Alycia Christine

Enchanting Tales, Intriguing Art

Category: Writing Advice

Writing as a Business: The Myths of Self-Publishing, Part 3

A few weeks ago, I began a new mini-series on my Writing as a Business blog outlining a step-by-step guide on how to self-publish a book. Before we begin the main guide, however, I wanted to prepare by writing several posts dealing with some common self-publishing myths that can cause stumbling blocks for those new to the game. If you haven’t read the first or second self-publishing myths articles, I suggest you do that before tackling the article today. For those of you who are all caught up, let’s continue.

Writing Myth #6: Getting It Right on the First Draft

No matter the area of expertise, the difference between a professional and amateur is lots of practice. Consequently, you need to prove yourself as a professional by putting in the work required of you. In the case of writers, this means that the first draft of a manuscript is never good enough to publish no matter who you are or how long you have been writing. Professional writers know that publishable material only comes after several drafts of a manuscript are complete.

In my case, I finish a rough draft and let it “rest” for at least a couple of weeks. I come back to it with fresh eyes, and rewrite a second draft of the manuscript. If the second draft meets my expectations of quality then I’ll send it to my alpha readers. I write a third draft based on their suggestions, send the third draft to my copy editor, and write the fourth draft based on her critique. With four drafts under my belt, I should be done, right? Wrong! Instead, I’ll send the fourth draft to beta readers and write the fifth draft based on their comments. If all things turn out well, the fifth draft of the novel goes to the proofreader and the sixth draft is the one that sees final publication. However, before I click that publish button, I have to oversee the manuscript’s formatting for multiple book additions including three e-book formats and, at least, one print version of the work.

What about the streamlined version of the writing/publishing process?

Sorry but what you just read is my streamlined version of how to take a manuscript from rough draft to publishable form. If I find plot holes or other inconsistences in the book at any point during the second draft revision process, it will require additional rewrites for part or all of the manuscript. Skinshifter, for example, required about eight drafts before it ever even saw my editor. Dreamdrifter only took three.

If this all sounds like a lot of work to you, well it is. I know other writers—independent and traditional—who are far less picky in their revision process and, quite frankly, their lack of effort shows. They may call themselves professionals, but their writing still proves them as amateurs because they haven’t revised their manuscripts enough. To put it in simple terms, they haven’t put in the amount of practice required to write on a professional level.

So how much practice is needed?

That depends entirely on the writer. I’ve heard estimates of five to twenty years before a writer can be considered a master of the craft. I’ve also heard the 10,000-hour-rule applied to writing proficiency. One writer, the popular blogger and author Hugh Howey, recommends that the amount of practice a writer needs to be adept at his or her craft can be achieved by writing five hours a day, five days a week, for five years. If you do the math on that you get: 5 hours x 5 days x 52 weeks x 5 years = 6500 hours total. This is considerably less than the rule of 10,000 hours of practice that I’ve heard from other sources, but I suppose it’s possible to write on a professional level after five years if the practice is deep enough and the writer adept enough in skill. The truth, though, is that writers never really master our craft because there is always more to be learned.

For me, that journey of discovery and learning is part of the joy of the vocation. I love learning and so I try to discover something new about writing every day. I’m always reading to increase my general knowledge and to deepen my understanding of writing. As I read and as I practice the act of writing itself, I grow in my appreciation of this incredible craft as a means of shared communication and artistic expression.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Drawn Art | BW & Sepia | Animal | Earth | Flowers | Trees | Mountains | Objects | Urban | Water | MORE

Writing as a Business: The Myths of Self-Publishing, Part 2

As I explained in my last blog post, I’m beginning a new mini-series on my Writing as a Business blog outlining a step-by-step guide on how to self-publish a book. Before we begin the main guide, however, I need to make sure that you are in the proper mindset when it comes to self-publishing. Consequently, the last post and this post deal with several self-publishing myths. If you haven’t read the first three self-publishing myths, I suggest you do that before tackling the ones today. For those of you who are all caught up, let’s continue.

Myth #4: If You Publish It, They Will Read

In the beginning of the self-published book gold rush during 2008-2011, tons of indie authors hit pay dirt just by writing books and clicking the “publish” button on Amazon. Now, not so much. The book market is flooded with tons of self-published titles now and that makes it all the more difficult to compete with your own work.

Indies’ saving solution to this problem is direct marketing and networking. Since self-publishing cuts out the middleman (publishers) between authors and our potential readers, it means that direct marketing is one of our best options to engage readers. Thanks to the internet and social media, authors and readers can enjoy a more direct relationship than ever before. Direct contact to readers allows authors the ability to find out what readers want and when they want it.

