Why I Entered the Colorado Gold Contest

I was thrilled to hear this week that I was a finalist in the Colorado Gold Writer’s contest, but why should you care? Well, if you are a multi-published author, you probably don’t, and shouldn’t. But if you’re a writer struggling to get your work in front of agents and/or editors, maybe you should.typewriter winner

Colorado Gold, and other contests like it, is a GREAT way for you to get your work exposed to acquiring editors and agents. They are also really good at making you hone your craft. And teach you to be careful with submission guidelines (I lost 2 of 5 points for submitting a DOCx file instead of DOC).

The score sheets and comments on the manuscript are really helpful for seeing if there is a consensus that something may need to be tweaked, and they make you look closer at your writing. I always have to read them, rant just a little, then re-read and determine which comments I have to (sometimes grudgingly) agree with.

I’ve entered several contests over the years, with my scores starting below 50 (out of 100) and gradually, as I improved my craft, rising until I’ve finaled in the last four I entered, with three different manuscripts. So far, always a bridesmaid, never a bride – but I have high hopes for Gold.

I’ve learned that not all judges are great, and some are truly fantastic. One judge became a mentor for me, reviewed my edited submission, and gave me a blurb for my novel (which, alas, hasn’t sold enough to prevent me from qualifying for Gold!). I’ve also learned to thank my judges, if I’m given a method for doing so, and to NEVER dis a judge. Reading is subjective. I can’t always explain why I love or hate a book, scene, or character, while others rave about them. Judges are human, and have likes and dislikes; one judge may give you very low scores, while two others are much higher. Those same judges might be sitting next to you at a conference or workshop. They won’t know whose pages they judged, but if you’re sitting there telling them about your story and how bad the judge was, trust me, they’ll remember. Likewise, if you talk about how much you learned about your writing from the judge’s scores and comments, they might just be willing to open a door that helps your career along.

My biggest challenge now is to make sure I put as much effort into the other 350 pages as I did those first 10 the judges saw. I’ve heard a lot of stories about editors and agents who can tell, to the word, how far into the manuscript the writer had polished for submitting to contests and critiques and then didn’t bother with the rest.

winner imageIf you didn’t submit, and you do qualify for the contest, consider it, or others, in the future. For the small price of admission you get new sets of eyes on your work, and get a feel for how you fit within your genre in relation to other writers. If you, like me, notice your scores are rising, it’s a great feeling to know that you are improving as a writer – plus the plaques look really pretty on the wall.

So, as always, I urge us all to Write On!

Hit Me Baby, One More Time: The Art of Rejection

You think the last rejection you got was bad? Well, yeah, it probably was.

Rejection sucks no matter how you think about it. Some people put a positive spin on it, declaring each rejection is one step closer to a yes. And they’re right.

Other might look at rejection as spirit crushing. And yeah, they’re right too.

Let’s face it, no one likes being told their work doesn’t measure up or in publisher/agent speak, it’s not a good fit, whatever that means. It hurts. At the very least it gives one pause, evaluating their career choice. Which I honestly have to say is not the brightest, wealthiest, worthwhile path one could take.

I bet no one has ever told a doctor, that kidney you're putting in me...well, it doesn't quite fit. We're going to pass on the transplant. But good luck on your future endeavors.

Throughout the writer’s career rejection is a constant. Even the bestsellers get rejected. As an added bonus, once a book hits the shelves, readers start to review it. 1-star ratings appear.

How does a writer face so much rejection and not throw up their arms, screaming, “I quit!”?

Surprisingly a number of writers do quit. Finding the price far too much. Others, like me and you, continue with our delusions. Mind you, our delusions might not be all that deluded after all. Every rejection is one step closer to a yes. Every review, as painful as it might be, means a reader found reason enough to comment.

Recently I managed to get reviewed and rejected within an hour of each other. I considered quitting, giving up on my bestseller dream. Then I remembered why I do this. It isn’t for the fame, for the money, for the yes. It’s for the words on the page. The stories in my head. I write because it gives me pleasure. It makes me happy.

That’s the true art of rejection. Facing it. Accepting. And finally moving on.

