on Kindle. Might go without saying, but hey – that was very exciting. It’s surreal knowing my thoughts and ideas are now open to praise, criticism, and verbal shellackings. I’m sure I’ll never tire of the high it gives me; be it for good or for bad. But, when the day is over and I’m lying in bed, an annoying question may creep up and invade my thoughts: so what now, Josh?

Obviously, I have some options when that happens – four of which I find to be the most immediate during this process.

My first option might be to keep checking up on my story. The Internet is a double-edged sword in this way. I can track views, likes, clicks, purchases – just about everything other than tracking my readers via satellite are some things I can do. And yet, if I’m not careful, I can find myself staring down the rabbit hole of never-ending browser clicks; hoping and praying that someone may have shared my link, viewed my webpage, or took the ultimate chance and made a purchase in the last five seconds.

Yes, the dark side of tracking one’s book can be dangerous. It’s nice to know how things are going, but if that’s all you’re doing then you’d best get to doing something else.

My second option would be to keep posting information about my book. Of the first two, this is the one that keeps things moving. A good business practice is to operate with forward motion. Lingering over concepts or ideas for too long creates stagnation and if you’re interested in being a professional writer, you have to view yourself in that same way. Your name brings a certain product and people – as nice or as thoughtful as they are – don’t always remember to check out your book. So you must remind them by continually getting yourself out there. This can be a tough one to execute and must be done with the level of charm that doesn’t turn people away.

Again, a double-edged sword, but if worked at, can become a powerful asset in your arsenal of online marketing. Am I pro at this myself? Oh, heavens no, but I’m learning as I go and this has proven to be a major part of what helps to build one’s platform.

My third option would be to look for more opportunities to share my work. I can post and connect links and write as many blog posts as I like, but I may be just working inside of a vacuum. With that in mind, it’s good to take a moment and think, “what am I not doing that I haven’t done before?” For this particular venture – The Scientist’s Dilemma – I decided I should only release it as an ebook. In the past, I would have scoffed at doing such a thing. “That’s too small. Either get recognized by an agent or nothing,” – that was my thinking. And with that stubborn attitude, I probably missed out on some opportunities along the way.

The downside here is looking back in hindsight, but there is a silver lining also: any chance you didn’t take doesn’t really matter anymore. If you’ve arrived at a point where it’s easy to look back and say, “should’ve done that” then you can ultimately use that to your advantage later. Learn what works and what doesn’t, but don’t try to recreate old scenarios for the sake of just trying to prove yourself.

My fourth (and last) option would be to work on the next project. It’s in these times when I can feel the most invigorated or the most demoralized. To know that my next work could be months, maybe even years away, is a daunting feeling. All sorts of doubts and dreadful thoughts can surface – and they can come from inside my own head or even come from the tongues of those around me.

The key in beating this is to be decisive in what project you choose to undertake. Oftentimes, I’ll find myself floundering between ideas, unable to get a solid grasp on what the best use of my time will be. This is normal though and is a natural part of the process, but it’s also not something to dwell upon or beat yourself up over. If anything, it might be healthy to have more than one project going at a time. Journaling is a good deterrent and can be very beneficial in flushing out the gunk that clogs things up. I’ve found journaling to be very helpful.

All that being said, back to it. I got some options to work with.

The Joy

Last month I decided to look at pressure and how that affects a person – specifically in the realm of writing. With plenty of writing ventures up in the air, I’m feeling both the angst and the excitement of many good plans coming to fruition – or not coming to fruition. ‘Such is life,’ some may say. But, that’s only looking at the problem rather than where you’ll eventually get to. And where you should see yourself getting to is a place of joy.