However, direct marketing gets tricky. The last thing most readers want is to be spammed with “Read my book!” every time they turn around. Instead authors need to use social media to build relationships with potential readers around common interests. That is time-consuming work, but part of being a professional author is being sincere and truthful with your readers in every piece of writing you create—whether it’s a novel or a text message. After all, readers are the reason writers exist, so they deserve our best efforts.

Again this is a slow-growth game. Since most authors—indie or traditional—start out with zero marketing power behind their names, we all have to rely on direct marketing and networking to reach potential readers. The simple act of being available on social media is the first step toward finding like-minded readers. Through natural discussion, we can build relationships with those potential readers. As with anything, we must prove ourselves to be trustworthy toward others. Only after we build that relational trust in ourselves, will we begin to see readers’ trust in our products.

So what does this all mean in terms of your writing and publishing career? It means that you must be prepared to make a monetary loss on your first few books because beginning relationships with your clients is more important than profits at this point. You need to be willing to invest money to insure product quality without expecting an immediate return on investment. You need use the quality of your books and the sincerity of your actions to build reader trust in your unique products and the brand that they represent: you.

Myth #5: Self-Published Books Don’t Have Much Value

In ancient times, the written word was hand-copied and distributed as tablets, scrolls, and, much later, leather-bound books. This painstaking process meant that books were scarce and therefore of high value and price. For millennia, only the nobility and the rich owned books and benefitted from their information. This began to change as advances in printing press technology and the rise of pulp fiction began to make books much more affordable for the poorer masses. Gone were the leather bindings and hand-tipped gilt pages in favor of full-color paperbacks. The downgrade in material quality paired with cheaper prices and wider distribution meant that more people of less financial means could read and, possibly, better their circumstances through the education gleaned through books.

Fast forward to today when the cheapest and most cost-efficient book format choice is e-books, which don’t even incur a cost for printing on paper. Now, anyone with a smart phone and an internet connection can read hundreds of books for cheap or free. Thus the once-prohibitive cost of education and entertainment via even paperback books has once again plummeted for readers. Does this mean that e-books are worth less? Not remotely. The gilt pages and hand-tipped illustrations may be gone from the pages, but what they leave behind is a great story. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that readers buy a book for the story or information that it holds, not the pretty frills that it includes. This is one thing that makes e-books such a powerful tool for indie authors.

Even more important than this, though, is the fact that e-books enjoy far greater distribution to a worldwide audience through internet distribution than any book in hardback or paperback has previously enjoyed. This huge customer-base and high demand means that what self-published books lack in price, they can make up for in sales volume. This means that my self-published books can be read by people I will never meet in countries whose names I might not even be able to properly pronounce. It means that a worldwide reading phenomenon like the success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series can and will be repeated with more and more frequency as readership expands across the globe.

Even with the cheaper prices requiring bulk sales, I’d argue that the perceived value of a good book is a thing measured by more than just dollars and cents. After all, I can still remember the name of the book that first turned me into a lifetime reader as a young girl. I also remember the name and the author of the book that started me down my writing career path. Such books are almost as precious as long-time friends to me—as they are to any reader whose life they’ve helped improve. If written, edited, distributed, and marketed well, my own self-published books have the potential power to help someone else find hope and better education in the darkest and humblest of circumstances. That is a priceless fact.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Drawn Art | BW & Sepia | Animal | Earth | Flowers | Trees | Mountains | Objects | Urban | Water | MORE

Writing as a Business: The Myths of Self-Publishing, Part 1

At the request of a reader, I’m beginning a new mini-series in the next few weeks on my Writing as a Business blog. My dastardly plan is to give all of you a step-by-step guide on how to self-publish a book. I plan to start with a general overview of the steps I personally take to publish each book. I’ll then discuss each step in the process in more detail during subsequent posts. Depending on your feedback, I can change and add to the blog schedule as needed. Before we begin the main guide, however, I need to make sure that you are in the proper mindset when it comes to self-publishing. This means that this week and next week, we’re going to be busting several self-publishing myths.

Myth #1: The Ease of Self-Publishing

People think that self-publishing is easy and I can’t really blame them. Compared to the seemingly endless cycle of submissions and rejections that a single book manuscript can go through in the traditional publishing world, self-publishing a book looks easy. It isn’t. Self-publishing may be a simplified publishing process, but that doesn’t make it easy. Anyone who tells you differently is likely trying to sell you the literary equivalent of snake oil.

