And Aaron Michael Ritchey Waves His Magic Wand! Poof!

I am going to wave my magic wand, and I am going to make all your writerly dreams come true.

Yeah, my magic wand. No sex jokes.

Like Sigmund said, sometimes a magic wand is just a magic wand.

Here I go.

Do you know that story you were so excited about but every single short story market rejected you?

Poof.

You sent in query letter after query letter on the short story, and bam, a total acceptance for professional rates, ten cents a word, and you were included in a “best of” anthology. Suddenly, a hundred literary agents are knocking on your door wondering if you have a novel they can represent.

You can thank me later.

What about that cover you weren’t quite thrilled with?

Poof!

You have the ultimate cover drawn by either Frank Frazetta or Michael Whelan. Your book cover could be a movie. No, seriously, and not a movie released in January to a limited audiences, but a movie released in July with Florence +t the Machine on the soundtrack. It’s such a great cover.

You can thank me later.

What about that agent who loved your story idea, asked for the full manuscript, then eighteen months later rejected you because the market changed?

Poof!

Ten minutes after reading the full manuscript, that agent immediately called his go-to guy at HarperCollins and you are offered a six-book contract including a movie deal, and you get to meet Joss Whedon who is interested in the project.

You can thank me later.

What about that time you Indie published a book you loved more than life, more than sleep, more than donuts? It sold five copies and a week later its Amazon ranking sank into the low two millions. It’s still falling and threatens to become Amazon’s least sold book of all time.

Poof!

The day after you published the book, the Amazon ranking shot into the top one hundred. By noon? The top ten. By twilight, it was number one across all of Amazon and across all of the major categories. Suddenly, there’s a Huffington Post article on your book! How can this Indie book be dominating Amazon for weeks on end? Someone from Amazon calls you to apologize because they don’t have enough money to pay you. They’ve never seen such a book break those records. A month later, Joss Whedon calls you, personally, to ask if he can turn your book into a Netflix series.

You can thank me later.

What about that book where you did your homework, sent out review copies, made people sign blood oaths, all to get at least fifty Amazon reviews on the release day? Then? Yeah, you had two reviews. Amazon removed one, and the other was a one-star review that confused your book with the latest from Chuck Tingle.

Poof!

Not only did you get fifty five-star reviews, no, you got a hundred reviews total. And more are coming in each day. Joss Whedon left a review. And the bots working the interwebs saw all those reviews and emailed everyone across the globe—anyone with an email address—a “Buy Me” promotion about your book. You sold gazillions.

You can thank me later.

What about yesterday, when you promised yourself you’d get up early to write that one scene, which you were originally excited to write? Instead of getting up, you slept in, then wasted what little time you did have on Facebook, and then the day hit and you won’t be writing a single thing.

Poof!

Wait…

Dammit. Nothing happened?

Let me try again.

Poof!

Still nothing?

Let me check out my magic wand for a minute (no sex jokes). It’s working. I mean, it did all of that other stuff.

Oh, wait. That’s right. I can’t magic you into writing your book. That’s something firmly in your control, and yeah, it can be rough, life is busy, and dude, the Preacher comic has its own AMC show. I know. How cool is all that?

The magic wand only works on things outside of your control.

All of the wonderful things I’ve done on this blogpost are possible. They happen all the time. Magic happens to writers who finish books and get them out into the world. Sometimes great big magic. Sometimes teeny-weeny magic. But magic happens.

So do what you have control over. Write those books.

No need to thank you. You know what to do.

Terri Benson Sets Fire to Words Along with Genre Con (Literally)

I’m coming out of the closet. Yep. I’m an…introvert. What, you already knew?

That’s a pretty simple reveal. Most writers are introverts, and since writing is a fairly lonely job, it can have theWhy-Introverts-Are-Like-Cats makings for hermithood (you know, like motherhood—no wait, it’s not at all like motherhood unless you’re a mother and don’t have any friends with kiddies). Anyway, you know who you are, and what it’s like to try to network in a busy room, or to stand in front of a group and say things that make sense: right up there with a trip to the DMV.