How do you deal with rejection? Or poor reviews? What steps do you take to get over it?

You’re awesome! Go to the Gold with “Crowdfidence!”

Carol Berg speaks at RMFW
RMFW's conference offers workshops, speakers ... and supportive friends.

Conference is just around the corner. What will you wear?

Beyond fashion, the most important accessory is …. crowdfidence!

That means not falling into the trap of feeling inferior when you join the hundreds of writers at the Colorado gold during speeches, workshops and events.
Confidence can be eroded when we compare. Look at that author! He just snared his first book contract, and with a major New York publisher, to boot.  And her—she just released her fourth mystery, and it’s a USA Today bestseller.  They sit in groups by the bar, laughing, surrounded by mobs of friends.  And there you are, on the outside, looking in.
There are many others like you. We have all been there, and at all points in between, during our writer journeys.
It’s easy to fall in the trap. We watch the presenters, smooth and animated as they share their wealth of knowledge about craft and efficiency and marketing, and throughout all our comparisons, we come up woefully short.
This year, be kind to yourself.  When you arrive for conference, stand up straight, raise your hands to the sun, and say, “This is the first day of the rest of my life as a writer.” Then remind yourself of your achievements.
You thought of a story idea, complete with a character or cast of characters.
You wrote your first ten pages of fiction.
You braved sharing pages at your first critique session.
You finished plotting your book.
You started a synopsis.
You reached half-way through your book.
You finished your first book!
You wrote a pretty good blurb about your book.
You braved writing a query letter and sending it to an agent or editor.
You actually signed up for an editor or agent meeting.
There are so many milestones in writing. Think of the victories you’ve enjoyed along the way, accomplishments that bring you closer to holding a printed book in your hands – or seeing it, almost magically, available as an ebook online.
If you’re a first-timer, RMFW has a ribbon for that. Be sure to add it to your name badge! Long-time members will see it and welcome you. If not a first timer, remember those words, “Hi. May I join you?” RMFW members are welcoming and supportive.
And be sure to put on your PMA, your Positive Mental Attitude.  Avoid dwelling on your shortcomings, comparing yourself with others. Honor your own set of talents and strengths.
And wear this awareness along with your best shirt or skirt: It’s not a shortcoming to be a learner. You will see multi-published, New York Times bestselling authors attending workshops. Why? Because with writing, you never stop learning!  With every book comes a whole new course in some aspect of craft and life insights.
With every small step – speaking in a workshop, moderating a workshop, appearing on a panel and eventually presenting your own workshop – you will grow, as a writer and as a person.  Just as Kerry Schafer wrote in her blog a couple of days ago, there is simply not a better environment to thrive in than RMFW.
Enjoy!  I’ll see you at the Colorado Gold!

Rocky Mountain Writer #53

Shannon1884-4x6-webShannon Baker & Stripped Bare

The guest this time is Shannon Baker, author of Stripped Bare, the first in the Kate Fox mystery series. Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called "Longmire meets The Good Wife."

Shannon Baker also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes.

On the podcast, Shannon talks about how being named 2014 RMFW Writer of the Year was one of the factors that gave her a real boost of confidence and helped her recommit to writing fiction. She talks about the ups and downs of the writing business, tells how she set up an intense blog tour up with fellow crime writer Jess Lourey, and what led to a key change in the surname of her new protagonist.

 
Shannon Baker

On Facebook

Tor/Forge

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

RMFW and me . . . and you.

RMFW's Colorado Gold conference is in a few weeks, and, of course, I'm going.

In fact, this year I am an "Honored Guiding Member" which means I've been in RMFW for a **mumbledy mumble** years. Okay, we'll just leave it at decades.

And, yes, RMFW has given me some awesome awards (I've been Writer of the Year twice and received the Jasmine service award). And, yes, I've been a member of a few . . . several . . . many committees and boards.

But that's not what's important to me. What's important is that Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers taught me how to write.

That is the simple truth. My critique group taught me how to write.

And my critique group continues to help me with my writing. They are my closest friends.

So that's the basis of my relationship with RMFW. It gave me friends and it taught me to write, and when a volunteer organization does that, a person feels like they have to give back, so I did and I have.

