Author Archives: Kerry Schafer

About Kerry Schafer

Kerry Schafer is licensed both as a Mental Health Professional and an RN, and spends most of her daylight hours helping people--usually even with a smile. In books, she gets to blow stuff up, preferably with something more interesting than a bomb. Dragons are good; exploding giant slime toads are even better. She has published two novels with Ace Books: Between and Wakeworld. She is also the author of The Dream Wars novellas. Kerry and her Viking live in Colville, Washington, in a little house surrounded by rocks, trees, and gangs of deer and wild turkeys.

The Sane Writer: Social Media Containment

By Kerry Schafer

Social Media is a wonderful thing. It allows us to connect with others of like mind who live at a distance. It can foster creativity, spur us on to reach our goals, provide both education and entertainment.

It's also chock full of emotional land mines.

The infamous Facebook experiment is a case in point. If you managed to miss the news on this one, Facebook deliberately controlled the positive and negative posts on the feeds of some randomly selected users for a week, as an experiment. This is what happened:

"The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts."

You can read more about it here if you wish.

Really, the results of this experiment aren't surprising. For some reason, we seem to forget that the Internet isn't artificial intelligence. It's created by human beings. And social media, in whatever form, is human beings - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Most of us are pretty aware that if we're hanging out with negative, toxic people we're going to feel the emotional effects of that. If we hang out with supportive, enthusiastic people we're likely to feel better. But for some reason we're surprised that social media can influence our emotions.

And what influences our emotions is going to have an impact on our writing. Maybe it will inspire us, lift us up, increase our creative flow and help us be better writers. Or, maybe, it will make us feel depressed, hopeless, jealous, and all of those other negative things that get between us and our keyboards.

The good news is that it's much easier to control Social Media than the social aspects of our real life worlds. If you've got a co-worker who perpetually rubs your fur the wrong way and makes you wish you could flame like a dragon, chances are you're just going to have to deal with that unless you want to find another job. And family members, unless they are so toxic that you need to take the radical step of severing ties, are there for life.

But social media is a different story. Some virtual friends really are friends in all the ways that matter. But be honest now - how many people on your Twitter and Facebook feeds are you truly connected to? If there is somebody who makes you feel sad, angry, disturbed, or even uncomfortable, is that a person you really need to have in your virtual world?

Most of us don't want to hurt anybody. And we worry about how somebody will feel if we cut them out. I'm not advocating suddenly unfriending somebody you've been virtual friends with for years just because they're going through a bad patch. But that person on your Twitter feed that you never talk to who is irritating you? I believe that any reasonably adjusted adult will be able to weather an unfriending from a stranger.

You have the control. Mute, unfriend, block, whatever you need to do. Life throws enough ugly our way that we have to deal with. What good is served by wading through irritation and negativity when we don't have to? If you are of the persuasion that you want ALL the followers on the chance that maybe some of them will buy your book, you don't have to look at all of their posts. Use Tweetdeck or another app and make lists of the people you do want to see every day.

Even if you carefully control your online environment to include only the people you choose to have in your world, there are still going to be hard times. Because, again, we're all human beings. Every one of us is going to have bad days. We're going to rant. People and pets are going to die. Jobs will be lost. Agents will turn out to be a bad idea, book contracts will go sour. Bad things will happen. Really good things will happen too, and some days it can start to seem like every writer in the world is luckier than you.

And I want to make it clear that I think posting about these things is good and important. I love my online support community and I'm not in any way saying we should try to create a sterile climate that's all sunshine and lollypops.

It's important to support and be supported, to engage in the give and take that makes us compassionate human beings. But there will be days where all of this is just too much. Maybe you have your own grief and just can't shoulder anybody else's right now. Or maybe you're in despair about your own writing and watching a bunch of other writers shouting with glee about the new agent, the new contract, the award nomination, the bestseller ranking or even their latest soaring word count makes you want to take to the streets with a bottle in a brown paper wrapper.

Sometimes a media vacation is in order. It's okay to step away from the internet. We also have control over this with the click of a mouse. If you spend a lot of time online a day or two away might seem daunting at first. You'll be afraid you're going to miss something. And you will, but nothing earth shattering. Anybody really important in your world will know how to find you.

Or, if you really feel the need to check your feeds every day, consider writing before you log on. Meditate first. Journal first. Pet the dog, go for a run, listen to music. Do something to set your mind and your mood before letting all of the other outside influences in.

Experiment and find out what works for you. The best part of the whole social media experience is that you have the control.

 

The Sane Writer: Nurturing Healthy Expectations

By Kerry Schafer

What is the very first thought that rolls through your head when your eyes open in the morning? Or before they open, if you're like me and try to believe that both morning and the alarm clock will go away if you can just ignore them long enough?