I’m learning to come out of my shell. And the major reason is that I volunteer for RMFW. It started perfectly innocently, helping Vicki Law with the Western Slope workshops. Then, when Vicki decided to run for President of RMFW, she asked if I’d be willing to step in to run the W/S workshops, and be the Education Chair. Innocent that I was, I accepted, thinking it would be a piece of cake. Hmmm, maybe an upside down cake. I quickly realized I would have round up speakers, arrange a venue, stand up and talk in front of large groups, and all kinds of scary things.  And guess what? I survived. OK, except for the fire alarm and smoke and firetruck at the annual event last month in Golden. But there was that hunky fireman….which sort of made up for it. And despite rumors, I DID NOT set e fire. So our romance workshop got a little hot…it wasn’t my fault.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say (oh, no, there goes that song again) is that to grow as a writer I believe you have to do two things: learn to do new things, and get yourself out there. Become an ambivert - that’s someone with a little of both introvert and extrovert. The perfect place to debut the new you is at Colorado Gold. It’s too late to present, but you can still submit your story to the contest (until the end of May), which can be a little scary, but might get you a read by an agent or editor, or at least will be a good learning experience. And then there’s the Gold Conference itself. Three days of non-stop immersion in writing. You’ll be surrounded by other intro/ambi/extr-overts, all of whom are writers like you. THEY have the same worries, fears, and interests you do. They want to talk about their WIP just as much as you do. They want to discuss genres, protagonists, POV and all that ad naseum, just like you.

Take the plunge. Go to Gold. Don’t make excuses. It’s the best money you’ll ever spend. You will learn more than you ever imagined about the craft of writing and marketing, you’ll make friends that will last as long as you do (and if they put you in their book, longer), and you’ll have a chance to strut (or show) your stuff to agents or editors, but only if you DO IT.

Come on, if I can do it, so can you. It’s much more difficult to take that first step than it is to be there, in the moment. Trust me. And Write ON!

Yee Shall Not Judge or Should Yee?

Recently I’ve struggled with writing, publishing and the whole caboodle (yes, caboodle is an actual word though it shouldn’t be). I am not complaining, not in the least. No really. I swear

My issue is a matter of self-doubt. Which is my problem and mine alone. Or so I tell myself when caught whining to uninterested family members or friends. Nobody cares about how hard it is to publish or gain new readers. How the deck seems stacked against you. That is, nobody but your fellow tribe members suffering similar self-doubts and annoyances.

I love you guys!

While I am not turning this into a whine-a-thon (yes, again an actual word according to word), I wanted to preface my post with the above.

My post is about judging. Not being judgey (Caught me. Not a real word, but a good one that should be). I’ve long judged contests for various organizations. Every time I’m asked it brings up this issue of self-doubt. Who am I to say if a submission is good? Or more importantly, what it is about said submission that makes it worthy of a high score?

Yes, I’ve gotten books published. People have read them. Some liked them. Some didn’t. But I’m pretty much a hack. It was a fluke. 9 times over. I won’t ever see another word in print…

See how self-doubt derails me? It makes me feel unworthy of making simple contest judgments.

And they are simple. It’s about engaging me as a reader, not as a writer. The writer in me has a list of do’s and do nots. A bunch of reasons for every writerly action, and the consequence of opening a scene with the weather. But the reader in me doesn’t. I like certain styles more than others, sure. But any voice can engage me. Every well crafted scene can make me gasp in surprise.

I might have points to make for the writer, things I’ve experienced in my own publishing journey, but those are asides. If a writer opens with the weather, and makes me a believer in the reason for it, I, as a reader will be just fine.

Do you judge contests? If so, do you feel differently? What about critiquing? Do you read as a writer or reader? And hell, let’s open this up to self-doubt. What’s your greatest downfall when it comes to self-doubt?

3 Quick Tips to Avoid Dumb Mistakes with Writing Contests

The 2016 Colorado Gold Writing Contest is still accepting entries.  (Hot tip: the romance category needs entries—this is your chance to shine!)  It is the contest that led to my first published novel, so I’m thrilled to pass the information on to you. The contest accepts the first 4,000 words of your fiction manuscript (and 750-word synopsis) in the categories of action/thriller, mystery suspense, romance, spec fic, YA/middle grade, and mainstream/other.

Here are some tips so you can avoid some of my past mistakes.

1.  Remember the rules. Find them at rmfw.org/contest. There are just seven of them. I made a ColoGoldDeadlineJune1dumb genre mistake with my first novel. I had no fiction writing experience, and had just joined RMFW. I wrote a romance in which the hero died.  It’s amusing in hindsight, but just a reminder, be sure you’re entering in the right genre. Be attentive to format requirements, too. At the contest preparation workshop in March, Pam Nowak pointed out that you can guarantee yourself something like 9 or 10 points just by being certain the basic formatting and genre requirements are met.