The basic unit for me of RMFW is my critique group.

After the critique group are the larger classes, the get-togethers. When I joined there were monthly in-person business meetings followed by seminars or presentations. I attended most of those, soaking up technique and different points of view and processes of writing...and information on publishing. Now, I attend the presentations when a topic applies to my work (private detectives), or when I'm asked to help out (earlier this year).

So, basic unit the critique group, next level up is the monthly presentations and gatherings, then come semi-annual Writer of the Year revelation and panels and the winter holiday party. I rarely miss those.

Another level is the Colorado Gold Writing Contest, more often than not, I judge contest entries, though I have had busy years with deadlines that I haven't been able to be a judge. I swung back into that stream this year and am pleased to see a couple of the entries I judged have made the finals, as well as one by a critique buddy.

Yes, I'm pleased to help beginning writers, and I enjoy reading good work that is completely different than my genre and world view (I write fantasy and fantasy romance).

Finally, there is the one and only Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' annual Colorado Gold conference. I can't recall the last time I missed one. In fact, I don't think I have missed one in . . . decades. This year I changed the dates of a family trip because I wouldn't miss the Colorado Gold – and I gave up my dibs on the family Bronco tickets to the Broncos-Panthers game because it is the Thursday before conference which is the meet-and-greet with our out of town guests (for volunteers).

Yes, I try to present a workshop myself at the conference, mostly on self-motivation or on characters. This year, as an Honored Guiding Member, my topic is on writing series (on Sunday, one of the last sessions). I'm in the midst of two series now, and have written another two.

But most of all at the conference I enjoy meeting with other writers, no matter what genre or level of writing they're at. If brainstorming is needed, that's fine. Or character motivation or development. Or finding your own writing process.

There's nothing like talking to other writers and knowing that their eyes won't glaze over in two minutes.

So, at whatever level you are in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, WELCOME! I hope you find a home here like I have.

And may all your writing dreams come true.
Robin

Tips for Pitching Your Novel to an Agent or Editor

With Colorado Gold just around the corner (and other conferences happening around the country throughout the rest of the summer and the autumn), many authors are preparing to pitch a manuscript to a literary agent, an editor, or both. In hopes of reducing stress and helping you land a request for pages, here are some tips for pitching your work to publishing professionals:

1. BE ABLE TO EXPLAIN (AND PITCH) YOUR BOOK IN A SINGLE SENTENCE.

Yes. ONE sentence. No more than a single breath - and that's not negotiable. The longer you talk before the conversation part of the pitch begins (see tip #2...) the less likely the agent or editor is to ask to read your manuscript.

The point of the initial one-sentence "elevator pitch" is to make the listener want to read the book, or at least to ask you for more information. The initial pitch is not the place to explain your protagonist's intricate backstory, six things that happened before the novel opens, or your favorite twisted subplot involving a carp full of angry bees.

Find a way to explain your book in a single sentence. You don't have to tell the entire story--just enough to make the listener curious enough to want to know more. (If you're having trouble condensing or figuring out what to say in that sentence, sign up for a pitch coaching session, ask a friend for help, or read up on elevator pitches in various trustworthy corners of the Internet.)

2. REMEMBER THAT PITCHING IS A CONVERSATION, NOT A MONOLOGUE.

When you sit down with an editor or agent (or ask to pitch them elsewhere at the conference), the opening salvo is a single sentence (or single breath) but after that--if the listener is interested in your work--there's going to be a conversation.

Yes, I know that's terrifying. Yes, you have to do it anyway.

The good news (great news, really) is that agents and editors are human beings, and I have never known one to actually bite an author in public. (Lawyers, like me, are another story. Get your shots before you engage.) Jokes aside: try to remember that agents and editors come to conferences voluntarily in order to find new authors and projects to acquire. They love stories, books, and publishing. . .just like we do. Plan for your pitch to involve a conversation, and try to enjoy it.

3. KNOW YOUR GENRE AND TARGET AUDIENCE.

It's not enough to know your book and be able to pitch it succinctly. You need to follow up by knowing the genre and target audience for your book. (Spoiler alert: "ALL GENRES IN ONE" and "EVERY LIVING HUMAN" are not the right answers.) Every traditionally published book will have to be placed on a specific shelf in a bookstore or library--and you need to know which shelf that is before you pitch to an agent or publishing house.

