Writing Black Characters Dealing with the Culture of Poverty

Last year at the Colorado Gold Conference I taught a class entitled Writing Authentic African-American Characters. A lot of that discussion had to deal with the culture of poverty within the Black community. Today, I want to talk to you about specific things your African-American characters can struggle with because of the culture of poverty.

What about Black characters who aren’t poor?

Poverty is a part of the lives of many African-Americans. Even if your Black character is not poor, the chances are they are affected by neighbors, friends, or relatives who are. This is a conflict that awesome writers, like yourselves, can exploit for great story telling.

There is a lot of tension within the African-American community about what is the proper role of African-Americans who have made it. Do they owe anybody anything? Are they obligated to support their extended families? And how do we define Support? (Incidentally, Showtime has a funny show based on this premise called “Survivors guilt.” Its executive producer is NBA player LeBron James.)

If your black character is middle class or wealthy—and they do not come from this socio-economic group—having them financially support or guide their poorer relatives and friends would be a great way to bring in a dose of authenticity into your characters. Your character could do everything from taking in a cousin or nephew to host the family picnic to co-sign on a car loan. Or, they could absolutely refuse to participate in any of these activities, gaining the respect or condemnation of their family. Or, maybe they only support others in grand, showy events, like at a birthday party, or a graduation. As if they are flaunting their disposable income.

Writing Black characters who are poor

How do you write about poor Black characters? Here’s the trick I’ve learned as I struggled with the culture of poverty myself.

Rich people want money for its own sake, while many poor people want money to buy things.

I have been fortunate enough to get to know five millionaires. But none of them are what you call the silver spoon type. They do all have two things in common: They horde cash and assets and they are extremely cheap.

My experience with most poor people (and remember, that includes me) is that they principally want money to buy things. It took me years to figure this out. But even as a child, I can remember wanting things desperately and knowing I would probably never get them. That feeling that you’re not going to get something you want permeates you as you grow up. That hunger to be just as good as everyone else, by buying those expensive jeans, or that expensive phone.

I can remember when I got into UC Santa Barbara in 1994. I did all of the paperwork myself. I double checked my financial aid package, what dorm I was going to stay in, everything. When I left, I had everything I needed - except a personal computer to type papers on. (This was pre-internet)

One day my mom comes home to tell me that she got a $2000 signature loan. She was going to buy me a top of the line computer. Now, this confused me because I had resigned myself to using the computer labs on campus, like everyone else. My mother had other ideas. She was not going to let her son be perceived as disenfranchised, or somehow not good enough because I didn’t have a computer.

I hope you see what’s going on here. Having possession of that computer meant I was just as good as those rich, white boys I was going to school with in the fall. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t afford it; it didn’t matter that the interest rate on the loan was ridiculous. It was about being just as good as everyone else.

This is why you see some poor Black people driving expensive cars, carrying Gucci purses, or wearing expensive shoes; they are keeping up with the Joneses.

The culture of poverty effects your ability to plan for emergencies.

I was well into my mid-twenties before I heard the term emergency fund/account. The people I knew and grew up with were all busy trying to pay the rent and keep food on the table. Extra money was seen as an opportunity to get ahead of another bill. The idea that you could just leave it in the bank, just in case, was weird. In fact, when I taught in Denver Public Schools, I would talk to high school kids about personal finances. Just like me, many of my students found the concept bizarre.

How could this affect your African-American characters? What stress could you pile on to your characters because of their upbringing?

Poverty Lends Itself to Immediate Gratification.

Many people living in poverty see no way out. They don’t believe they’ll ever get ahead or beat the system. When in a situation where you believe your situation is hopeless, why deny yourself anything?

I am one of the few homeowners in my family. I am also one of the few family members with a master’s degree. Both achievements took discipline and the ability to delay personal gratification. I was able to get both because I desperately wanted them. I wanted those things more than I wanted to hang out, go on vacation, or buy a big TV.

For many people of color in poverty, buying a house, having nice things, getting an education seems pointless and out of reach. Also, there is a desperation of circumstance that supersedes everything else. This idea that this moment will not come again, and that I should live to the fullest, now. That this opportunity might never come again, so I have to take advantage of it now.