For me it's very often a wordless primal drive. COFFEE. Which is fine, because coffee is a thing to look forward to. And moving into a simple pleasure first thing in the morning is a fine way to start the day. But sometimes, far too often of late, my very first thoughts involve overwhelm or regret.

I'm writing this post on a Monday, and when the alarm went off this morning the first thought that went through my brain was this:

"Where the hell did the weekend go, and how did I get so little accomplished?"

Now, I'll grant you that this first Monday morning thought was not quite so grammatical and articulate. It had more of an, "Mmph, alarm OFF, things not done, don't wanna" construction. But since I speak fluent morning I was was fortunately able to decipher my own garbled thoughts.

A few minutes later, as I plumped up my flattened brain cells with caffeine, I had another thought. And that thought attracted others until a whole flock of thoughts had gathered and arranged themselves into a sort of order. And the gist of them is this:

I don't want to wake up on Monday mornings with regret.  I want to live my life and adjust my expectations so that when the alarm goes off and my eyes open my first thought is gratitude for the weekend past and the next is happy anticipation for the week to come. When my zombie brain resurrects to the sweet tune of a perfect cup of coffee I want it to be able to savor that experience.

How do I make this happen?

Some would advise a higher level of organization. Get my ducks lined up, streamline my lists, work smarter and get more stuff done in less time. There's likely some truth to this. God knows I could use a little more organization in my world, although where I would actually come up with the time to do the organizing is a mystery.

But I suspect what really needs to happen is an adjustment of expectations.

The truth is that even though I feel like a slacker this morning because there are a number of items on the To Do list that are still To Do rather than Done, I accomplished a lot. If I was talking to a good friend I would likely look at her weekend and tell her, with total sincerity, that she is a powerhouse and should learn to relax. But my expectation for myself are pretty much unachievable.

Since I do have this license as a mental health counselor lying around collecting dust, I took a minute to ask myself a question this morning. "Self," I inquired, "What is to be done about this situation?" Since I find it much easier to dole out advice to other people, I'm just going to throw some ideas into the ring, since I'm pretty sure some of you suffer from the same problem.

1. If you're continually not accomplishing the things on your To Do List, consider paring it down. I know it sounds outrageous, but it's just possible that you're asking too much of your very busy self. Maybe there are things on The List that don't really need to be there. Take them off. Seriously. Write out the list, and then scribble out the things that don't absolutely have to be done. This works better than trying to let go of them in your head, because your brain tends to stick to things. Gray matter can be sticky stuff, like pitch or glue (except for things you want to remember - those get dropped faster than a bad date). Sometimes when you need your brain to let go of an item it helps to write it down and then take a pen and scribble it out. I think the subconscious thought process goes something like this.

Hmmm. Hand says this job is done. I trust Hand. I like Hand. Crossing item off list.

2. Consider adding new items to the List. Yes, I know I just said to take things off the list. But here's a radical idea. What if we added things to our lists that looked like this?

Read book for pleasure

Take nap

Lie in hammock in the sun

Enjoy a glass of wine with a friend

Laugh a lot

Listen to music

Look at pictures of cute cats on Facebook

And then, after we've done those things, we could cross them off The List with a vast sense of accomplishment. I don't know about you, but I need more pleasure and leisure in my life. These things are healthy, and also serve to refill the creativity well. So why is it most of us will put exercise on the to do list, but feel somehow like we have to sneak in the pleasure items?

3. Add items from other people's lists to yours. This is a tricky one. Boundaries are hugely important. It's not healthy to get so sucked into other people's lives and needs that you have no room for your own self and your own needs. On the other hand, it's immensely important (and right) to give, share, help, and generally contribute to the greater good. This serves to keep us decent human beings and prevents us from becoming insufferable, self-obsessed writing fanatics.

I confess that sometimes when a loved one has needs that interfere with my writing time, I experience a nasty little emotional cocktail of guilt and resentment because I have now failed to get things on MY List done. So what if I add those things to my List as they come up, and even prioritize them? I think we already do this when it comes to our kids and maybe our significant others, but not so much when it involves friends and other people in our world. And I'm not talking about the Big Science Project here, or the Cookies for the School Party. I mean simple things like taking time for a conversation about Life, the Universe, and Everything or lending a pair of hands to a home improvement project important to your spouse but not to you. This step would include items like "resolve point of contention with best friend - preserve friendship." I like this reframe much better than my usual take on fights, which tends to be, "well, that was a waste of time." If the disagreement works toward understanding and resolution, it is never a waste of time.