2.  Don’t fudge on entry length. Way back in another century, I read on a writer's loop about circumventing contest length requirements. I thought I could fudge on the line spacing and submit a skosh more than the maximum number of pages. The contest is now run with a maximum word count, so this strategy of jiggling the line space settings is no longer an option. However, there are always some who think they can duck under the boundary rope and send more than allowed.

The contest folks note on the entry where the maximum number of words are reached. The judges are advised, and entries are not read past that point. If it’s blatant the entry may be rejected. Play it safe and follow the rules.

3.  Avoid eleventh hour panic. It’s easy to be overly confident and wait until the day before the deadline to review the entry. After all, it’s perfect as is—isn’t it? There’s an old joke about parents. When children are in their teens, their parents are really stupid. As those teens enter their twenties, their parents aren’t quite so stupid. By the time the children enter their thirties, their parents are pretty darned smart. This same focusing mechanism applies to writers as they look at their work just before a contest deadline. Their vision improves, and flaws can suddenly be seen that weren’t there before. This eleventh hour editing session quickly becomes a nightmare. In the panic that ensues as midnight approaches, massive cutting occurs, leaving hastily chopped gems lying on the cutting floor. Give yourself adequate polishing time before sending your entry.

These are the mistakes I made in my early contest career. Well, all the mistakes I’ll admit to having made, any way.

Get your entry ready, and good luck to you!

What Should an Author Expect from an Agent?

In the months between now and Colorado Gold, my guest posts here at the RMFW blog will take a lawyer's eye view at some issues that may be relevant to authors trying to choose a publishing path or figure out who (and how) to pitch their work at conference. Today, we'll kick that off with a little introduction to some the things agents do...and a few they don't.

Mismanaged (or mismatched) expectations are a fundamental cause of problems in the author-agent relationship. Before signing an agency contract, authors should understand the business and try to establishrealistic expectations about the author-agent relationship.

Know What Agents Do … and What They Don't.

A literary agent can fill many roles in an author’s world. Some of the common ones include:

- Line editing client manuscripts ("editorial" agents do this, but not usually at the first draft stage).

- Pitching manuscripts to publishers, and negotiating contract offers.

- Consulting with authors about new ideas and series development.

- Discussing short-term and long-term plans for the author’s writing career.

- Marketing advice (but they don't do the marketing - that's the author's job).

- Mentioning clients' work on the agent’s social media feeds.

- Acting as an intermediary between the author and publisher (especially when conflicts arise).

- Selling foreign, translation, and other subsidiary rights, either directly or through sub-agents.

Not all agents fill all of these roles. Investigate agents before you query, and talk with an agent who offers representation (before you sign!) about his or her preferences and business practices.

All agents should review client’s manuscripts, pitch and negotiate deals, and act as an intermediary with publishers on some level (some do more, and some do less). Beyond that, your mileage may vary.

Know What You Want YOUR Agent To Do (Within Reason)

Consider the list in the heading above. Do you want an editorial agent? Someone who’s active on social media? How involved do you want the agent to be in your long-term plans?

Beware the temptation to say “I want it all” (or "I don't want any of this") without more thought. Publishing is a business, and authors need both a business plan and a solid concept of how an agent fits (or, in some cases, doesn't fit) within it. Make a list, and be reasonable...it doesn't much matter whether or not you want your agent to give you a magical glitter-and-book-deal farting unicorn. You're not going to get it. 

Do Your Research, and Find an Agent Who Matches Your Expectations

After you know what you want from your agent, you need to focus on finding an agent who matches your expectations. If you only query agents who aren't editorial, you have only yourself to blame when the agent you sign with doesn't edit your manuscript.

It can be difficult to determine, with certainty, whether an agent's business model matches your own before you receive an offer of representation. That’s okay. “The call” is a perfect time to talk about expectations—the agent’s, as well as yours.

Obviously, authors only get to choose from the agents who actually offer representation. That’s why "doing the research before you query" is such a critical step.

If you're planning to pitch agents at conferences (including this September's fabulous Colorado Gold - registration is open now!) do your research in time to choose your pitch appointments wisely. Don't limit yourself to the conference website. Google the agents and editors, visit their websites, and find the ones who seem like a match for your preferences and your work.

Realize: There is No Magical Ring to Rule the Publishing World. You Won't Get One - And Your Agent Won't Have One, Either.

No matter how well an agent matches the author’s business expectations, we have to remember that no one can guarantee an offer, a publishing deal, or a place on the bestseller list. Sometimes a manuscript doesn't sell, no matter how hard an agent works. Sometimes publishers drop a talented author.