(Note: author-publishers have a bit more freedom if their plans for the work do not involve library, bookstore, or similar sales. Otherwise, this applies to self-published authors as well, though admittedly not in the agent/editor context.) 

4. RESEARCH THE AGENT (OR EDITOR'S PUBLISHING HOUSE) AHEAD OF TIME.

Agents and editors normally specialize in certain types of books and certain genres. Pitching your dystopian YA romance to an agent who only represents mystery wastes your time (and also the agent's), and offering your erotic graphic novel to a children's publishing house won't end much better.

Most agents and publishing houses have websites. Visit those sites, as well as the agent or editor's Facebook and Twitter feeds (if any) before the conference. Know the person you're pitching and his or her preferences as well as possible, so you know how to pitch your work to best advantage.

5. DON'T RE-PITCH THE SAME PROJECT (UNLESS IT'S TRULY A DIFFERENT BOOK).

This is a difficult one for many authors, especially those for whom it takes more than a year to write a book. However, it's also a serious turn-off to literary agents and editors to hear a pitch for the same project they considered (and, presumably, passed on) once before.

Exceptions to this are:

  • Where the agent or editor asked you to revise and resubmit, and you've finished and polished the project as requested.
  • Where you have revised the project so much, and so thoroughly, that it truly constitutes a different project. (Have someone else evaluate it if you can't be objective.)

Literary agents hear a lot of "repeat pitches" for the same projects, and I've never heard of one changing his or her mind unless the book was truly different. You'll have a much better chance approaching a different agent or editor--or writing a new and even better book! (And you CAN write another, better book. Trust me. I had to do it five times before I found my agent, and although those years were difficult, I learned a lot along the way. If I could do it, you can do it too.)

6. HAVE FUN.

7.  NO, SERIOUSLY. THIS IS ACTUALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.

Pitching your work to an agent or editor means .... (wait for it...) YOU FINISHED A MANUSCRIPT! That's awesome, and something to celebrate! Don't let it go entirely to your head, but be proud of your achievement, proud of your book, and happy about the fact that you have a manuscript to pitch.

Authors often feel frightened of pitching because they find industry professionals intimidating to talk with. (Don't. They put peas in their ears just like you do. On second thought, nevermind. And my mother says "don't put peas in your ears.") Sometimes authors worry that agents and editors won't like their manuscripts. Maybe not everyone will...but no one will if you don't try.

If you're still nervous, come find me at Colorado Gold or talk to another author who's been through the pitching process and come out the other side. (There are lots of us, and we're glad to talk with you about our experiences.) Pitching isn't easy, but if you go in with the right attitude, it can be educational and fun.

Pitching veterans...what are YOUR top tips for pitching an agent or editor at a conference?

In Love with Colorado Gold

I just realized that the Colorado Gold conference is less than a month away, and I did a little happy dance right in the middle of my kitchen.

This is, unreservedly, my favorite conference, the only no brainer when I sit down to plan my conference going schedule for the year. Okay, who am I kidding? I never really sit down and plan a year worth of everything. But it's true that I don't have to even think about whether I'll be heading to Colorado in September.

What makes this conference so special?

I'm glad you asked.

Part of the awesome is the great workshops, the pitch appointments, the pitch coaching, the fabulous keynote speakers, and the always top notch organization and programming. And these are all wonderful reasons to attend. But what really sets Colorado Gold apart is the group of writers who come here.

This is the warmest, friendliest, most accessible conference I have ever been to. From the very first day of my very first time, I felt welcome, comfortable, and like I belonged. If you, like me, always feel a bit out of sync with the rest of the world, then you know how incredibly wonderful it is to find somebody you click with. And when you find a whole group of people who get you?

Priceless.