4. Remember to account for changes. Your list may seem sacred to you, but it is an organic and ever changing thing, not graven in stone by the finger of God. Stuff will come up, inevitably, that supersedes whatever you have already planned to do. This weekend, for example, I discovered that the paperback edition of my Indie book, The Nothing, was out on Amazon. This provided an important opportunity to create a little buzz on Social Media without being spammy. Also, I was excited and just wanted to let people know. So I took the time to post on Facebook and Twitter and to experiment with a new Amazon feature supporting giveaways. I think this was important and time well spent, but I did not allow for it on my list and ended up feeling guilty that other things went undone. Much as we'd all like to be Super Writer, we are human and the hours of our days are finite. I'm thinking that when unexpected things find their way onto The List it's going to be important to cross something else off, consciously and deliberately.

5. Create Another List I know, I know. List proliferation is an evil thing, but hear me out. What if we made a completely different sort of list on Sunday evening. Not things we need to do, or things we are dreading, but all of the little bright spots we think might come our way in the coming week. Then maybe - just maybe - when the alarm went off we'd be programmed to look forward with anticipation instead of backward with regret.

 

 

Five Things You Might Not Expect Going Indie

By Kerry Schafer

I'm very nearly through my first venture in independent publishing, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I didn't see coming.

I'm not going to spend time on the things that are easy to see. Obviously you're going to need a cover and some sort of editing. But there are some other things you'll need when the manuscript is all polished and shiny that you might not have thought about in advance.

1) A blurb for the cover. In traditional publishing, often your editor will ask other authors at the publishing house to read and endorse your book. Or at the least, remind you that it's time to start looking. With independent books, it's up to you to track one down. You snooze, you lose. (And yes, when The Nothing comes out that little endorsement quote is probably going to be missing.)

2) ISBN numbers. You need these so bookstores and librarians can find your book. Some of the platforms (Amazon, etc) will give you one, but all of the research I did points to it being a very good idea to get your own. You do this at www.bowker.com. These are kind of spendy - $125 for one ISBN, and if you're doing epub and paper  you're going to need at least two. I went with the bundle of ten for $295, since I figure I'm likely to do more Indie books down the road.

At this cost, you might be wondering if you really need an ISBN. You do, and here's why. From the Bowker website:

"The most important identifier your book can have is the ISBN. As the U.S. ISBN Agency, Bowker is the ONLY official source of ISBNs in the United States. ISBNs provide unique identification for books and simplify the distribution of your books throughout the global supply chain. Without an ISBN, you will not be found in bookstores, either online, or down the street from your house."

3) A Library of Congress Control Number, or PCN. I'm told librarians will use this number to find your book, so you want one. Good news - it's free! It's just a little bit of a hassle to sign up for the account and request the number. It also takes about a week, so allow for adequate time. You can get started at http://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/. Click the link for Open an Account and get started. There will be an email you need to respond to in order to complete the process, so watch out for that! You will also need to send a print copy to the Library of Congress as soon as it is available.

4) Copyright Page and Application. Technically, your book is protected by copyright without actually applying for an official copyright, BUT it seems if there is ever any legal involvement with your book going to court you will need the copyright to have been registered, and that means you have to file with the copyright office. You can do this online here: http://www.copyright.gov/. The advice I've read is to wait until the book is published to file, so I haven't done this yet. I understand there is a fee involved - somewhere around $50. Once again, you will need to send in a print copy.  There is some terrific copyright information here, including what to put on the copyright page: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/03/how-to-copyright-your-book-2/

5) Paper and ebook Covers Are Not Created Equal. Your cover designer needs to make two separate files. The ebook one is straightforward. The cover for a paper book has some extra requirements. In order to finalize a cover that will fit properly across the spine of the paperbound book, your designer will need the exact number of pages of the book after it's been formatted and set in PDF. He or she will also need back cover copy and the aforementioned endorsement if you've been able to secure one.

6) Formatting. From all I've read, formatting isn't difficult so much as it is time consuming and nit picky. I fully intended to learn to do it myself, but time and life got in the way and I ended up getting some help. You'll need two different e-formats - .mobi for Amazon Kindle, and .epub for everything else. You'll also need a pdf of the interior of the book for paper. Since I didn't do the work myself I don't have a whole lot of advice here, except that my friends who have done this a lot advised me to stay far away from Calibre and to use Adobe InDesign. The ebook version of The Nothing was done in Scrivener, however, and it looks clean and professional.

And that wraps up this edition of what I've learned about Independent Publishing. Maybe next time I'll share what I learn in the process of getting The Nothing set up for print on demand and up on the various platforms.

