During this time of isolation at home, I’ve kept busy. One major accomplishment and a few smaller ones achieved.
For several years, I’ve wanted to pull together all my materials from my seminars, workshops, and experience into one resource book for writers. I finally found the time this spring while quarantined to my house. The Author’s Journey: A Road Map for Writers – from Draft to Published Book released today on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats.
The book covers the following topics:
•Steps to preparing for the process of writing a book
•Craft, style, and mechanics of writing
•Elements of story
•How to choose the best publishing route for you
•The three major types of publishing
•Checklist for Pursuing Traditional Publishing
•Checklist for Publishing as an Indie Author
•Step-by-step guide for publishing on Amazon
•Legal Considerations for Writers
•How to start a freelance writing career
•Ways to market your book
•Appendices with sample templates, writing exercises, definitions, and resources
The Author’s Journey is a reference book that will help take away the mystery out of writing and publishing a book, whether through traditional channels or as an Indie Author. And if your questions aren’t answered, I provide an annotated bibliography for all aspects of writing, editing, publishing, and promoting your book.
Here’s an excerpt from “Chapter Two – Preparing for the Journey.”
BEFORE I AGREE TO take on any new client in my editing business, I ask some questions. Sometimes, I need to enlighten prospective authors as to the realities of writing and publishing, but mostly, I want the client to think about why he or she wants to write and publish a book. Once the basic question is answered, I move through a series of questions to help focus the process. After all that is considered, the when and how parts of the equation become easier to answer.
With a willingness to be honest with yourself, consider the following questions before you begin the journey or at any point along the way. Even at this stage of my writing career, I often stop and question myself, if only to for assurances I’m still on the right path. Sometimes it leads me to try something new. Either way, these questions can help define your journey as a writer, so let’s start with the most basic of questions.
Why do you want to write a book?
Are you interested in publishing for public consumption or do you want to provide a memoir for your relatives? If you want to publish for your family, that’s fine. You don’t need much more than desire. But you’ll still have to decide how you’re going to publish the book. Chapters in this book on the different publishing choices will assist you in that decision. If your goal is to write many books, no matter the genre, you might start out choosing one path for publishing and then switch. It’s your decision to make. My journey illustrates this very point.
As I’ve stated earlier, a small publisher picked up my first novel in 2000. My next two books were also published by a small publisher. Then I acquired an agent. Sounds great, but an agent isn’t always the panacea for bringing success. My agent sat on proposals for two nonfiction books and a completed novel. When I finally reached a breaking point with my patience, the agency admitted my agent had been seriously ill for months, but they didn’t want him to lose his clients. Geez, I couldn’t even be angry about the lack of movement for my work. But I was discouraged. Even more discouraging news came when the publishing company for my first book closed its doors without paying royalties to any of its clients. Thank goodness, I’d been able to purchase books for my signings at cost, so I made money from the sales.
I gave up. For five years, I didn’t pursue publishing, but I continued to write. In 2012, the Indie Publishing movement had begun a revolution, and I jumped on board. I had the skill set, the motivation, and the time, and I’ve never regretted that decision—for me. But I had to learn all the lessons on my own before finding the right fit for my personality and goals.
If you answered the why question with any mention of making money, I would recommend keeping the day job for now. I know I didn’t follow this advice, but I was at a place where I needed to switch careers. And I didn’t go from teaching to writing novels all day. I simply decided that I would make my living from doing anything associated with writing. Later in the book, I provide some suggestions for how to pursue a career as a freelance writer based on my experience and the experience of my colleagues.
Most writers I know write because they have to write. The stories won’t leave them alone. They write because there is no other choice. Chances are you won’t make a whole lot of money from writing a book no matter which method of publishing you choose. There are exceptions, of course.
Spend time thinking about why you want to write a book. It will help inform the rest of your decisions on how you want to proceed.
What’s your ultimate goal for writing a book?