Being Poor Sucks

Poverty spans the gambit from simply annoying to plain old horrible on any given day. There is a stress associated with poverty. A stress that can be temporarily relieved by spending money—thus perpetuating the cycle.

Writing exercise.

#1.) Is your character poor? Why or why not? Would changing their socio-economic status give you new insights into their motivations, values, and beliefs? If your Black character is in a supporting role, would changing their economic status create more tension in the story? Why or why not?

#2.) How does the poverty of the Black community effect your Black character? Are they guilty for being successful? Do they feel obligated to give back? Are they uncomfortable in the Black community?

#3.) Write a scene where your Black character—who may or may not be the Point of View character—comments on the difference between how his family does something mundane and how his new friends do something. Show/describe the different values associated with each event.

 

 

Novels Are Like Onions

When I started writing, my biggest hang-up was the misguided notion of Writer with a capital W. If I’m a real Writer, I thought, I should be able to sit down whenever I feel like it and write something good—nay, groundbreaking! If I’m a real Writer, the words should magically pour forth from my sweat glands onto the page! Right?

Wrong. And as a result, I spent years just trying to get off the ground as a writer. I would get a spark of inspiration, sit down to write the Next Great American Novel/Short Story/Poem/Whatever, then give up half an hour later when I realized the first draft wasn’t even close to perfect. I would then decide “I’m not a real writer” and quit writing for months—before coming back to repeat the process all over again.

Then a couple of years ago, when I started my current novel, something finally clicked. I was watching Shrek one night while working on my first draft, and I realized that novels, like onions and ogres, have layers. Many, many layers. This applies not only to book-length fiction, but to any form of writing, including memoirs, short stories, poems, and even this blog post. It takes a lot of time, thought, and effort to get all those layers in place and working together, so no first draft is going to be perfect. And guess what? That’s okay.

Imagine building a house: you can’t paint the bathroom until you’ve installed the plumbing. Some budding writers (including me, at one time) think that being a writer means pouring cement, wiring electricity, and picking out drapes all at once. But in fact, writing anything requires multiple drafts so you can put all those layers into place and make sure they’re working together. This, dear writer, is why the writing gods created revision.

Here are some of the many layers I’ve seen in my writing:

  • Premise
  • Plot
  • Conflict
  • Pacing
  • Characters
  • Physical description
  • Emotion
  • Motivation
  • Character relationships
  • Suspense
  • Foreshadowing
  • Voice
  • Tone
  • Mood and atmosphere
  • Setting
  • Worldbuilding
  • Dialogue
  • Body language and facial expression
  • Internal thoughts
  • Themes
  • Symbolism
  • Writing style
  • Word choice
  • Imagery
  • Metaphors and similes
  • Chapter breaks and cliffhangers

I’m sure there are more. But from this list alone, can you see why it’s unrealistic to expect to do it all at once? Start with a single layer, or a handful, then let the others fall into place as you revise.

Which layers to start with? That’s up to you. In my experience, it varies from one writer to another and from one project to the next. My current novel started with a premise and a main character—they were the foundations of the house. Then I added elements that came relatively easily to me, like pacing, foreshadowing, and dialogue. It wasn’t until several drafts later that I finished fleshing out my worldbuilding and added my best imagery and metaphors.

Because there are so many layers, it can be hard to spot the ones that are underdeveloped or missing altogether. This is where critique partners and beta readers come in. If they’re reading for big-picture stuff (i.e., not copyediting for you), they’ll notice if something is lacking. I remember finishing what I thought was the final draft of my current work-in-progress, only to have readers tell me I had left out my main character’s thoughts and feelings. That’s a huge layer to omit—and because I was so close to the work, I never noticed it myself.

So don’t fret over these layers. Start with what feels natural and just keep going, getting help from your trusted readers. Like peeling an onion, let yourself discover the layers as you peel them back one by one. And yes, there will probably be a few tears, too.

Invest in your Writing Career

If you didn’t attend the 2017 Annual Education Event last month in Golden, take a moment to kick yourself. Really.