When You Can’t Do All The Things

By Kerry Schafer

I don't have an award wall or a bunch of trophies. I've never been first in my class and wasn't in the running for valedictorian in either college or high school. I've never even been employee of the month.

Since I am an overachiever at heart I always see myself as a bit of a failure.

I have to remind myself on a regular basis that I am a functioning adult with a steady job, good credit scores, well adjusted kids, and a relationship in good standing. And then I go on to reassure myself that yes, this is enough. I don't have to be the mother of the year or the star employee or anything other than myself.

When it comes to writing and publishing, I'm particularly hard on myself. It's not enough to just be published - I want to be successful. And most days successful seems like a moving target I'm never going to hit. I'm not even sure what it means to be successful in publishing. How many books do I have to sell before I can call myself a success? What kind of advance do I need to get, how many loyal fans would need to line up at book signings for an autograph?

I have a sneaking suspicion that there is no number that would satisfy my thirst for perfection. But I have to try, right? And this means not just writing a perfect book, it means writing it in the perfect genre at the perfect time and submitting it to the perfect editor on the perfect day.

It also means I need to become a marketing expert.

Have you paid any attention to marketing lately? There is a staggering amount of advice out there. Different writers and marketing experts advocate for different approaches. Most insist that it is essential to do All The Things they recommend. If there was only one marketing guru out there this might work out okay, but there are hundreds, and they all have their very own You Must Do list.

If I live to be a hundred and spend all day every day pursuing All The Things recommended for novel marketing, I would still fail. This is a sobering thought, equivalent to the first of the twelve steps.

I, Kerry Schafer, acknowledge that I am powerless to do All The Things.

Last week this realization, combined with the challenge of simultaneously working on two projects with tight timelines while still putting in full time hours at the day job, knocked me on my butt. I felt very close to despair, in fact. Since I couldn't possibly do All The Things, I actively chose to do None of the Things.

This did not serve to make me feel better.

And then I had a small epiphany. I've been working with a lovely deck of Self-Care cards designed by Cheryl Richardson. The other morning I drew this card:

independence

I very nearly drew another card for the day. Independence is not something I struggle with. I do a lot of things on my own and tend to be outside of popular opinion a lot. But I turned it over to read the thought that goes with the picture:

decide

I don't like making decisions. What if I make the WRONG one? Because God knows that there is always a perfect decision and the whole world will probably fall apart if I fail to make the right choice. So the more I thought about this card, the more I felt like I'd been handed a gift.

What if making a choice were not a difficult and unwelcome task, but a right. A privilege. What if the right to choose applies to that impossible list of things to do for marketing?

Since then I've been looking at the lists of All The Things with a lot less anxiety and making selections based on personal comfort level, finances, and time. My choice might not be the one you would make, or that the marketing expert would make. It might not be the choice that will launch me into the circle of success, wherever that is.

But it makes a lot of sense and fits a certain trajectory: My life. My writing. My books. My career. My choices.

Maybe success or failure isn't the point at all, in the end, in which case doing Some of The Things is more than enough.

What’s Your Plan for 2015?

By Kerry Schafer

planGod knows I'm a pantser by birth and inclination, but I've learned that sometimes I need a plan. In writing as well as the rest of my life, there is a time for pantsing and a time for planning and it's important to get this straight.

Do you need a Writing Plan for 2015?

That depends.

Do you want to just have fun and create stuff for pleasure? Great. Kudos to you. No planning required and I hope you have a lovely time. (I might be a little bit jealous)

But if you want a writing career, you need a plan.

Stay with me here. A plan doesn't have to involve flow charts and spread sheets and hours of tedious details, although it certainly can. Some of you organized minds out there totally get off on this sort of thing. My crit partner, I know, has a spreadsheet that includes detailed timelines of not only WHAT she plans to accomplish this year, but WHEN each component will be completed.

This just makes me shudder. And want a nap. And ice cream, chocolate, and a bottle of wine. Or two.

On the other hand, I know that if I don't set some goals and some timeline markers, I'm not going to accomplish everything I want to do. Time is not linear for me. It expands and shrinks according to its own irrational whims, and if I don't pay attention I'll suddenly look at a calendar and it will be November and I won't have moved any closer to my ultimate writing career goals.

In case planning is not your forte, I've included pantser-friendly steps to help you get this done.

1. Start with the big picture. Think about what you want to have accomplished by the end of the year. Pretend it's New Year's Eve and you're looking back on all of your accomplishments. What do you want to be able to say you have done at the end of 2015? Finish that novel you've been working on? Write ten short stories? Find an agent? Get published?

I like to write this up as if I've already accomplished it all, something like this:

"It's been a fabulous year. The draft of XXX came out awesome and is on my agent's desk, ready for submission...." That sort of thing.