Publishing failures often aren't the agent’s fault - and the possibility of failure even if you do everything correctly is a sad but real expectation authors need to manage.

On the other hand, if the agent isn’t living up to the author's expectations, authors have the right to consider a change. Just make sure, if you make the decision to terminate an agency contract, you make it on the basis of an objective, honest evaluation—what the agent has done (or not), in comparison to industry standards—not on the basis of emotion or unreasonable expectations.

Managing expectations in publishing is a lot like herding cats or nailing Jell-o to a tree. It's a constant process, and it's going to get away from you at times. 

Even so, it’s worth the effort. The better you know the industry, and treat publishing as a business, the more likely you are to find an agent who meets your needs and becomes a beneficial partner in your publishing career.

What do you expect your agent to do for you? How do you manage your "agent expectations"?

 

The Writing Habit

If you want to be a productive writer, then you need a habit.

Not this kind of habit:

singingnun

THIS kind of  habit:

Butt in Chair

Yeah, I know, we writers are creative people. We like to have muses and write when we're inspired. We want all of the rainbows and unicorns and leprechaun gold while we're at it. Habits are boring and stifling and structured, for God's sake. We get enough structure from our day jobs and our family responsibilities. Writing should be spontaneous and fun and happen when we're really feeling the love.

This is all true UNLESS you want to write professionally. Because here's the fly in the ointment, my friends. If you want to be published - and continue to be published - then writing becomes a J-O-B.

Yep. I said it. Writing professionally is a full on responsibility.

Sure, it's still fun - some of the time.

Magic still happens - some of the time.

The Muse still sings songs of enchantment and wonder that get you lost in Storyland - some of the time.

But that isn't going to cut it if you're trying to build a career. Your capricious Muse won't help you meet deadlines, and neither will fitful inspiration. There will be days when writing feels like the last thing on  the face of the planet that you want to be doing. There will be days when it feels hopeless, pointless, and maybe even stupid. This happens to every writer, even, I dare say, to those who are highly successful and appear to have "made it."

You have to find a way to write anyway.

I am going to offer a caveat here. Yes, there are days when "writing" means thinking. There are days when the best thing you can do is step away from a manuscript and take a walk, do some brainstorming, or talk to a friend. Some writers take regular, planned days off from writing, in order to rest and refresh. This advice is for writers who are struggling with getting the writing done.

I've talked in previous posts about setting priorities and finding your focus. These things are hard.  I'm not sure what Life has against writing, but I can tell you that Life does not want you to write. It will throw things at you overhand, underhand, and sideways. It will screw you over six ways from Sunday. If you wait for those wonderful, golden moments of sheer writing bliss to be handed to you on a silver platter, you're going to be waiting until you're in the ground and fodder for the worms.

Ever notice how you don't have to carve out time for your habits? If you're a morning coffee drinker, you don't have to think about that in the morning. Imagine if, when the alarm went off and you managed to drag yourself into the kitchen, you spent fifteen minutes debating about whether or not to make coffee.

God forbid. That would be one question too many in your decaffeinated state. Nope. Before your eyes are open, you're fumbling through your morning coffee ritual. Maybe you were really smart and loaded the coffee pot the night before.

Everything in your morning routine - from taking a shower and brushing your teeth to getting dressed - happens pretty much on auto pilot. These things are habits (at least for most of us.) We do them every day, whether we feel like it or not.

A writing habit serves the same purpose. If you have made it a habit, when your allotted writing time comes up, you write.

You write whether you feel the writing love or not.

You write whether you're brimming with inspiration or feeling jaded and tired and beset by doubt.

Writers write. Regularly.

Some of you are going to tell me that your days are too unpredictable or that you don't have time. If this is true, chances are it's time to rethink your priorities. If you REALLY WANT TO WRITE then you will find a time to fit writing regularly into your life. But I will also tell you that something else that you love may need to go, because we don't get anything for free.

Even when you've developed the habit, there will be days where writing doesn't happen. There are probably days when you don't get dressed or brush your teeth, and maybe - gods forfend - days when you don't drink coffee. Life is like that. But the thing about habits is that once they're established, they are hard to break. So if you have a Writing Habit and you miss a day, you'll find your way back to it the next day, or the next.

When you don't write, you'll feel that something is missing, just like when you forget to brush your teeth. Words will get written.

Chances are, once you establish it, this is one habit you'll never want to break.

I'll be teaching a class on getting writing done at Colorado Gold 2016 called Write Now: Making Space for Writing in a Busy World. It's scheduled for 8 am on Sunday, which is either appropriate or ironic, or maybe both. 