This month, I’m more about the joy – or rather, I want to be more about the joyPressure tends to steal joy away; eventually leading us to “comfortable dissatisfaction”: a locale where the majority of middle-class Americans are liable to find themselves. It’s a draining existence if you don’t make a conscious effort to pull yourself out of that dark void and it’s a place where a close friend of mine saw me headed – so he took action. But, instead of doing the “normal American thing” and taking me out for a happy hour, he gave me a book to read and promised to follow up with me to make sure I was reading it. Well, I started reading it and he followed up as promised. The book was called, 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life and it’s written by Tommy Newberry, president of the 1% Club and a recognized leader in business/family mentoring. Here’s a pic of the front cover:

40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, by Tommy Newberry

40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, by Tommy Newberry

The book’s cover is unassuming – it appears to be have been written by Wal-Mart’s founder – but don’t be deceived: there’s a ton of good material worthy of application. And I wanted to highlight a few I’ve taken and applied thus far.

The first being this: how we prepare our minds is a reflection of how we will respond later.  For example, when something happens and it’s unexpected, do you focus on the good? Or do you focus on the bad? This is not the same as being happy-go-lucky or being naive all the time. The difference is preparation. A guy cuts me off in traffic and suddenly, I’m angry all morning. All because of one guy’s errant traffic violation. My response exposes me as being ill-prepared. Not for the bad driver, but for circumstances I can’t control.

To piggy-back off that idea, Newberry argues how we are not our emotions. Our feelings fluctuate constantly throughout the day and they can dictate our experiences if we allow them. Therefore, recognize an emotion as being a fleeting arrangement and you can distance yourself from the emotion before it consumes you. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, it would be easy if it weren’t worth the effort. A good thing to train yourself for those “heat of the moment” situations.

Lastly, the conscious mind can only populate one thought at a time so why troubleshoot more than one? I find this to be the most applicable for the modern worker. Emails, social media, texting – all can be severe distractions from what really needs attention. Too many detractors means too little time to deal with matters elsewhere.

I would encourage any person to pick up Mr. Newberry’s book and give it a read. More than just a great exercise, it’s good for the mind and the soul – literally. Just don’t plan on me calling you to keep you on task like my friend did. Find a close friend of your own. Unless, of course, I’m your friend already. Then, I’ll consider it. With a smile.

Desktop Update – 8.25.14

I started writing this as a means to keep my mind in order. Between wedding planning, house-hunting, and everything else going on, it’s been tough making time to just relax and quiet all the external voices that come creeping in. When you’re stressed out by any number of responsibilities, you open yourself up to distractions. I’d love to check certain things off my to-do list, but it’s more important that I keep certain things off my list too. That being said, I’m reassessing my desktop and seeing what’s out there – along with planting a screenshot for accountability’s sake:

Priorities

1. Freelancing 

This is a tough gig. Don’t let the countless websites and email solicitations fool you – if you want to be a freelancer, it’s tough work. I know plenty of folks that want to do freelancing full-time, but their time is limited and/or their portfolios just don’t have the breadth to make proper headway. The 2014 year wasn’t my first year doing the freelance thing, but it’s certainly been the most rewarding thus far. The reason? 2013 was a lot of “Hey, I’ll do that for free” – that way I could accumulate some understanding of what it means to be a freelancer. And to be honest, not many people will pay you for a work unless you’ve had experience – proven experience – to do the jobs that are asked of you. One thing I’ve learned is that getting paid isn’t always the most important thing – it’s the experience. So here’s to a stronger, better 4th quarter in 2014 and beyond.

2. My next manuscript

The screenshot is not my next manuscript, but it is a short story I completed earlier this year. And I’m still working on the rewrite as I debate how to publish or merely share online. However, since A Dinner with Titans has been done for a while, I find myself putting more and more time into my next major manuscript: The Lion’s Den. It’s been nearly a year since I started The Lion’s Den and it’s been quite a year at that. I’ve worked through several iterations, worked up about 88,000 words, and even begun all over again. There’s no way to write that lightly – it’s been hard work. And now, I’m on my 2nd rewrite and am slowly making up ground as I push myself to finish before year-end. A time when the real fun begins: how to publish and where to publish. I have some ideas on how to go about that, but I can’t concern myself with that at the moment. The best I can do is get back to business and finish what I’ve begun, reminding myself of what’s behind me and what’s in front.