The event was nearly sold out, and if not for a last minute storm that came through it would have been a tight fit to get everyone in, and for good reason. With a morning panel of published author, editor and agent, a small publisher speaking at lunch, and a panel of self-publishing experts in the afternoon, the full range of publishing options was well represented. We had lively Q&A sessions, specific information on what works and doesn’t straight from the editor and agent, and step-by-step instructions and timelines on self-publishing. It’s rare to have this many experts all in one place and those of us who braved the weather were well rewarded.

I often hear writers say they don’t go to workshops or conferences, or join groups like RMFW because they “can’t afford it.” I say if you want to be a published author, either traditionally or self, you can’t afford not to. Often new writers finish a story and think that because they got to “the end” it’s ready to go, only to be heartbroken when they can’t get an agent or publisher interested, or their 150,000 word tome sits on the Amazon shelf and doesn’t sell a single copy.

Attending education events can prevent heartache, and heartburn, by getting you to the place where you’re ready to submit or self-publish. It allows you to network with other writers, hook up with critique groups, and hear how other authors have overcome problems with their books. Big events like Colorado Gold have dozens of workshops that let you focus on areas you might be weak in, or you don’t know about.

Going it alone, trying to save a few bucks, will cost you in the long run. Cut back on a latte or two each month, watch network movies instead of paying for on-demand, have a yard sale and dedicate the profits to paying for a conference, or find some other non-critical habit you can cut back on and SPEND THE MONEY ON YOUR WRITING CAREER, if you actually want a career. RMFW costs $45 annually, and anyone who has attended a workshop that I moderated has heard me say it’s the best $45 you’ll ever spend. Most of our workshops are free. Conference has scholarships, volunteer opportunities, and low cost on-line classes. Genre-specific groups like Sisters in Crime or RWA offer the same things.

I know many writers, including me, don’t have unlimited funds to pay for attending events and classes, travel, software, cover art, etc. But as the adage says, fail to plan and you plan to fail. Set a budget of money you can allocate. Just $10 a month gets you a RMFW membership and you still have more than half of it left over for an on-line class or two. If you can manage $50 per bi-monthly payroll, you’ll have more than enough to attend a major conference each year, plus membership fees for a couple groups. We all have stuff we don’t need – put it on Craig’s List and stash the proceeds in your writing fund. You don’t have to shortchange your family or let bills go unpaid to support your writing habit, you just have to make a plan and stick to it.

It’s time to think about Colorado Gold in September. You still have time to register, but from what I’ve heard they will probably sell out. If you can’t swing Gold, at least get your plan in place going forward. Get the education you need to produce the best possible book you can, and WRITE ON!

 

When Motivation to Write is Gone

We've all been there. Or maybe we're there right now? In this collective, yet solitary brain-trust known as writing. This hive-mind of almost universally shared desire. It's what we do. Why? Because we have stories to tell. So we spit them out of our heads and onto paper (never mind the mess). But what do you do when the words won't flow? You can call it "Writer's Block" if you want. Soooo cliche. To me, he/she/it (to utilize a sympathetic fallacy) is kind of a mythical super-villain. Not actually real, but we convince ourselves that they/he/she/it, is the cause of all our woes. "I can't write because I'm blocked." It becomes an excuse. And so it rules over our writing lives as an unexploded bomb in the middle of the towns of our minds, soaking up the power that we choose to give it. Well I say, NO MORE...at least for right now.

The fact about writer's block:

Or, as I like to think of it, that irrational, motivational miasma that occasionally slaps you around like a pre-pubescent school yard bully. Regardless of how or when it hits you...it's all in your head. That's right, I said it. IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD! This horrible slump, this unfortunate malaise that stalls the swiftness of you fingers, is...All. Your. Own. Doing. So snap out of it already.

But...why?

Well, I can't really answer that. Not definitively, of course. We're all different people. With our own styles, likes, dislikes, and ways of reacting to the world. Maybe we're tired. Mentally exhausted. Maybe we're bored? I don't know. Bottom's your limit.