Meeting Agent Right by Linda Joffe Hull

Over the years, I, like most authors, have collected enough rejections to wallpaper my office (and the adjoining hallway). However, as I continued to hone my craft, sent out more queries, and tried not to go completely insane, I began to wonder if there was more that I could be doing to get published.

As the rejections continued to filter in, it occurred to me that if I could meet every agent I queried, I’d realize that we (and thus my writing) weren’t a match, saving me some of the ego beat down of all that rejection. After all, like an online dating profile that states, I’m looking for a short, perky, blond, 40-50, I may fit the qualifications and still not be Ms. Right. And we all know Agent Right could look nothing like his photo. Similarly, an agent can say he is looking for exactly what you’ve written, read it and tell you it isn’t at all what he was looking for.

Seeing as I was unlikely to meet any agents at my home office to determine such things, I decided to do what I could to make my luck.

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. RMFW

Go to the various events. Not only will it improve your writing, you’ll meet and connect with other writers. I’ll never forget the first time an author offered me the contact info for her agent after a friendly conversation.

  1. Get Involved:

I offered to write a monthly agent spotlight in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s monthly newsletter. As a result, I was able to contact agents and interview them about what they were really looking to acquire. Not only did the membership benefit, so did I. In fact, I landed my first agent as a result.

  1. Conferences:

Attend, but also volunteer. At Colorado Gold, we have a kick-off party specifically for volunteers and guests of honor. What better way to have casual, VIP access to the attending agents and editors before they are inundated by the masses? I started out by volunteering to coordinate the agent/editor critique groups. Not only did I get dibs on getting my WIP in front of an agent, I also had a job that led to contact with all of our guest agents and editors.

  1. Enter Contests:

Enter as many writing contests as you can. Finalists are typically judged by agents and editors. Many first deals have come as a result.

  1. Make Small talk:

After being inundated with pitches, that editor at the end of the conference bar might enjoy talking about almost anything but what you’re working on. Many of them write as well. A conversation where you don’t mention your book might even result in a connection that leaves him or her interested in who you are and, thus, what you write. I met my agent at a conference. My debut novel, THE BIG BANG, was published as the result of a conference lounge discussion with my now editor about his favorite writers. The Mrs. Frugalicious mystery series came about when another editor, whom I’d met over an RMFW conference weekend, suggested I try my hand at mystery. Even my first novel was recently published by Susan Brooks, a small press publisher and member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Five published books later, I can honestly say, putting myself out there and getting involved in my local writing world was not only the key to getting published, but a whole lot more valuable than an entire inbox full of rejections.

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

cropped-linda-hullLinda Joffe Hull is the author of two standalone novels, The Big Bang (Tyrus Books) and Frog Kisses (Literary Wanderlust). She has also written three books in the Mrs. Frugalicious Mystery series featuring bargain hunter and sleuth, Maddie Michaels: Eternally 21 (2013, Midnight Ink), Black Thursday (2014, Midnight Ink), and Sweetheart Deal (2015, Midnight Ink). A long time member and former president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Linda was named the 2013 RMFW Writer of the Year.  She currently serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America.

Staying Positive in a Negative Industry

It can be difficult for a writer to keep her chin up. For a person who needs to be sensitive enough to reflect the most compelling attributes of humans and humanity through story, the harsh landscape of a writer’s world can be difficult to endure.

Like our beloved characters, writers contend with a multitude of external and internal conflicts seemingly hell-bent on keeping us from our personal MacGuffins.

Perhaps at the top of every writer’s list of roadblocks, there is the often dreaded rejection, a seemingly never-ending parade of “No” echoes around every turn. Agents, editors, magazines, conferences, bookstores, reviewers, even other authors. If being a writer is primarily about connecting with the readers waiting for your story, some days feel like there are a hundred gatekeepers standing between your characters and the people waiting to meet them.

And yet, for all the disappointment in every rejection, the sting, the bite, the venom that slow drips into the writer’s heart is not the actual “no.” It is the poison laced through all the words unsaid. It’s what we fear drives that “no” to our doorstep again and again—judgment. Of our work, our ideas, our thoughts, our abilities, maybe even ourselves. The people with the power to say no formulate judgments we are rarely privy to. We are instead left to our own imaginings about why we have failed to make the cut.

And writers have excellent imaginations.

Enter the writer’s psyche. If ever there existed the worst hot mess of internal conflicts, it surely took root and sprouted from a writer’s self doubt, anxieties, fears, and the ever dreaded peer comparisons. We fear these no’s may be based on negative judgments that are correct.