A Dinner with Titans_page 1

A Dinner with Titans_page 1

3. My (other) next manuscript

Though it’s not a requirement, I would suggest this to any aspiring writer: have plenty of projects lined up. Or at the very least, a few. Changing up the creative flow of things can help loosen up the mind and set you back on track. Especially in those moments when you’re frustrated or just plain stuck. I’ve never had an issue with this –  I’ve been working on sporadically on several – and these other works have helped to keep my head above water, but they’ve also restricted me from sinking into the bowels of a single idea that could make or break my spirit. That just wouldn’t be a good place to be in. First things, first though – finish the manuscript and then deviate my attention as appropriate.

Not Priorities

1. Starting another blog / building a new website

2. Searching for editors / publishers / agents

3. Allowing myself to get frustrated

 

 

Written Rapport and Why I’ll Never Apologize

It’s tough trying to get noticed.

If you’ve ever been a salesperson, you’ll agree. If not, try and level with me a while. Because if you are salesperson, you probably spend a good deal of time trying to attune yourself to the melodies and rhythms of your target market. You learn the ins and the outs of what makes your prime customer operate and in doing this, you’re after something crucial to making the sale: who they are. What are their interests? How is their personal life? What do they do for fun? If they’re into baseball, you may invite them to a baseball game. If they enjoy golfing, then you might go golfing. Or if they love food, you take them out to eat – provided you can. So you do this with the expectation you’ll gain their confidence. Shared experiences – fun ones – establish rapport; a rapport that says, “Hey, I’ve paid attention to what brings you joy.” And sharing joy is what strengthens trust. It keeps a person coming back. Great sales people know this. Whether they’ve stumbled onto this understanding or not – they’ve learned to hone the process as their own.

So, now comes my writer’s tie-in.

Effective writers must – and I mean MUST – establish a rapport with their reader. But the question is – what does that even look like? How does someone create rapport with somebody they’ve never met? An author can’t exactly take a reader out to eat or invite them to a baseball game – unless they know each other personally. Sure, the author can write a decent story about going out to eat or enjoying a ballgame, but that’s an entirely different thing. What’s more, anybody can do that. My niece who is five can write about eating (not downplaying her English skills, just making a point here). So, once again, what are we talking about when we say, “create a rapport” between you and the reader?

Well, it starts with the author. Specifically, an author who is honest. Not only with himself but with the audience he is speaking to. That means, saying what you intend to say and not apologizing for it. For example, how effective would J.K. Rowling had been had she been confused about making Harry Potter a wizard versus a vampire or an elf? Before the Potter series took off, modern culture wasn’t exactly excited about magic. Heck, it wasn’t even excited about reading. But hey, J.K. was. She knew she had a good story to tell, but the only way to make others see that good story was to own it – to not apologize for writing about wizards, witches, and all manner of imaginary creatures. She plead her case and won. She went deep with the mythos she created and her unapologetic attitude paid off. In a big way, too.

New writers – and even the more seasoned ones – tend to forget this. There’s no magical formula and most readers don’t even know what’s happening even when it’s happening! They’ll knowingly enter into a book without any knowledge or expectation of what may happen should they – the reader – be convicted of the author’s own conviction. The reason being? Every reader is subconsciously sizing up what he is reading. He is internalizing the story, feeling out its presentation, and ultimately assessing whatever stake the writer has in the ground. And if it’s a weak stake like a Ramen noodle, then adios – the reader is off to find someone who isn’t afraid of risking vulnerable pieces of himself for the sake of saving face or offending someone. I find this decision tied to a core belief: a writer’s true voice is not about breadth of audience, but about depth of audience – even though this may not appear to be the immediate issue. For example, what good is your voice without a platform and plenty of ears to hear you? Well, people stick around if they are more engaged by what they hear or read. Consider trying to marry someone who says, “I’m only available Sunday through Tuesday and the rest of the week I don’t want to see you.” Of course you’ll think twice about committing yourself to this person. There’s no reward coming for you in that scenario so consider how a reader feels when an author gives only half of what he can offer?

Yeah, not a fun arrangement.

The author must not be apologetic towards his audience. He must be willing to say, “this is it” and not shy away from it. Otherwise he’s just another screaming voice among the masses. A place that’s every writer’s hell – no apologies here either.