What to do about it:

Now here's a good question. What DO you do about it? The most obvious piece of advice is: Keep writing. Write anyway. Real writers get words to paper no matter what. They don't wait for inspiration, for the good feels or the muse. They make it happen on their own time and in their own way. There's merit to this, obviously. And this is probably the best advice I can give (even if it can be incredibly hard to follow at times). In fact, I've let myself fall prey to the motivation vampire as I've awaited word on publishing interest in one of my books. But it was, and is, a huge mistake we're all capable of making. Time is not our friend as writers. We need to work. We need to blast words onto paper, and pretend like, above all else, that we know what the hell we are doing.

Visualize:

This one might seem odd. It is a bit esoteric. But visualization is one of the best ways I've found to break myself out of a mental funk. What I mean by this is putting yourself into your character's head and allowing yourself to react to specific situations in the same way your character would. So sit back, think about that character, and really get into how they would react in that instance. Play the scene out in your mind. Don't think about it too hard, just let it unfold as if you are this character. I think you'll be surprised at the new ideas that come up, and the fun and interesting ways it can change or open up the story.

Get excited:

Here's something you probably haven't considered (and I mean really emotionally considered) in quite a long time: You're writing that story for a reason. Something about it, the characters, the situation, the underlying idea, or the motivation behind your drive to write it. Something about that story is so AWESOME!!! (note the triple exclamations) that you just had to get it on paper. This is something we often forget after we've spent long and often torturous hours slaving over the same things, the same ideas, the same characters and situations...over and over, and yes, over again. We forget that there was something so cool and exciting about these characters or ideas that made them worth putting out there for other people to read and invest themselves in. So recapture that! Sit down and ruminate about what makes your story special. What idea, what character, what situation? Really dig into it and remind yourself just how amazing these ideas are, and (here's the key) let yourself get excited about it again! Get back into those ideas and investigate them because they're worth investigating. And this will lead directly into the next point...

Generate new ideas for your story:

Similar to the visualize option above, when you get excited about a story again after you've carefully gone through and thought about some of its elements in a different way from their original conception, you'll surprise yourself by starting to come up with new ideas. These can be simple additions to the direction you're already taking the story, or they can be wholly new and interesting navigational changes, seeing things from the eyes of different characters or entire groups of people. Use these ideas! Write them down. Stay excited about them, and let them pull you back into that story so you can do what you need to do: WRITE!

You know what to do.

1, 2, 3: How to reach your goals

Wannabe goals. We all made them for the new year, right? Unbelievably, we're now knocking on the door to June.

Often our goals are unspoken but sincere, something we know we need to accomplish to advance our writing. They inspire us for a moment then, in the face of our busy lives, we allow them to fade.

Write my synopsis. Develop my marketing plan. Finish my outline. Finish/Revise my book. Query my top five publishers. Learn how to blog. Get reviews. (Fill in your goals here.)

You know you need to do it. You keep thinking you will. But you don’t.

Read this. Follow the steps, and you’ll do it.

It starts with number one. Three Dog Night sang, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” When it comes to goals, I consider it the most difficult number.

If you're having trouble reaching your goals, try starting with number one. It will help you progress to number two. If you’re not prepared to tackle number one, don’t read this blog. This information is only for those who are tired of letting important goals evaporate in the face of procrastination, laziness or fear.

Still reading? Okay, here’s the not-so-secret formula.

NUMBER ONE. Tell someone important. Your critique group. Your most stalwart friend who supports your dreams. “I am going to (specific goal) this (week/month/summer).

It must be specific. Not, “I’m going to write more,” but “I am going to write to The End by August.” Not, “I’m going to market more,” or “I am going to develop a marketing plan,” but rather, “I’m going to write a marketing plan by August.”

Something good happens when you commit to another person or group. The goal becomes real. Increase your odds of success further by insisting that your friend follows up weekly to ask about your progress.

NUMBER TWO. Generate ideas. Browse the Internet, searching for topics such as “How To (Goal)” and “Top 10 Ways to (Goal).” Then create a mind map, incorporating what you’ve learned from your initial research.

You complete number two to better achieve your number three goal.