What if I suck?

What if I can’t write?

What if it’s me?

Am I horrible, vile…not mediagenic?

What are all the things “THEY” are not telling me thus making it impossible for me to revise these personal imperfections and failures?

A writer can end up mighty frustrated.

I hate this.

I hate writing.

I hate publishing.

I hate wanting this thing that doesn’t seem to want me back.

Maybe…maybe it’s time to quit.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If yes, I have some good news for you. It doesn’t have to be this way. More importantly, it shouldn’t.

I happen to believe it is possible to stay positive despite all the negativity. But first off, inhale, exhale. Again. Deeper this time, really fill those lungs, hold it…now let it out. Do this several times an hour.

Next, don’t quit writing. If you truly love it and are not just hoping this is a get rich quick exit strategy from a demoralizing soul sucking job you’re hoping to escape, don’t quit writing. If it is just a escape plan, make a better plan.

Realize this:

Writing is a terrible way to try and get rich quick.

Writing is a terrible way to try and get famous.

Writing is a terrible way to try and feel important, special, unique, talented, or better than other people in general because there is ALWAYS someone else more special, unique, and talented than you and chances are pretty good you will end up in the same room with this person. Likely you will be listening to them read aloud from their amazing, New York Times Bestselling, National Book Award winning novel.

If these are the motivations that drive you to the keyboard, you are probably wasting your time and setting yourself up for failure because your sense of “success” is contingent on criteria that is either controlled by outside forces or dependent upon who else is in the comparison pool with you.

Write because you love story so much you are compelled to try and create it yourself. Be motivated by the desire to live a creative life. If this is why you write, you will NEVER fail. You can NEVER be rejected by outside forces. Outside forces are not allowed to interfere with this, they don’t get to control it, they cannot say no to it. I dare them to judge it. This love is yours, you decide when, where, and for how long to live in a space of creative energy and output.

Secondly, try to wrangle that spinning, spiraling, better-future-seeking brain of yours. The worrying, obsessing, hoping for that big break so you can finally be whatever it is you think you’re not already—STOP. Right now, in this moment, you are already amazing. An agent won’t make you any better of a person than you already are. Neither will an editor, or an award, or a book deal. These are only things and other people you may one day co-work with on projects (who have their own neuroses and personal hang-ups I might add). When you get an agent, you will wake up the next day exactly the same person you were the day before. If you win an award, you will take it home and hang it on your wall…eventually it will get dusty just like all the other crap in your house. If you get a book deal, you will one day find your hardcover book on the remainder shelf being CLEARANCED for 3.99. Try not to confuse other people’s opinions and the bestowing of plaque shaped things with your own feelings of self-worth and personal validation. Other people change their opinions and things don’t last. Keep your power and decide for yourself if you’re a good enough writer or not. And if your answer is that you are not yet producing your best work—learn to get better, then do it.

“But,” you might say. “I need these people and things in order to achieve the writerly goals I’ve set for myself. I need an agent to open the gilded New York Literary Gates and awards to prove to the readers that my stories are good and worth their time and monies.”

And I would reply, “No you don’t. Well written stories that readers like to read prove to them that your stories are good and worth their time and monies. Guided passage through the Literary Gates and awards are one way to get your stories to readers, and for sure it was once the only way. But now, there are other ways too. Most readers don’t know all the gory details that happen behind publishing curtains anyway, they only know a story they love when they read it. Get that story to them by any means necessary. You may find that love from your readers is the only external validation you ever really wanted in the first place.”

Find your personal center, remember why you started writing in the first place, then try like hell hold on to it--no matter what.

Schmooze Cruise

icann_photoIf there’s anything scarier than public speaking, it’s private speaking. Not the quiet conversations you have with friends but the prospect of being thrown into a room of strangers and having to get out with any shred of dignity intact. Some people have no trouble making new friends, but introverted and anti-social writers seem to have a harder time than average. The normal strategies of hiding behind a potted plant all evening or orbiting the room clutching a beverage like a life-ring while refusing to make eye contact may leave you feeling like you survived but somehow missed out on opportunities.

With the Colorado Gold Conference right around the corner, now is the time to address the burning question.

How do people do that schmooze thing without feeling icky?

It takes a just bit of mental jujitsu.

First, you have to understand that everybody in the room is there for the same reason. You’re there because you’re passionate enough about the subject matter to have found the time and resources to attend. Just by being there, you’ve got common ground with every other attendee.