2. Figure out what is actionable. Okay, I sort of hate the word actionable, but it makes its point. There are things YOU can do, and things you can't. For example, if one of your goals is to get an agent this year, you can't actually force an agent to sign on with you. You CAN write a good book, draft an awesome query letter, research agents, and send out queries. So take a few minutes to break your goals down into smaller steps of things you are going to do this year to get you where you want to go.

3. Set deadlines. I don't know about you, but I can get a hell of a lot done when I've got an impending deadline. If you don't have an agent or a publishing contract to do this for you, it's tricky. This is the position I was in this year. It's much harder to make myself get up at 0-dark-thirty to write when there is no deadline. Who cares? says the voice in my head. It's not like there's anybody out there waiting on your words.

The solution - or at least a solution - is to set your own deadlines. Choose a weekly word count goal, number of revision pages, how many queries you're going to send, whatever. Pick a date you're going to do this by. Write your deadlines on a calendar or sticky notes or your bathroom mirror. Tell a bunch of people. Broadcast it on Twitter.

I have to confess that I did not meet my self imposed deadlines for The Nothing. In fact, I was at least a month behind where I wanted to be when I finally finished the sucker and flipped it over to my freelance editor. But you know what? Without a deadline and a goal I'd still be writing it. Or maybe I wouldn't have bothered with it at all, because that book was a struggle for me.

4. Celebrate Everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. This is so important I consider it part of planning. This writing business is hard. It chews writers up and spits them out on a regular basis. Part of motivation and sticking with the plan comes from marking milestones. So live it up. If you made your weekly word count or your daily word count even, reward yourself. Sent out queries? You ROCK. Give yourself a cookie or a piece of chocolate or at the very least a pat on the back. You didn't just sit there, wishing. You did something to make it happen.

5. Recalibrate as needed. Things change. If it looks like your original plan is a bust, revise it. If you're a pantser, you're already good at this. The whole point and purpose of a plan is to be looking down the road a little so you know where you're headed.

It’s Not My Door – Or Is It?

By Kerry Schafer

This past week I ran across a Facebook post that bothered me. Only one, you say? Yeah, I hear you. There's a lot of stuff on Facebook that is inane or stupid or downright inflammatory. This one was masquerading as good stuff. It was just one of those inspirational posters - a pretty picture and a quote meant to make you a better or at least a more thoughtful person. This was a picture of a lovely old barn with a barred door. The message read:

Schafer_Morguefile

If the door won't open, then it's not your door.

Now chances are that my life would be a whole lot happier and more peaceful if I were the sort of person who follows this sage advice. I would also be agentless and unpublished. Maybe I wouldn't ever have completed any novels. Because those doors, my friends, didn't open easily for me. What if I'd queried a couple of times, collected my rejections, and just sighed with resignation and walked away, saying, 'Guess it's not my door. Publication is not for me."

Now don't get me wrong. I'm a big believer in mindfully accepting the things I cannot change. Like the weather, for example. Wishing it bright and sunny on a rainy foggy day is a waste of energy. But I also know how terrifyingly easy it is to tell myself comforting little lies.

This is not my problem.

This is too hard.

This is not my door.

Sometimes these thoughts may be true. But often it's fear and self doubt talking. Just because a door sticks a little doesn't mean it isn't mine to enter. Even if it's locked, maybe I've had one of my blonde moments and misplaced the key. Or locked myself out by mistake. Or maybe it isn't my door but I need to engage in a little breaking and entering to rescue somebody on the other side. Or, you know, get at the buried treasure…. Sure, there's probably an easier door somewhere, but what's the fun in that? Most of the doors that don't have locks on them lead into places not worth entering.

I mean, what if Gandalf and company had walked away from the Doors of Durin? Picture that. Gandalf gives the doors a try or two and says, "Well friends, this door is not ours. It will not allow us to pass." And with that, wizard, dwarves, and hobbits all go back to where they came from. Okay, sure, they wouldn't have wakened the thing in the deep and Gandalf wouldn't have had his near death experience and a lot of danger and destruction would never have happened. But just look at the story we would all have missed out on!

As writers, I think we'll be forever coming up against locked doors. Sometimes we're shut out by the manuscript itself -- the plot that won't quite come together, the contrary character, an awkward sentence construction that refuses to flow. And the publishing business is pretty much composed of barriers. Rejections from agents and editors, books that don't sell, series that don't take off, bad reviews. Indie writers face stigma and distribution problems and questions of how to finance covers and editors. Let's face it, there is no easy way to be successful in this business.