It seems I'm not the only one who feels this way. I asked my writer friends on Facebook who are Colorado Gold regulars what they love about this conference, and here's what some of them had to say:

What Colorado Gold Writers Have to Say
What Colorado Gold Writers Have to Say

Colorado Gold is the perfect size: big enough to invite quality teachers and speakers, and small enough to prevent first timers from getting lost. There are hosted tables at the group dinners, which facilitate making connections and new friends. Usually there's a hospitality room set aside where we can hang out and have a few drinks in the evening. And yes, there is always the bar.

So if you've never been, consider making this your con this year. It's not too late to register. When you get there, be sure to find me and say hi.

Sell the Premise – Foreshadowing … by Terry Odell

2016_Terry OdellJohnny Carson said, "If they buy the premise, they'll buy the bit." Without foreshadowing, you’re left with deus ex machina and readers don’t like outside forces solving plot threads, or things conveniently appearing just when they’re needed.

You have to be a bit of a magician. Think sleight-of-hand, although in this case, it's more like "sleight-of-words." No waving red flags. If readers stop to say, "Oh, that's going to be important; I'd better remember it," you've pulled them out of the story.

Some Foreshadowing Techniques:

Show the skill, clue, or event early on, in a different context. These Setup Scenes can occur throughout the book. These don’t need to be high-action scenes. In fact, foreshadowing is best done in quiet, “mundane” scenes.

In the first book of my new Triple-D Ranch romantic suspense series, In Hot Water, important clues are discovered in a series of journal entries. The reader learns immediately that Sabrina, the heroine, is meticulous about recording her days in a journal. The opening of the book:

If it weren’t for the whole funeral thing, today would have scored an eight in Sabrina Barton’s journal entry. Maybe a nine.

Thus, it seems logical for her to keep the old journals she finds in her brother’s apartment after his death. To her, they have sentimental value. When the bad guys steal the journals, she’s more upset about losing hers than his, but showing readers both sets of journals before the bad guys steals them sets the stage, while obscuring the clue that her brother’s entries are the important ones. And, even better if you hide the clue “in plain sight” so it’s even less obvious. Some examples of setting this up:

Sabrina still had her doubts. During the two days she’d been in San Francisco before John’s funeral, she’d gone through her brother’s things, keeping a photo album with family pictures of them as kids. That and his journals, something their foster parents had insisted they keep.

2016_Odell_Hot WaterAnd later …

When she’d run, she hadn’t brought a lot with her, but what she’d brought, aside from clothes, was the important—at least to her—stuff. Her journals. Years of her life. Pictures, her recipes, a few family heirlooms. Aside from her recipes, the rest was valuable for the memories they encompassed, nothing more.

Another major plot thread in the book involves a threat of bioterrorism. But rather than spring the first fatal case on the reader, it’s set up to look like a character shows up on the ranch having an allergy attack.

KJ sniffed, sneezed, then blew his nose in a red bandana. Derek noted the red-rimmed, puffy eyes. KJ shoved the bandana into his rear jeans pocket. “Damn sage is blooming like crazy. Allergies.”

Even that, however, might be waving too many red flags, so before that character shows up, I have one of my primary players complaining about his own allergies over lunch.

“Except for the sage,” Frank said. “Aggravates my allergies.” He reached into a pocket for a pill and swallowed it with a drink of lemonade.

Now, it’s just “stage business” (sage business?) and not so obvious to the reader that it’s important.

More Setup: The hero and heroine are hiding and the villains are closing in. The hero is injured. He hands the heroine his gun and asks her if she can shoot. She says, "I'm a crack shot," and proceeds to blow the villains away (or worse, has never handled a gun before, but still takes out the bad guys, never missing a shot). She’s an expert in first aid and saves the hero's life. Plus, she's an accomplished trapper and can snare whatever creatures are out there. Or, maybe she has no trouble catching fish with dental floss and a paper clip. Plus, she can create a gourmet meal out of what she catches, all without disturbing her manicure or coiffure.

Believable? Not if this is the first time you've seen these traits. But what if, earlier in the book, the heroine is dusting off her shooting trophies, thinking about how she misses those days. Or she's cleaning up after a fishing trip. Maybe she has to move her rock climbing gear out of her closet to make room for her cookbooks. You don't want to include an entire scene whose only purpose is to show a skill she'll need later. Keep it subtle, but get it in there.