Second, you need to check your excuses at the door. Even introverts can get satisfaction from sharing ideas they’re passionate about. The “I’ve got nothing to talk about” excuse and the “Who’d want to talk to me?” excuse  and the "They're all famous!" excuse all need to be left at the door.

Third, the hardest room is the first one. Not everybody in the room is a first timer, but everybody in that room was a first timer once. Most of them remember it. Newcomers are always welcome. Remember that when it's your second room. If nothing else, you'll have someone to talk to.

A few simple ideas can help even the shyest individual over the threshold.

Have a goal or two.
I believe too many people struggle because they have goals that place too much emphasis on measurable return on investment. They want to pitch their stories to three agents or get an acquisition editor to request a manuscript. While those are certainly valid goals, for somebody trying to learn the art of the schmooze these goals put Olympic-sized pressure on Wading Pool skills.

My goals for every convention I attend — writer oriented, fan oriented, whatever — are always the same. Meet three interesting people and take home one actionable idea. I don’t limit myself to what I think “interesting” means or what kind of action I want to take. Sometimes I meet interesting people in the lobby or sitting beside me in the audience at a panel. Sometimes the ideas are time management or dealing with stress. Occasionally I learn about new tools, gain insight into new techniques, or find writers I want to learn more about. I can’t achieve any of those goals unless I get out there and meet people.

Listen more than you talk.
You'll often find yourself forced into potentially awkward situations at organized dinners. Simple courtesy can ease the conversation into starting on its own. Take a seat, smile at the person on your left/right, offer your hand, and say, “Hi, I’m Nathan.” If nothing else, they'll look at you funny unless you use your own name. Typically, that triggers a response around the table. This also works at meet-and-greet events, BarCons, session audiences, and other situations where you’re in a room full of strangers all wearing the same badges. If the conversation lags, you can always ask “Who came the farthest to get here?” Chances are nobody will know so you’ll have to compare notes. After that the conversations generally sort themselves out.

The thing about listening is that you always have something to do. If you’re focused on listening, you’re not thinking about what to do with your hands or whether your hair is sticking out at an odd angle. You’re thinking about what the other person is saying and maybe asking questions about it. Listening has the added advantage of making you seem smart, even when you don’t think you are. Do it regularly, and the odds are good that you’ll become smarter, too.

Wallflowers Unite
There will always be somebody who’s off to the side, out of the path, and standing alone. The art of the schmooze is making sure you’re not that person. Find the wallflower or the person standing or sitting alone and introduce yourself. You’ll each find you have a lot in common and both of you will be able to practice the art.

Breaking In
What about when you’re trying to join a conversation that’s already going on? A lot of people feel like they might be intruding if the conversation is already in full swing. Sometimes you might be, but more typically, there’s always room for one more smiling face. Stepping into the gap—often literally—with a smile and a nod usually works. If the conversation doesn’t stop, chances are you’re just as welcome as anybody else. This is a great opportunity for you to practice listening. Asking a pertinent question at the next pause in the festivities works very well to cement your place in the conversation.

Semper Paratus
Awkward silence is awkward, but a little preparation can push awkwardness to the backseat. Questions like “So, what are you reading these days?” or “How are you dealing with social media?” often yield interesting responses. A bit of noodling time with your favorite professional online sources can add currency to your conversation as well. Finally, when awkward just won’t leave, have an exit line of your own ready. A simple “Nice to meet you. I need to circulate a little. Enjoy the convention” lets you wander off without feeling like you’ve stepped on anybody’s puppy. You can change it up with “I need another drink” or “I need to find my partner.” Even “I need to find the little writer’s room” can give you the exit you need without falling into TMI.

Have fun.
That probably sounds a bit like “Hey, they’ll only hang you once. Enjoy the gallows.” This is one place where you actually can “fake it til you make it.” Smile at people. Meet their eyes and nod. Extend a hand and introduce yourself. Before you know it, that person you met in the first session on the first day will show up and you can compare notes. Or the person you had breakfast with will invite you to eat dinner with them. Take a few selfies with other attendees. Ask for cards from interesting people. By the time you have to leave, you’ll find you’ve actually had more fun than you thought.

After all, these people all cared enough to arrange their lives to be in that space with you, even when they didn’t know you’d be there. The least you can do is make it worth their while.

Image credit: ICANN Photos 1361
Licensed under Creative Commons-BY-SA 2.0

Trying New Things–Kindle Scout

Photo from Morguefile by semiphoto.
Pick your book--Before it's published! Photo from Morguefile by semiphoto.