NUMBER THREE. Brainstorm with someone with RMFW who has accomplished this goal. (Having completed number two, you will have learned enough to ask good questions and you will demonstrate to your expert RMFW member that you’ve given this some thought, and have taken those first steps already. Show you’re committed to learning, and others will be more willing to help you.)

Many RMFW members have become known for their expertise in writing, editing, public speaking, workshops, book tours, blogs, reviews, podcasts—the list is extensive. Connect with fellow members through the on-line loop, the free monthly educational programs, and special events such as our upcoming annual conference. Browse the workshops and see who’s presenting a workshop in your area of interest. Most are free with your conference registration, some are reasonably priced master classes. Your RMFW membership is a big, big asset. Harness it and feel the power and inspiration of having even more friends cheering you on.

Remember that this is brainstorming, not mentoring, which represents an extensive commitment that may scare off your targeted expert. Make it clear you’re only looking for suggestions and resources that you will pursue to complete your own plan of action.

NUMBER FOUR. By now, you will have gathered a daunting amount of information and options to consider. Sort by level of difficulty, easiest to most challenging. If your goal includes some area of marketing, sort by affordability. Sort also by effectiveness, based on what you learned in steps three and four.

NUMBER FIVE. Create your action list. Based on the completion date you initially told your critique group or stalwart supporter, put dates on this action list that will reasonably bring you to the finish line.

Make adjustments, if needed. Share your list, and if you keep a hard copy or digital planning calendar, insert those dates with a big star, color code—whatever triggers you to remember the importance of your intermediate goals.

It’s a simple concept, proven over time and as reliable as gravity. It’s also proven over time that you must take step one first.

Go for it!

Rocky Mountain Writer #85

Charles Kowalski & Mind Virus

We’ve got sage advice this time ... all the way from Japan.

Charles Kowalski a few weeks away from the release of his first novel, Mind Virus, but it’s been a long road to reach this point.

And Charles knows it was all meant to be. He had just the right amount of encouragement, he says, at just the right time to keep going, to not give up.

Charles Kowalski is a two-time winner of the Action/Thriller category for Colorado Gold Award, for Mind Virus in 2013 and also in 2016 for the forthcoming Day of the Watchers.

Charles divides his time between Japan, where he teaches at a university, and his family home of Maine.

This is a special podcast because it marks the first international interview for the Rocky Mountain Writer. And, yes, members of RMFW live all around the world.

Charles Kowalski's website

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

Singing the Book Promotion Blues

With a new book coming out in June, I have had the pleasure—and the pain—of deciding what I need to do to get the word out. My decisions are similar to the ones anyone launching a book makes. Being realistic, there is only so much time and money, and never enough. There is also a limited payoff to the some of the choices, so where do you get the biggest bang for your buck. I figured I would share the marketing plan for my upcoming release, RED SKY, in the hopes that it might help some of you.

Timing is everything

There are a lot of things you can do to promote your book, and some of them must be done months in advance. Early in the year, my publisher sent me a marketing plan with the dates of actions to be taken and the name of the person responsible for taking those actions--one advantage of having a traditional publisher, and still the tasks are the same. I added to it things like signings, travel, promotional items. The time frame goes something like this:

6 months ahead of pub date

                               RED SKY Advance Reader's Copy    

Pitch the book for print reviews, guest articles and to local media. This includes sending galleys and later finished books to reviewers. My publisher's PR department took responsibility for this, and it resulted in some nice reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, as well as guest blog assignments and local media interviews.

Give away galleys and books to help create buzz. There is a community of booksellers, librarians, media professionals and book lovers interested in reading e-versions of pre-published books. My publisher puts my book up on NetGallery, and later does Giveaways to boost reviews on sites like Amazon, B&N and Goodreads.  I've added to it by doing Giveaways of the book once I receive my author copies--but those are limited. Sometimes you have to buy more, and that can get expensive.