As I have little faith in literary cure-alls and have zero patience for their petty proselytizers, let me tell it like it is instead of wasting all of our time by sugar-coating things. Self-publishing is a slow-growth business. If you want to be an indie author, then you need to understand that you are in this for the long term. You as an indie author are a self-employed entrepreneur. And, like most starting, self-employed businesses, you won’t get rich quick. In fact, you may not get rich at all.

Myth #2: Getting Rich Quick

It’s rare that I meet an author—indie or traditional—who can make a full-time living through his or her writing. Those that do are usually the ones willing to do whatever it takes to put out the best-quality, more-professional products they can as quickly as they can. Full-time professional authors are the ones who have broken their backs writing and revising book after book. As I’ve said in a previous post, it’s usually the most persistent and persevering authors who win this race even over the most talented authors. Of course, those who strike it rich in this business usually do so because they have all of the talent, persistence, and luck on their side. To use a baseball metaphor, full-time authors are the major league players in our field. They are the fortunate few that spectators want to pay to watch even though there are millions of kids and adults who actually play the sport. To make a living as an indie author, I have to play harder, smarter, and better than many of the major league players hitting home runs in my genre.

The reason that getting rich as an author is so difficult is because book authors are the ultimate freelance writers. Unlike regular employees in any regular service industry, authors aren’t paid for the time that we work; we’re paid only for our end product. That means that we need a variety of products (books) to satisfy our customers (readers), and that we’re going to incur production, marketing, and distribution costs before we can ever see our product in the hands of our customers.

Authors get paid from the royalty off of every book we sell. For traditional authors, that royalty is usually 12-30 percent of every book’s sale price (not including any sales or vat tax). For indie authors, that royalty is often 30-70 percent. Indie authors get a larger cut than traditional authors because we do more work. Indies act as both the author and the publisher, which means that we are ultimately in charge of all aspects of the book. We deal with the writing of the book as well as its editing, formatting, legal protection, cover art, back copy/marketing description, retail distribution, pricing, and more. The extra royalty isn’t free cash for indies; every extra cent is well-earned.

Myth #3: The Small Cost of Self-Publishing

One of the biggest misconceptions I find among new authors is the notion that self-publishing costs less than traditional publishing. I never have understood that idea because when you self-publish as an author you are taking on the responsibility of publishing your own book in addition to writing it. This means that you will incur every single cost that an author and publisher will incur just to see your book as a finished product. Consequently, self-publishing costs more time, money, more commitment than traditional publishing.

If you are going to self-publish, you need to understand this high cost of self-publishing. While writing a book can be a hobby, publishing a book is never anything less than a job—complete with overhead costs, distribution deals, sales figures, taxes, and more. You as the publisher of your book will be in charge paying for the costs of editing, proofreading, cover art, marketing, and distributing your books. Note that I said books, not book. As I have previously said, a wise publisher knows that a profitable publishing business is built on a variety of products, not a one-shot wonder.

Such publishing projects can cost anywhere from $500-$10,000 per book. Depending on your individual strengths and skills, you may be able to mitigate publishing costs by taking on one or two of the publishing projects yourself; however, I caution you against doing things yourself or on-the-cheap unless you have a professional background dealing with the project in question. Remember what I said earlier about playing harder, smarter, and better than many of the major leaguers in the same genre? If your book’s writing, editing, cover art, or marketing copy can’t compete with the professional players, then you don’t have a prayer of stepping up to bat with readers.

Of course, my reasons for telling you all of this is not to discourage you, but keep you from walking into the role of an indie author blind. This publishing route is a very rewarding pursuit as long as you remember that it has its drawbacks just as traditional publishing does. I hope this helps dispel some of the misnomers associated with being an indie author. Next week, I’ll bust three more self-publishing myths.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

P.S.-I am happy to announce that I’m looking for beta readers for my book Dreamdrifter, the sequel to Skinshifter. If you’re interested, contact me!

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Birds | Bugs | Graphic Art | Flowers | Landscapes | Leaves | Mammals | Romance | Objects | MORE

Writing as a Business: What Writers Really Do All Day

Serpentine_Trails-4x6ACWriting fiction is a delightful hobby and a grueling profession. There is really no other way to explain it. I’ve run into many people who think that fiction writers must have the easiest job in the world because we get “to sit around all day and make stuff up.” Thank you, guys and gals, for that awesome assessment. It’s a sweet notion, it really is, but playing in the sandbox of my own imagination is only a small part of what I actually do on a daily basis.