Last month, I talked about trying new approaches in the aftermath of losing a publisher. Starting with this post, I’m going to talk about some of the new things I’m trying.

The book I’m focusing on right now is a full-length paranormal romance novel about spies who’ve been genetically altered to have special powers. The hero is a Russian werewolf; the heroine is an American super-brain. Together, they fight crime!

I wrote this book quite some time ago, then spent a lot of time editing and fine-tuning, but mostly ignoring it while I worked on other things that were already contracted. In the back of my mind, I always thought maybe I’d send it to the Amazon contest, or find some other semi-unconventional place for it.

Then Kindle Scout came along. This is a crowdsourced publishing platform—you put your book up, cover and all, and people vote you up or down for a publishing contract. Amazon’s editors then evaluate the books and pick the ones they want for publication. Publication is not entirely based on how many votes you get—KS is looking for well-written work that doesn’t require massive editing. (Although I've read in some of the links below that some authors have gotten editing as well as cover-art work from Amazon before their book was published.)

So KS ended up in the back of my mind, too. But when I finally decided it was time to do something with the book, I submitted it to a lot of traditional places first. I really felt it was one of the more mainstream-type books I’d written in a long time (HA HA HA HA I used “I” and “mainstream” in the same sentence pardon me), and might just have a chance with agents/publishers.

Apparently not. The responses I got were either, “This doesn’t suit our needs at this time,” or “Wow, I liked this a lot, but it doesn’t fit our line/paranormal isn’t selling right now.”

So, after numerous rejections, I decided to move on, and now I’m preparing the manuscript for Kindle Scout. I have some misgivings, but then I always have misgivings (“Do you really have sufficient justification to eat lunch right now?” “Are you sure you really need to stop what you’re doing and go to the bathroom?”). Aren’t you glad you don’t live in my head?

On to some meaty stuff:

Kindle Scout offers a good many pros and not many cons that I could see. The manuscript has to be unpublished—not even on a blog or Wattpad, for example. You also have to be sure you’ve done all the heavy lifting editing-wise, and you have to supply your own cover. Then, during the voting process, you have to run some marketing to get votes. If you’re chosen, you get an advance of $1500 plus Amazon’s marketing machine working for you. The contract is very straightforward, and outlines exactly what the conditions are for you to ask for your rights back.

If you don’t win—here’s where I was a bit surprised. To prepare for this, I started scouting books (4 out of 9 of my choices have gotten contracts—pauses to buff nails and look smug). If the book is NOT chosen for publication, a couple of things happen that I thought were actually pretty neat and author-friendly. First, if you subsequently publish the book through Kindle, Amazon sends out an email to everybody who voted for your book. So if you get, say, 300 votes but no contract, you can then Kindle-fy the book and all 300 of those people will be notified that your book is available. In addition, if you vote for books, those books stay on your Kindle Scout page. The ones that have been published on Amazon will now have a link to their buy page even if the book was not chosen for publication by Amazon. Now that’s a perk.

If a book you voted for is chosen for publication, you receive a free copy and are encouraged to read and review the book to further assist the author you voted for.

Some additional info can be found here:

Getting Ready to Go Scoutin’

My first step to prepare my book was to sign up for Kindle Scout and start scouting books to find out how the process works and also to check out what kinds of books are being submitted (gotta scope out the competition, natch). The KS page presents the cover, the first chapter or so of each book, a blurb and an interview with the author. I usually check the blurb, then read the first chapter until I nope out of it. If I don’t nope out before the end of the excerpt, I give it a vote. That’s my full process. I am lazy. And I’m still scoring almost 50%. (I actually have no idea how that fact is relevant to anything, but I’m still bragging about it. Because I can.)

The next step is marketing. Not for the specific book, but for everything else I’ve ever published. (Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING.) The goal here is just to get some additional people’s eyes on me. I’m focusing on my mailing list and my Facebook page. I also revamped my website (actually both websites, but the Elizabeth Jewell site isn’t as relevant to this effort). I’ve read several books and articles about marketing as a self-publisher. From those books, I’ve pulled out all the advice that’s common to all or most of them, figuring those are probably the most efficient and effective approaches (they’re also the ones that make the most sense to me). In the mean time, I’m also preparing the manuscript and the cover art.

I see I’ve run on quite a bit, so I’ll stop here. Next time, I’ll talk about the nitty gritty of getting a cover prepared and cleaning up the manuscript. In the mean time, go check out Kindle Scout on your own and vote for some books! It’s fun! I promise!