Do you want to be famous as an author? We probably all want fame for something we love to do, but if it’s your main motivation, I caution you. Yes, there are exceptions, but for the most part fame and/or wealth happens from luck more than anything. And if lucky breaks don’t occur, lots of time and money will be required to see a return on your investment of sweat and dollars. Prepare yourself for the long haul and possible disappointment. When I finished my first book, I was ecstatic when I received an acceptance letter from the publisher. I had made it—or so I thought until the publisher asked me what I planned to do next. Next? I’m going to be famous. No, not exactly. He wanted to know what I planned to do to sell my book. I’m still not famous or rich, but I’m content with what I do.
What is your definition of writing success?
Do you have a vision of yourself as a writer? And how does success as an author look for you?
My view on writing success has changed over the two decades I’ve been writing fiction. At first, I thought it meant a call from Oprah. Then I realized how many other authors wished and hoped for the same thing and how many actually received that call. And would that really define my success? An epiphany caused me to view success differently.
Self-satisfaction smacked me in the face during the process of writing my fifth book, Trails in the Sand. It would be my second Indie novel, and I was still thinking about the fame and fortune aspect of my life as an author of a “serious” piece of literature. What could be more serious than a book about the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the effort to save Florida’s sea turtle nests? Come on, Oprah, just pick up the phone. Instead, here’s what happened.
I was in a hotel room in San Antonio while my husband attended a conference. I used my time to finish the first draft of Trails. I had spent the evening re-reading the draft out loud before sending it to my editor. When I reached the last chapter, I could barely read or speak the words. Tears ran down my cheeks as the novel ended. Even though I’d written the book and knew the ending, hearing it out loud moved me. And suddenly, it dawned on me. I didn’t need anyone else to validate my work. I had given myself the precious gift of creating something for the satisfaction of writing it. Everything changed for me in that moment.
Sales are always nice, but they are often dependent on other things besides writing. I do feel I’ve achieved success as a writer, and it’s more inward than outward. Others may not be able to see it, but I know I have achieved a level of success that sustains me and inspires me enough to keep at it.
Do I still want those outward trappings? Probably. But it doesn’t matter much anymore. If I’ve written the book I envisioned, I’m satisfied.
Examine your expectations and your vision of success. Again, it’s going to lead you where you need to be at any particular juncture of your writing life.
Who is your audience?
I’ve included this question here, and it’s important to consider. But in the beginning, I suggest not focusing on the audience much at all. Sometimes, thinking about who might read the book can be daunting and stifling to the process of simply putting those thoughts down on paper in an honest way.
Just because you’ve written words on paper, it doesn’t mean it has to be shared. It’s better to get it all out and then during the revision process adjust. By the time you’re revising, you can focus more on the audience. That’s when you make sure it’s age appropriate and appeals to the audience you hope to reach. You wouldn’t write a book on atheism for a Christian audience unless, of course, it’s about the atheist’s quest to find Christ.
Who will be in your story?
When you write nonfiction, you must consider how the story you’re telling will impact anyone who might be mentioned, or not mentioned as well. Will you be exposing any secrets that aren’t yours to expose? Will it involve other people? In a later chapter, I will discuss libel law, but this question asks you to think about personal relationships and the impact your writing will have on them. You might be surprised how another person reacts to mention in your story, even if you feel you’re painting a flattering portrait of that person.
I once wrote a very personal piece about coping after a tragic death of my friend’s daughter. Through circumstances, I ended up being the person who had to tell the mother, my friend, about the death. I wrote about it from my perspective and said I would never forget her screams when I delivered the news. I mentioned in the essay how much love and respect I had for my friend and her coping with the death of her child. To my mind, all positive things. However, I failed to do one thing. I didn’t ask my friend if I could mention her before I published it. When she read it, she wrote me a scathing note asking how I could say I had any respect for her at all.
It would have saved us both the terrible rift that occurred in our friendship if I’d only talked to her first. Her grief, still so raw, caused her to look at the world very differently than she had before, and she didn’t feel I had the right to use her story in my writing.
She was right. I was in the beginning of my career, and I assumed that mentioning someone in a loving and positive way would always be all right. I quickly learned a hard lesson.