Set up signings at the local bookstores. Some stores have longer lead times than others, and if you want a time close to your launch it doesn't pay to wait. Once you know your pub date, have your publicist call (r you call) the bookstores where you want to appear. My advice is to choose wisely. Venues differ. Upside, at Tattered Cover you'll be asked to speak and then sign books. Downside, if you don't have a traditional publisher willing to pay the fee, it will cost you $150 to set a date and you may have to consign your books. At a Barnes & Noble, you'll find yourself at a table in the front of the store hawking your book to their customers. Mark Stevens is the king of hawking, and he enjoys this type of venue. I don't, so I avoid this type of signing like the plague.

Promotional Poster for Hearthfire Books

OF NOTE: A publicist once told me not to set up too many signings in one locale. The theory being, you can only ask your friends, family and fans to show up so many times. With Red Sky, which launches in June, I've only set up two signings—one at the Tattered Cover-Colfax store; the other at Hearthfire Books, in my hometown of Evergreen.

Two months ahead of publication

Order promotional materials and swag. Most authors do bookmarks or postcards. Some give out chocolate. Some do tchotchke items. For example, Suzanne Proulx, who wrote a series of books featuring a hospital risk manager, ordered pens that looked like hypodermic needles to promote her novel, Bad Blood. Robin Owens printed the cover of her book on the back of a pocket calendar. Brilliant! I carried that card around for a year, flashing it numerous times in front of numerous people. The key is to be creative. Put something into the hands of bookstore owners, librarians and fans that will make them want to order and buy your book. Make sure you have a good design, and research your printer. There are a number of companies that offer discounted printing, but quality differs—and quality matters.

OF NOTE: One of the best promotional values around is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blue Mailer. If you’re a PAL or iPAL member, for a modest fee you can place a blurb about your book in three consecutive bi-monthly mailers sent out to regional booksellers and librarians. For an additional charge you can include an insert. NOTE: there are specs for mailings and inserts, so be sure you meet expectations.

One month before publication

New Ebook cover for down-priced version

Take advantage of other opportunities

Library talks are fun, and a great way to get your book in front of readers. So are local book club talks. I've been lucky and my books have sold to the national book clubs, including Harlequin Book Club for my upcoming RED SKY. The entry on my publisher's marketing plans reads, "Cross promotion between all clubs. Coming soon email, new arrivals email and comparable titles email." I have no idea what that means, but I'm thrilled the publisher is handling things.

Agree to speak or teach, or sometimes you can simply show up.  Just make sure it fits with your goals. Last weekend Mario Acevedo, Nathan Lowell and I attended "Books and Brews" in Greeley. What can beat twelve authors, and a room full of readers playing trivia, and specialty beer? In June, I'll present a workshop at the Parker Writers Group monthly meeting, and in September I'll teach a workshop at the Colorado Gold Conference along with WOTY Nominee Shannon Baker.

Donate to auctions. I am constantly being asked to donate signed books to auctions. I usually do, but I always try for added value. I want not only the winning bidder to remember the book, but the lookie-loos, too. For example, my fellow Rogue Women Writers and I donate baskets to mystery and thriller convention auctions. We each contribute a signed book, and then we add interesting things from the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. in keeping with our international espionage themes. Things like: Campbell soup can concealers, "rear view" mirror sunglasses," truth detector" devices, top secret bags, mugs and hats.

Segueing to conventions, every genre has one. In the mystery field, it's Bouchercon. The regional equivalent is Left Coast Crime (LCC). For cozies it's Malice Domestic. For thrillers it's ThrillerFest. And, trust me, they can cost you an arm and a leg. Mike Befeler and I once calculated that it cost a minimum of $1,000 to attend an out-of-state conference. Double that for ThrillerFest. We were taking into account airfare, hotel costs, meals, promotional items, and registration fees--yes, unless you're a star, you're expected to pay your own way--so there may be some additional hidden costs. The message is not to not go, but to figure out which cons are important for you to attend. For instance, at ThrillerFest I can meet with my editor and agent, as well as rub elbows with the big hitters in my genre—many of whom I can later ask for book blurbs. Colorado Gold is near to my heart, and I would go just to see all my friends.

OF NOTE: Always accept a panel assignment, and try not to be that difficult writer who can only speak at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday alongside Lee Child. Word gets around.