Every now and then some writer gets lucky and all of the doors magically open while angel choirs sing. Most of us aren't going to have this experience. Of course, beating our heads bloody against a solidly sealed door is not productive. But neither is giving up. So what are we to do?

Let's go back to Gandalf and company at Moria. The inscription on those doors could only be seen by moonlight and starlight. And the right words needed to be spoken in order to gain entrance. Even a great wizard like Gandalf had to work at getting inside.

So it is for us. When the doors don't open, it might be that the time isn't right. Or that we're lacking the knowledge and skill we need to gain entrance. If the doors of publishing seem to be locked against you, here are a few things you can try.

  1. Increase your knowledge. Take some classes or go to conferences.
  2. Don't try to do it alone. Connect with other writers to form your own adventuring fellowship. It's helpful to have others people's eyes and brains and creative energy involved.
  3. Keep writing. This is the only way to become a better writer.
  4. Keep on testing the doors. You never know when the stars are going to align and that door that shut you out is going to open.

Kickstart This, Reprise. Five Lessons Learned.

By Kerry Schafer

Last month I blogged on Kickstarter basics. At that point I had just hit the launch button on my Kickstart Nothing project for the third book in my Between trilogy and had no idea how things were going to turn out. Thanks to a lot of support from friends, readers, and total strangers, I am happy to report that the Kickstarter campaign successfully funded!

I've used the word "happy" but let me shade in relieved, exhausted, elated, and maybe even vindicated. The fact that there are people out there who want to read The Nothing enough to put money behind the unfinished book feels incredible to me. It makes me want to be a better writer, because it feels like this book belongs to everybody who backed it and not just to me.

So now that the campaign is over and done, let me tell you a little more about what I've learned, just in case you're inclined to attempt this venture on your own.

1. Pick a launch date and build some momentum This is a tip I got from Jeff Seymour, and I'm glad I took his advice. Once I finally got my video done and the project written up I wanted to just click that little button and end my pre-launch anxiety. Thing is, it's better to have a few people excited about the project in advance. Just like anything else online, a few excited people backing the project from the beginning and tweeting and/or face booking about it can go a long way toward getting other people buzzed. An initial surge of momentum to get the project underway is hugely important, so talk to your friends and readers in advance and make the launch an exciting event. Just as you would with a cover reveal or book release.

2. Kickstarter has an algorithm.  What exactly this algorithm is remains a secret, possibly involving the blood of rare chickens found only in the Amazon Jungle. Okay, it's probably (slightly) more accessible than that, but I never figured it out. There were hints dropped (mostly by strangers popping up in my inbox offering to solve this riddle for money) that more backers and more people leaving comments on the Kickstarter project raises its visibility at the Kickstarter site. Sort of the same idea as favoriting authors on Amazon, I'd guess.

3. Kickstarter is a time suck. Be prepared to spend a month funneling much of your time into updates, social media, and staring at the Kickstarter page, willing the funding amount to rise. Unless, of course, you are the Potato Salad Guy. And then, I'd guess, you just snack a lot and laugh every time you look at your screen. Because, apparently, people will give thousands of dollars to help you make potato salad.

4. People are incredibly generous. You will be touched and humbled by the unexpected backers. People you know just a little (or not at all) who will drop a hundred dollars on your project (or two hundred, or more) and the people who you know are tight on money who still share two, or ten. This, more than anything, makes me want to be a better writer.

5. Add some excitement midway. There's a plateau at the middle of a Kickstarter where nothing seems to be happening. I felt for a bit like maybe I'd inadvertently murdered an albatross. You know, the old, "idle as a painted ship; upon a painted ocean" thing. I thought maybe it was just me, but since I got a formulaic email from Kickstarter at about this time letting me know it was normal for things to slow down here, I figure it's a common trend. Fortunately I had a brand new cover ready to reveal at this point and started splashing that around. People like covers, and this got the momentum rolling again. If I was ever inclined to do another crowd sourced project I would deliberately have something big to reveal about half way through.

And that is about it for my lessons learned. Now it's back to the writing cave for me, because with this success comes the towering responsibility of getting a damned good book out to my readers on time.

Kickstart This: Six Lessons Learned

By Kerry Schafer

Recently I ventured into completely uncharted territory for me - a Kickstarter campaign for the purpose of producing a quality Indie book. When I say recently I mean so recently that the sweat from my shaking fingers hasn't yet dried on the launch button. I can't set myself up as a success story if we judge success by how well the Kickstarter does in the long run. But I have managed to get as far as Launch, so I thought I'd share some lessons learned from that part of the process.

Whether you're an Indie writer or a Hybrid writer who might someday want to try a Kickstarter, or just somebody who is interested, here are six things I've learned about Kickstarters in the last few weeks.