Ask permission of others to include them in your story. Or if you can’t ask or don’t want to ask, leave them out or change them so they are unrecognizable.
Fiction can be as tricky. If you are basing a character on a real person, make sure you mask any similarities to that person. I often use composite characters. For instance, in one of my books, the main character is a female reporter. Since I had been a reporter myself, this character had some of my characteristics—hard not to bring yourself into a character—but I also drew on three or four other female reporters I had known. No one could point to Kelly Sands in Tortoise Stew and say, “That’s me.” She was a composite of five different women.
When I was writing a novel about something that had happened to my aunt when her grandson tried to steal her money. In the novel where I used the general theme of greedy relatives, the grandson became a granddaughter until the plot reveals that she’s actually not related by blood to the grandmother No one ever questioned my portrayal. I believe there are two reasons for that. I changed the sex and the circumstances. Also, to complain and suggest it was based on him would be admitting to the very unflattering behavior of the greedy relative.
People who are close to you can be quite strange about your fiction. In my first novel, I created a character based on my oldest brother. In my naivete, I didn’t try to mask much about this brother. When the book came out, his wife and sons told me they had asked my brother what he thought about the character who resembled him. My brother looked at them blankly and said he had no idea what they meant. He hadn’t seen the resemblance at all.
When my second novel came out, another brother wrote me and told me it was quite unnerving to read a book all about him. What did he mean? It took me a few days to realize that I had written one scene where the dog of the main character resembled my brother’s beloved German shepherd, but other than that, I hadn’t even thought about that brother when creating the character, but I should have changed the dog’s breed.
Just be aware and change things around in your fiction so characters can’t be recognized as real people. . “Chapter Ten – Some Legal Things” addresses libel and the legality of using real people in both fiction and nonfiction.
Are you willing to bare your soul on the page no matter what type of writing you choose?
If you’re afraid of honesty, then perhaps you’re not ready to write. I don’t mean you have to confess the time you stole a cookie out of the jar. I’m talking about the type of honesty about life and people that makes your writing universal and enduring. You don’t have to give specific details of your own life in your fiction, but you can write about the emotions an event might have elicited but choose different details to express it.
If you are writing a memoir or creative nonfiction, you must be willing to write in honest terms about yourself and your role in whatever action or event occurs. If you only write about yourself as the innocent, beautiful victim, no one will be able to relate to you. Even if you are writing about the most horrendous things, most likely, you reacted in a human, but perhaps less than “perfect” manner.
For example, after an act of violence, the victim might lash out at others. Quit a job. Start drinking or smoking pot. Most of us don’t rise up immediately from the ashes with makeup intact ready to do good in the world. What is the reality behind what happened?
I recently heard the author, Tricia Booker, speak at my writers’ group about her memoir, The Place of Peace and Crickets, which told the story of her and her husband’s experience with adopting children from another country. She began writing a blog about the experience. Then it morphed into the book. It’s a raw and often painful look at the agony involved in adopting a child with special needs. She writes in such an honest way about her bad behaviors as she coped that you have to love her. She’s not a bad person, but there were times when she broke with the pressure. Even though I’ve never had her experience, I certainly could relate to her as a human being with failings and irrational feelings because I’ve been there for other reasons in my life. I fell in love with her and her writing because of her honesty.
The best books reveal the writer and the true nature of the human experience. That’s what makes them memorable and gives them universal acceptance.
Are you ready to put your work into the world for anyone to scrutinize and criticize?
Here’s one of the dichotomies of being a writer. Most writers I know are rather reclusive at times and just a little bit shy in public. I know that some folks who know me might shake their heads and say I am not in the least bit shy. Those folks would be wrong. I may be sociable, and even be the life of the party at times, but that behavior comes at a great cost to me either before, during, or after a social event. I’m much more comfortable attending one of the parties thrown by a character in a novel. But here’s the two-sided trouble. As authors, we usually want to publish, which means we’ve opened a bit of ourselves to public view. Over the years, I’ve had to develop a tough hide. It’s harmful when I start believing both the good and bad reviews. By far, the bad reviews—very few in comparison to the good reviews—stay with me and haunt me. However, they are easier to take now. I also stopped preening every time a childhood friend or colleague wrote a glowing review of my work. Now, I value the legitimate reviews from “verified” buyers who are strangers.