When you give your character a job, or a hobby, don't forget to look at all the skills they need to do it. Know those 'sub-skills' and work them into scenes. Those basic real-life skills your characters have can be used to foreshadow the kinds of things they'll be called upon to do later in the book.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From childhood, Terry Odell wanted to "fix" stories so the characters would behave properly. Once she began writing, she found this wasn't always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write turned into a romance, despite the fact that she'd never read one. Odell prefers to think of her books as "Mysteries With Relationships." She writes the Blackthorne, Inc. series, the Pine Hills Police series, The Triple-D Ranch series, and the Mapleton Mystery series. You can find her high (that's altitude, of course—she lives at 9100 feet!) in the Colorado Rockies—or at her website.

You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and she’d love to see you at her blog, Terry’s Place. For sneak peeks and exclusive content, sign up for her more-or-less quarterly newsletter. You can also be notified of new releases at her Amazon page.

My First The End

In July I sat on a panel at Regis University with two other authors and was asked the question, “What advice do you have for writers just starting out?”

I thought for a second, leaned into the microphone, then whispered, “Finish a book.”

Was my response flippant? Not in the least.

I remember writing my first book, it was a contemporary adult family saga. I remember writing slowly, I remember taking chapters to critique group, I remember having no particular thoughts about publication.

I remember not really believing I would ever finish it.

But one day, years after I had started, I typed The End and took a deep and satisfying breath. I had done it. I had finished writing my first book. The feelings were amazing; such a sense of accomplishment, such a wave of relief. Up until The End my book was a huge project I had taken on for reasons I didn’t understand, and every day, week, month, and year that it sat unfinished felt like a broken promise to myself.

There were many days I wished I had never started writing that book, never made myself such a big promise that was then making me feel like such a huge failure for not doing it. It was a commitment I considered never making again because what if I was never able to make it to The End again?

I tell that story a lot because that first book was enormously important to my writing career in a way I wouldn’t understand until many years later. The first book was the hardest for me—true. And it taught me a lot; about writing and about myself. All lessons I’m grateful for and that I continue to grow and build from as a writer and a human being.

But the most vital insight I clawed out of the hours I spent tending those four hundred pages is the single greatest influence on the writing career I’ve had since my first The End.

It’s the belief that I could do it.

It was hard, and there were many, many doubts along the way. But I finished that book. I. Did. It. From that moment forward, my entire perspective shifted. I became, immediately, a person who had finished writing a book! A whole book that made sense.

(Well, it mostly made sense. But that’s another blog topic, really.)

The point is, when my next book idea came to me, I may have hesitated diving into that pool again, but I did eventually jump because I KNEW I could swim.

Last week, I published my fifth book.

Next week, I begin writing my sixth.

There will always be more books, I believe this now and it’s all because of number one. So when I’m asked which of my books is my favorite, which book has had the greatest impact on my career, the answer must always be “my first book” because with out it, there wouldn’t have been anymore.

So if you are just starting out, the best thing you can do for yourself is finish a book.

From there, you will always know you can do it again.

Making A Mark In Marketing

Farmers_MarketMarketing isn't complicated or difficult. It needn't be expensive in either time or money.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a list of my ten rules of the road for fiction authors who are just getting started with sales and promotion. Some of you may have seen it before. It's aimed at self-published authors or traditionally published who want to become hybrids. When considering how best to frame this month's post, this list continues to be my best answer.

Rule 1: Be interesting.

The fastest way to be interesting is to be interested. If you're not engaging with people, they have no reason to care what you say. When you become part of their experience, they become part of yours. This is a good thing. Make friends, not sales.

Rule 2: Don't be dumb

This shouldn't need to be a rule but way too many authors are trying for attention with the same verve as the half-naked drunk dancing on a coffee table with a lampshade on his head. Don't. That is not the attention you really need. It's the kind of attention that gets you uninvited to the good parties.

Rule 3: Publish it

You don't get fans for the things you're going to write. You only get fans of stuff you've finished and they can get. Farting around with agents, trying to time a release for the next advantageous month with the appropriate full moon, anything that stands between you and "publish it" is a problem. *

Rule 4: Niche, Niche, Baby

You are not trying to sell a million books. In the beginning your goal is to sell one book. A book that your mother doesn't buy. A book that a fan purchases and lurves with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns.