1) What IS a Kickstarter Anyway? I've sort of passively wondered about this for awhile. I knew they existed and involved money and crowd sourcing, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Basically, Kickstarter.com provides a place for creative types to present a business proposal for a creative project. Backers commit to supporting the project at varying financial levels but no money exchanges hands unless and until the project is fully funded. In exchange for their support, backers are rewarded in the form of some item directly connected to the project. For writers these rewards often take the form of books, contact with the writer over Skype or phone or coffee, input into the story, a chance to name a character, and so on.

2) Successful Projects Start with a Video, or at least so says the Kickstarter website. It's possible they have sadistic people working there and just like to see introverted creative types squirm like a worm on a hook. Or maybe their claim that potential backers want to see and hear from the project creator is valid. Whatever the truth of the matter, if you find yourself in this situation rely on the kindness of friends. You'll be amazed at what they will do for you in terms of support, editing, advice, and even possibly appearing in your video.

3) You'll Need to Do Math. You may think I'm kidding, but this is true. People who are considering backing a project want to see a reasonably detailed budget. How much have you allocated for various expenses? Does it all add up to what you've set for your goal? Have you considered the costs of the rewards you've promised? Oh, and don't forget the 5% Kickstarter claims if the project funds. Backers want to be sure you'll be able to deliver on the promised goods.

4) It's Scary and Exciting. Putting yourself and your beloved project out there - whether it's a book, or a CD, or something you're building - pulls out all the emotional stops. There's the excitement of a whole new adventure, combined with the fear that nobody - not even your best friend and your mother - will back your project. Not funding could be ego crushing, especially when you consider that the Potato Salad Guy made, like, millions. On the other hand, having people back your project is like an unexpected visit from your fairy godmother.

5) It's Business. At the end of the day, what you're really doing is asking people, some of them total strangers, to support a business proposition. So it's not really about you and whether people like you or not. That said, it is important to present as trustworthy and reputable. You don't want to look so dodgy they think you're going to take the funds and run off to become the next evil overlord of Gotham. The advice I was given is to be as transparent as possible and present your plan and your goals clearly.

6) You'll Need Help. This is one of those things you can't do on your own. You'll need people to talk you down from the trees and people to give you a motivational kick in the pants. You'll need eyes on your proposal to see what you've missed. You'll need voices to help get the word out after you hit the launch button. The good news it that writer types are the most generous people on the face of the planet. Ask your people. They will be there for you.

 

You Have the Power

By Kerry Schafer

Okay, writers, time for a show of hands: who among you has ever engaged in a pity party related to your writing career (or lack thereof)?

My hand definitely goes up. I've just dusted myself off after a particularly difficult little stretch where it seemed that everything was going wrong. And not just for me - for a lot of great writer friends out there.

The writing business is a tough one. It eats unwary writers for breakfast and smears the leavings over computer screens and scraps of paper for the wind to blow away. A writer's world is full of politics and trolls, reviews and rejections, market trends and genre crashes, not to mention the self doubt and despair involved in trying to transform that brilliant but elusive idea into reasonably coherent prose.

So what is a writer to do?

Well, keep on writing, obviously. But here are a few other tips that I find helpful in keeping a firm hold on my own personal writer power.

If You're Going to Have a Pity Party, Go Big. Hey, it's inevitable that you're going to crash at some point, and there's no shame in the occasional meltdown. No matter how optimistic you are by nature, you can only take so many hits before a little self pity catches up with you. One too many rejections, one too many bad reviews, one too many days of beating your head against a wall with a manuscript determined to prove that I SUCK AS A WRITER  writing is really hard work.

If this should happen to you, I say let's make it a real party. Bring in ice cream and chips. Chocolate. Alcohol. Invite friends. Weep big fat tears of failure and despair. Rage. Rant. Eat and drink things that provide an illusion of comfort. Just be sure to keep the misery offline and out of the public eye.

Also, set a time limit, say maybe 8 pm to midnight on Tuesday night. Parties that last too long suck and turn into something ugly. When the clock strikes twelve you know what to do. Clean up the mess. Dry your eyes. Let go of the anger. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and go on.

Remember, You are Here by Choice. That's right. If you're involved in this crazy rat race, then it's because you chose to be here. Nobody is holding a gun to your head to make you write (unless, maybe, you're a character in a Stephen King story). If you don't like it, if you think the rules aren't fair and the heartbreak too frequent, you are always welcome to pack up your computer and your stories and betake yourself elsewhere. If you choose to stay, do it with your eyes wide open. Acknowledge the reality. Sometimes great writers are passed over. Nice guys and gals may not win. Books that you consider not nearly as good as yours might make bestseller status while your work of art languishes, unloved and unappreciated.