The real truth is that while I deal in a form of written entertainment based on invented worlds and made-up characters, the business side of my profession is anything but make-believe. On the economic side, I need to know how consumer demand affects my book supply and the revenue stream that comes from the resulting sales. On the accounting side, I have to understand my company’s profit margins, gross income, net income, required taxes, and a slew of other things. On the organizational side of things, I have budget my time between making new product (writing story rough drafts), refining that product (rewriting my stories), quality control (copy editing and proof reading), producing the product (publishing books in e-book formats like .mobi or .epub and publishing print books in hardback or paperback versions), distributing my books online (through Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or even my own website), distributing in person (through conventions and writing events), and marketing my stories (in person at events and online through different websites and social media).

In the beginning of my career when writing was little more than a glorified hobby, I didn’t worry about most of this stuff. I just wrote and rewrote my work. I figured that economics, production, design, and book marketing were things that my publisher would always handle. Then I went indie. Now all of a sudden, my business model has expanded to include every stage of book production and all of the extra responsibilities that go with it. I love the challenge, but the amount of work has left me breathless more than once.

I am my own company. If something doesn’t get accomplished at my office, it’s usually because I didn’t do it. I do everything from the actual writing and rewriting of a book to its cover art design, its final formatting, publishing, and distribution. What I don’t do myself (for quality control and time-constraint reasons), I still oversee. I’m charge of finding the beta readers, copy editor, proof reader, and publicists for each book I publish.

As hard as I work, I simply can’t do it all. To make sure that each and every story I produce is the best that it can be, I need thorough, honest, dependable collaborators at every stage of the process. Good beta readers are just as essential to a book’s development as a professional editor. A savvy publicist is just as important to a book’s visibility as a wide-ranging distributor. And good writing is the beating heart of it all. This means that if I can’t deliver my very best, no one else can give their best either.

Are all of the time and work and money I put forth, worth it? I think so. The time I spend playing in the sandbox of my imagination has a high cost of admission no matter whether I’m an independent author, a traditionally published author, or a hybrid. That being said, I took on all of this publishing responsibility to make sure my time playing in the sandbox is as valuable to readers as it is to this writer.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Writing as a Business: Two Secrets to Building a Solid Author Platform

Yellow_Gazer-AC4x6You’ll hear the phrase “Author Platform” bandied around a lot when you become involved in the writer community. For the longest time, no one even bothered to explain to me what an Author Platform was, so I assumed that it was an author’s blog, website, or another such marketing endeavor.

However, what editors and agents typically mean when they say they want an “author with platform” is essentially that they are looking for someone with visibility and expertise who has already proven that he or she can reach to a specific, targeted audience with their products.

When I talk about a person’s “visibility,” I am talking about a person who is known by others both personally and professionally. When you want to build your visibility as an author, begin by asking these questions: Where do people regularly see my work? How many people see it? How does awareness of my work spread? Where does it spread? What communities do I participate in? Who do I influence?

If you can answer all of these questions positively, then you have gained good visibility. If not, then your visibility needs some work.

It isn’t enough to just claim that you have visibility; you have to prove your reach to readers. You have to show how and where you make an impact on others. Quantitative evidence like the size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, or blog comments is one form of this proof. Another form of proof is the qualitative evidence of your work’s impact such as high-profile reviews of your writing or testimonials from A-listers in your genre. Do not worry so much about your proven reach toward your “target audience”. This can only come through steady work, community interaction, and patience.

Your books’ visibility and reach need to be with the right audience, otherwise your efforts are wasted. For example, let’s say that you have visibility, authority, and proven reach with motorcycle riders, but your latest published writing is about a pink kitten who gets lost in Panda Land. It probably won’t be helpful to market that story to the bikers in your fan-base (unless, of course, the kitten is rescued by Sir Harley Honda Kawasaki, III).

Now let’s talk about author credibility. What is your credibility within the writing community? Your credibility is something that accumulates through the quality of your writing and through your cordial interactions within the writing community. For example, let’s say that you submit a well-written story to a publisher and your manuscript is accepted for publication. Congratulations! Not only have you made a sale, you have also established some credibility with that publisher. However, before the story shows up in print or on the publisher’s website, you still have to sign a writing contract, help the editor edit the work in preparation for publication, and get paid. If, at any point during the process, you prove difficult to work with, you will lose credibility with that publisher. But if you prove helpful, insightful, and punctual in you dealings with that publisher’s personnel, you have gained even more credibility. Your added credibility can then help win you more publishing acceptances in the future.

The same can be said for the writing community as a whole. If you publish well-written, accurate, factual, and insightful work on a regular basis, you will gain credibility with your readers. If not, you will lose credibility.

For some authors, credibility is substantially helped by credentials. Credentials are particularly important for nonfiction writers. After all, you would be more likely to pick up a book about healthy dieting if it was written by a certified nutritionist, wouldn’t you? Credentials are usually less important for fiction writers, although it can still help. Publishers will often take a second glance at a writer’s work if they discover that the writer finished the Clarion West writer’s workshop or graduated from the Iowa MFA program.