There are other cons, too. The Independent Booksellers across the country hold conventions, and a number of states sponsor book festivals. Many of the writers groups will have a presence at these events, and it's worth it to volunteer to man the booth for an hour and meet the booksellers. This year, I'm going to Chicago for the American Library Association convention in June. I'm paying my airfare, but my publisher has agreed to donate 100 books for me to sign and giveaway.

Be sure and budget!

Rogue Women Writers promo poster at ThrillerFest

Only you know what you can afford to spend. My advice, make a plan and stick with it! Don't be me. I'll admit, there have been times when I've transferred attending a con into the "personal fun" category rather than assess the expense to my book promotion budget. Don't tell!

Seriously, if you're not careful you'll spend every dollar you make writing books, twice.

This year my goal is to expand my readership, so I'm going to ThrillerFest and Bouchercon for some face time with my editor and agent, and to connect with East Coast and Canadian readers. I'm sending out mailings, creating a display poster for the ThrillerFest hall, making donations, guest blogging, speaking at several events. Just to give you a sense of the cost, my total in expenditures to promote RED SKY so far are—wait for it—a whopping $5,660. Not as bad as you might think. I budgeted $5,000.

OF NOTE: For what it's worth, Diane Mott Davidson second-mortgaged her house to fund a tour of the west coast with four prominent cozy writers. She also gave away scads of cookies, sometimes with the help of friends. Ask Chris Jorgensen about how she and I sat in the back seat of Carol Caverly's car and stuffed chocolate chip cookies into small giveaway bags enroute to the Omaha Bouchercon. In addition to writing good books, Diane's marketing efforts eventually landed her a gig on "Good Morning America" and a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Now, I'm not advocating you refinance your home, or that you sell your first born. But give some thought to how much you can afford to put into promotion, and make a plan. Allocate wisely and it just might pay off!

Oh #Murphy! Thank Goodness for #Erma.

I’m usually a “the glass is half full” kind of a gal. However, I finally washed my car, (inside and outside), and then I waxed my Buddy.  Buddy is just past five years old. He’s blue with a high ground clearance for vehicles in his class.

Oh, hail! The frozen balls crashed into him without warning. What the…?  The apocalypse? Why not before I washed and waxed him? (I now endearingly refer to Buddy as, Dimples.)

 

Buddy takes a direct hit.

 

 

 

Yeah, we were all surprised.

 

 

Next, my cousin stopped by to show me the damage on her car. Wow. Looked like the metal had been ripped by ammunition—big bullets.  Of course, standing right next to me, she then informed me of her current health status. “I’ve got the worse flu I’ve had in years. Really stirring the outhouse, (elbow jab) if you know what I mean.” Then she sneezed—unexpectedly like the arrival of the hail. “Worry not. You shouldn’t get sick.”

(I realize people all over the Denver Metro area had far worse damage to their homes, themselves, their vehicles and pets than my family. I am truly sorry for the disheartening and frustrating events and hope you find a bit of humor to help you cope.)

~*~

 

Really needing new, professional clothing, I hesitate to go shopping. One pair of pants says I’m one size, another pair=another size and so on.

 

 

 

~*~

Back in the old days—before internet and cell phones—a friend and I went to San Francisco for the day. He didn’t know tickets had to be purchased weeks in advance for a tour of Alcatraz. Foiled, we decided to be happy and get our picture taken on a beach; the setting sun was to our backs. The person we asked to photograph us took off with the camera. A few jogs away the would-be thief thrust my camera into the sand. No film. Well, irony and happy endings are in the eye of the beholder.

~*~

My sister-on-laws first roses of the year bloomed on Sunday.

~*~

 

 

I can’t imagine how the architect and construction crews felt when building the Bell Tower of Pisa. The construction was not only interrupted by a war, but the building had a definite lean to it. Still does. On the bright side, built in 1173 the edifice still stands.

 

 

~*~

 

Honestly, I’m a little reluctant to visit the Eiffel Tower. What if the elevator gets stuck?  On the other hand, what if the lift doesn’t work at all? There’d be fewer tourists. Besides, after that long flight and being at sea level, the stairs shouldn’t be that difficult….