If you continue to choose to be here, suck it up. Write anyway.

Take Responsibility. This is your writing career. Nobody else wants it as much as you do. Sure, maybe your significant other is supportive and wants you to be successful. They also want you to clean the house and make dinner and be available for sex and childcare and possibly even random conversation. And your agent? She's got a lot to gain from your success, it's true, but let's face it. There are millions of writers out there, clamoring at the gates. If you decide not to play anymore she might miss you, but she'll find another author to take your place.

Focus Your Energy Where You Have Control.

You don't have control over whether an agent or editor accepts or rejects your book.

You do have control over writing the best damn book you can and taking the time to craft a great query or pitch.

You don't have control over whether or not readers go crazy for something you write.

You do have control over writing a damn good book and learning some marketing strategies.

See the trend here? Nothing happens unless you write. And that means working on craft and structure and plotting and making every book better than the one before.

If you've already written a damn good book (and this has been confirmed by honest beta readers and editors and not just people who love you) maybe it's time to self publish. Or try a kickstarter.

You, my friend, are not powerless. In fact, all of the power is yours. Claim it, wield it. Don't let people walk all over you or make you believe that you are somehow not as worthy as some other writer. Only YOU can tell your stories. Only YOU can write the world through your eyes. So pick yourself up. Brush off the cake crumbs and the chocolate smears.

And get yourself back to the page where you belong.

 

The Sane Writer Goes To Conference

By Kerry Schafer

Most of us head off to writing conferences with enthusiasm and great expectations. We plan to learn, meet with like minded people, and get our creative batteries recharged. We expect to come home brimful of energy, all ready to conquer new and wonderful writing worlds.

But just maybe you've headed off to a writer's conference in the past all full of hope and expectation, only to come home feeling like somebody sucked your soul out through your eyeholes and then used it for target practice.

If so, you're not alone and there's nothing wrong with you.

Writer's conferences are big, busy, and supercharged with emotion, information, and expectation---exactly the sort of environment in which an extrovert thrives and grows. But most writers are introverts. We get recharged home alone in the quiet with a good book and maybe some good tunes on the playlist. Crowds drain and exhaust us.

So should you just keep your introverted little soul at home then, swilling coffee or booze and watching the cons all unfold through tweets and pictures and Facebook posts? Because this isn't very good for sanity either.

Part of the problem is the fear of missing something that most of us still carry around from when we were little kids. If I take a nap right now, what am I going to miss? Maybe the ice cream man, or the Easter Bunny or a big purple dinosaur riding a tricycle down the middle of main street. And if we don't nap then we get crabby and tired and if the dinosaur does show up we're in the middle of an exhaustion induced tantrum at the time and miss him anyway.

Right? So I think conferences become much more manageable (and enjoyable) if we are able to give up on the idea of  experiencing everything and are able to focus in on one primary purpose.

There are a lot of possible options. Maybe you want to learn more about craft, or need to explore new strategies for marketing. Maybe you're searching for an agent, or want to place a manuscript with an editor. Or your intention could simply be to network, have fun, or get as drunk as possible every night at the hotel bar.

Setting a primary purpose doesn't mean you can't involve yourself in other things. It does give you a focus, an ability to turn down the static and not be overwhelmed by trying to pay attention to All Of The Things. It means you can skip a session of classes and hang out in your room. Maybe even take a nap.

There are three steps to creating a mindful goal.

1. Define for yourself what is your primary reason for attending this conference at this time. (Hint: this may be different for every con you go to)

Ask yourself, "If I get only one thing out of this conference, I want it to be _________."

If you're struggling with this, stop and make a list of All The Things you want to accomplish. Tell yourself you have to give one up. What will it be? Cut that one out. Repeat, until the primary goal is left.

2. Make sure your goal is something over which you have control. Look at your statement of purpose from step one and see if this is true. For example:

"At this con I will get an agent," is a fabulous goal, but not one over which you have control. Your agent--the one who is out there looking for you--may not even be at the conference. Or maybe you're not quite ready to meet her yet.

Consider modifying the goal to, "At this con I will focus on connecting with agents."

3. Tailor your conference experience toward this goal. If your purpose is the example above, then sign up for pitches. Go to the classes that teach pitching, or that talk about premise and synopsis. As other writers to help you practice.

Once you're pursued your primary goal for the day, If you have the energy and the inclination to do other things, perfect. If not, also perfect. You'll come home feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do. Sure, you'll still be tired and might want to avoid people for awhile, but hopefully with your self and soul still intact.