In the beginning, a bad review gave me heartburn and kept me awake at night. I’d have ten great reviews, and then that one negative review took on gigantic proportions in my mind. With the first one, I started investigating and discovered that particular reviewer tended to write negative reviews for other books as well. So, I forgot about it. I still get a twinge for the few bad reviews I’ve received, but always, I read them to assess if any of the criticisms are valid. If so, I try to learn from them. Otherwise, I ignore them because usually they say more about the reviewer than about my books.
Another word on reviews. Never respond to a bad review. If a review is personal or doesn’t address the content of the book, you can write Amazon or the retailer and ask for it to be removed. I reported a review one time because it was a personal criticism—I always suspected my husband’s ex-wife as the culprit but couldn’t prove it. But because it was so personal, I wrote Amazon, and they removed it. Other than that, ignore them. Look at the reviews for some of your favorite authors. You’ll find a variety of stars. I give more credence to three- or four-star reviews when I’m shopping for a book.
Some final thoughts before embarking on your own journey
A big ego can get in the way of becoming a great author. A big ego is easily deflated or tends to ignore advice. As an author, I view myself as a life-long learner, and I keep an open mind to discover new ways to tell stories. When my ego intrudes, I fail.
A writer must also listen to an editor and be able to take constructive criticism to improve the work. A huge ego can get in the way of that process. Authors must be humble to handle reviews as well. I read my reviews—good and bad—and attempt to learn from them if it’s constructive. If not, I ignore them. A huge ego will only interfere or be so deflated that the writing ends.
Many new writers fear putting themselves out there to be judged. So much so, that many of them never even take the first step. Some fear their work or ideas will be stolen. Those are legitimate concerns, but I offer some advice on plunging ahead.
Everyday life can be frightening. But if we live in fear, we go nowhere. I write. That means I want to be published. Yes, it’s downright scary to see one of my books, one of my babies, receive a new review. I almost hate to look, but the majority of the time, I’m pleased. We’re judged by everyone the minute we walk out our door—literally or figuratively via social media—so this is just one more step in the process.
I’ve never worried about my work being stolen, but the woman who expressed her anxiety over losing her creative control, has never written much of anything. She also told me once she’d start writing seriously once her husband built her an office addition to their home. She allowed her fears to become her excuses. She would be a great writer, if only…
If my questions and advice didn’t quell your thirst to write, then you’re probably ready, not necessarily to write the next Great American Novel, but to get busy educating yourself on the business of writing a book.
While studying and researching, keep writing. Start a blog if you don’t have one and set deadlines for yourself. Write down any ideas that come to you. Sketch out characters. Write dialogue. You won’t be wasting time. Some of the stuff you might use one day; some of the stuff may just serve as practice. I like to eavesdrop on conversations of others. I usually have a pad of paper or notebook in my purse, so I’ll jot down stories or verbatim conversations. You’ve probably read this somewhere, but it’s true. “Be careful what you tell me. You might end up in my next novel.”
Did I mention continue writing? I believe I did. Writers write. It’s not necessarily a linear path. All of the things I’ve mentioned can be done simultaneously, in a different order, or not at all. But no matter how you do it—repeat after me—write.
You’ve decided you want to write the book, and more importantly, you will write the book. Then what? Do you want to go with a traditional publisher? Hybrid? Or are you going the route for an Indie Author? I’ve been traditionally published, even had an agent for a few years, but in 2012, I grew weary of the industry and ventured out on my own. I’m in love with being an Indie Author, but I will try to keep my personal bias out of it. However, the final chapters will be solely directed toward the Indie Author and publishing on Amazon.
So, how do you decide? Look at the pros and cons of all, consider the answers to my questions, and you should start to get an inkling.
And more than anything else, continue to write.