That's your goal. That one sale.

You're working in niche markets. You will get fat and sassy with a thousand people who lurve your work as much as that first one because that means there are 10x that many who will probably buy your work as well. It means there are probably 10x more who will buy one of your works if it strikes their fancy that day.

Do the math, but it starts with one. Just one.

5. Face to the audience.

Stop messing around writing blog posts about how to make good characters or twenty-five ways to aggravate the establishment. Face your audience and write to them. Yes, I know you have none yet. Write to the ones who'll find you next year and want to see how this all started.

Fans care about who you are (not what you do). They care about where the next book is (and where they can find the older ones). They care about where they can meet you, hear about you, learn more about your work.

Fans do not care about writer's block, how you learned to write up to 500 words a day, or where you find the minutes you need to write them.

Answer the question: "What can I do for them?"

Anything else is pointless.

6. Network at your back.

Your fellow authors and word herding colleagues are not your competition. They are your reinforcement. Make friends. They can help you by doing things for you that you cannot do for yourself -- like telling their audiences about you if they like what you do and they think their audiences will, too.

A good network can give you beta reads, cover blurbs, and help you prime the sales pump so you never have to be that guy who says, "Buy my book!"

7. Back list - You Need One.

Make that happen. Tomorrow is good. Today would be better.

Social media is the fulcrum against which you will press the lever of back list. If the lever is too short, you will have a heck of a time gaining purchase.

Don't make the common mistake of writing a few short pieces to attract people to your one novel. While that's marginally effective, you're dealing with two different markets. People who read long, don't necessarily read short and vice versa.

You are looking for the one person who lurves your book. Not somebody who likes it, kinda. Write for that one person. Bite the bullet and write the next book. The majority of successful indie authors have five or more novels in circulation before they begin to gain traction.

8. Advertising, reviews, SEO

Unless you've got a back list to support spending money on advertising, skip it.

Advertising is unlikely to pay off and will probably not find that one person you're looking for. It's not a tool for early-stage publishing unless you've got deep pockets and a risk-taking mentality.

Reviews do not drive sales. Sales drive reviews. Reviews are a gauge of marketing reach, not quality. Spending time pursuing book bloggers - particularly in the beginning - seldom pays royalties.

SEO ... see 9.

9. Discovery Happens At The Bookstore

For non-fiction authors, having a strong presence and a reputation for knowing what you're doing can help you sell books. For non-fiction people, SEO can help people who are looking for your level of expertise to find you.

There is no search in the world that will help somebody looking for a good SF book to find you.

Except the search on the Amazon/B&N/Kobo website. Your website SEO doesn't matter there.

You don't go to the grocery store to buy 2x4s and you don't go to the hardware store to buy mangos. Readers don't look for fiction on Google.

Your blog is for collecting people who already know your name. The only searches that matter are 1) your name, 2) your titles, and 3) your characters.

In the bookstore, the trinity is Cover, Blurb, and Holy Sample. You cannot afford to mess-up any one of those or your books will sink into the purgatory that are sales ranks below #500,000.

Notice where reviews and ads fall on that list.

Yes, you need good meta-data. You need to find the right keywords for Amazon. No, you don't need to optimize your website to maximize time on page. You don't want people spending time reading your blog. You want them reading your books which they will find at the bookstore (or on a handy catalog page on your website).

10. Email List

Yes, it's old school. Yes, it's frequently abused. Yes, you need one. Mail Chimp. If you haven't already, start now.

Don't send them junk. Your freebie stories are not incentives. The one piece of information they've signed up for is "The new book is available. Here's the link."

See the previous point about not being dumb.

None of these will guarantee success. I know great authors with over a dozen titles out there who can't seem to get traction.

Over the last nine years, I've observed that the authors who have the most success are the ones who have followed these guidelines.

No question that luck is involved, but luck favors the prepared.

I'll take questions...

Image Credit:
Crocker Galleria Farmer's Market
Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC-BY-2.0) License