 

 

 

 

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

A Colorado native, Rainey, (writing as L. Treloar), has been a RMFW member since 2012 (or so), and is happy to belong to one of the best critique groups ever: The 93rd Street Irregulars. She has self-published The Frozen Moose, is currently re-editing the first manuscript in a political thriller series, and has entered two contests with her 2016 NaNoWriMo Historical Fiction novella. In her spare time, she enjoys organizing anything from closets, to military family retreats, to rodeos and parades. Along with teaching her cat to retrieve, she volunteers at church and The Horse Protection League. With an Associate degree in Applied Science/Land Surveying, she learned she far prefers words over math.

*The Frozen Moose, a short story is available on Barnes and Noble in e-book.

A Few Notes on Discoverability

Discoverability is one of those newish buzzwords that tries to describe the process by which a reader finds a book to read. The problem with the generally accepted view of discoverability is that the goal is not to have people discover a book. You can't build a career on a book. As an author you need readers to discover you. That may feel really scary but fight it. If you're an author, it's the reality of your chosen work. You can't be a concert pianist if you never get out of your living room.

Discoverability Only Matters Once

What we tend to lose track of is that most of an author's fanbase is made up of people who discovered him or her just one time. Once a reader knows your name and what you write, you don't need to be discovered by that reader again.

If you're smart and if you write something that that reader likes, you'll keep him or her reading your stuff forever—or at least until you piss them off by charging too much, writing too much stuff they don't like, make them wait too long between works, or toss some other sand into their gears.

How Does A New Author Do That?

Lean on your network.

There’s a difference between network and platform. Your network is a collection of your peers. Writers, artists, editors, and others engaged in the creative endeavor of bring literature to the audience. Your platform is your audience. They're the people who support you by buying your stuff.

Your network doesn't need to discover you. You need to build the network. You've already started by being a member of RMFW. Your network should have members who like and respect your work. It should have at least a few members whose work you like and respect. They don't all have to be in the mutual kumbaya society, but having a half dozen people with whom you share sensibilities is important.

Individually, new authors have very small audiences, perhaps as few as a hundred readers garnered over months of frustration. Ten such authors—with similar sensibilities and writing in related genres—have a thousand.

A thousand true fans represents critical mass. Once you get there, discoverability is a function of how fast your true fans share. It is no longer the author's problem.

The combined audience of ten authors won't give you that thousand true fans, but it's a nice start. Use that group to prime the pump by giving them something positive to talk about.

Give Them A Reason

My friend Evo Terra regularly says something like "If you want people to talk about you, do something remarkable." Having people talk about you means you get discovered by people who hear the talk.

One book is not remarkable. One book a year is not remarkable. One really OMFG book? Not remarkable for more than one news cycle.

What’s remarkable?

  • Regularly recommend somebody from your network.
  • Participate with readers in social media.
  • Build a body of work as fast (and as good) as you can.
  • Earn the reputation you want to have by being willing to build it one reader at a time.

It'll take a couple of years. Maybe three, maybe five.

If you write good stuff, if you build a good network, if you pay attention to the details of your craft, then readers will discover you and--through you--your work.

It's up to you to make sure they only need to discover you once.

Image credit:By Stewart Butterfield (flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Rocky Mountain Writer #84

Teresa Funke & The Self-Publishing Blueprint

Teresa Funke is a high-in-demand coach who assists writers with all sorts of advice for every step of the process.

As a writer and self-publisher, she has has done some creative and innovative things that have worked.

And a few that have not.

So she wanted to share what she’s learned, to help others avoid making the same mistakes.

Today, with decades of experience under her belt, Teresa talks about a new online tool called the Self-Publishing Blueprint that she produced to help writers sort through the many options and choices that are out there.

As Teresa puts it, the Self-Publishing Blueprint is the only tool you will ever need to cut through the confusion of self-publishing and save yourself from costly mistakes.

Teresa Funke is the author of six award-winning works of fiction set in World War II. She is the owner of Victory House Press, and successfully
produces and markets her own books.

Visit her website to learn more about Teresa and access additional resources for writers or read her motivational blog "Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life."

Follow this link to the blueprint, including a $50 discount.

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