In general, an Author Platform is not about bringing attention to yourself, nor is it to be used to yell at every single person you meet, “Hey, buy my stuff!” The Author Platform is not about who screeches the loudest or, necessarily, even who can market his writing the best. It is more about putting consistent effort into building your relationship with readers through good work and sincere interactions over the course of you career. You cannot build an entire network overnight, you cannot buy your way into it, and you cannot create it solely through social media and blogging interactions (although those certainly help).

A platform is about doing unique and interesting things that attract other people to you and then making incremental improvements to extend your network and improve your financial gain. Your platform is never more important than your story or message, but it does grow out of your body of work (as long as it is great work).

The following list is not exhaustive, but it will help you form an idea of how your platform can grow:

Publish quality short stories in magazines, websites, etc. with which you want to be associated. These need to be outlets that your target audience reads. This is where Duotrope.com and patience comes into play. If you want to expand your reach by traditionally publishing a specific work, make sure to do some extra research and only submit your work to reputable publishers. Watch out for newly formed markets; some can be quite good, others will take your work and fold without you ever seeing a cent of the money owed to you.

Create and publish a body of work on your own platform. Find meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience. Authors usually accomplish this by having their own website and filling it with different pieces of personal media like: blog posts, podcast episodes, videos, and, of course, links to buy and download digital copies of their writings. They extend the reach of the website by creating e-mail newsletters, social network posts, and other things to help gather quality followers. This is usually a long-term process. One important thing to note when building your personal platform: once an author posts anything online (but especially on her own website), it is considered published. This becomes important if you are trying to traditionally publish a piece rather than self-publish it because many publishers will not accept submissions that have been previously published (no matter the form). Another thing to note is your copyright protection on everything that you post online. Make sure you know what your rights and the rights of others are before you start writing publicly. The last thing you want is to be sued for copyright infringement, libel of character, etc.

Speak at and/or attend events where you can extend your network of contacts. Sci-Fi and fantasy cons are excellent places to do this, but there are numerous conventions and conferences for just about every major type and genre of writing out there. Start with the smaller cons to really get to know other authors and then work your way up from there. You’ll be amazed at the friendships you develop.

Partner with fellow writers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility. This idea is very difficult to accomplish until you already have good credibility within the writing community. All I can say is choose your partners carefully. Case in point, I have been asked several times by new writers if I would co-author a work with them. My answer has always been no. I don’t give negative responses because I wish to be mean; I say no because the would-be partner’s inexperience would be a burden on me and on the project. It is not fair for me to do most of the work on a project while the inexperienced “partner” suffers writer’s block. Likewise it would not be fair to a far more seasoned author to partner with me when she is used to producing two to three novels a year and it took three years for me to finish my first. I look forward to the day whenever I can collaborate with another author on a novel or series, but for now I am learning and growing in my own skills while doing my best to encourage others who are still behind me on the writing journey.

Another thing to note: some people have an easier time building platform than others. Two adages to remember when running your writing business: a) it takes money to make money and b) it takes fame to make fame. I say this not to scare you, but to make you aware of what your major battles will be. Write your creative works now and keep writing them no matter what. Begin socking away money as you can for the eventual marketing costs that you will have as you push awareness about your writing.

You will start out ahead of the game if you already hold a powerful public position, if you know friends in high places, if you are associated with powerful communities, if you have prestigious degrees or posts, or if you otherwise have public-facing work. This is why it’s so easy for celebrities and politicians to get book deals. They already have their platform. On a smaller scale, those who live in large cities have an advantage over those in small towns because they have more marketing resources at their fingertips. Although the rise of the digital age and the internet has begun leveling the playing field, there are still authors who start out on the mountain tops and other authors who have to trudge up from the valleys. Figure out how to use your personal strengths and contacts to get yourself on that mountaintop or at least halfway up the slope.

Remember that the experience of building an Author Platform is as unique as its builder. No two authors are alike and so no two platforms are alike. What works for me may not work for you. Platform building should be more organic and less checklist-driven because it depends on: your unique writing, your unique strengths and qualities, and your unique readership.

Your Author Platform needs to be as fun and creative as your regular writing so that it appears as attractive as possible to new readers. It should reflect your unique style and personality. Just like your regular writing, your platform should be deeply personal and passionate. Don’t worry about doing it all overnight; just enjoy building it like you do your writing: little by little.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better! I wish you all a very happy New Year!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Writing as a Business: The Underrated Value of Failures

Ash_Bloom_4x6ACSince I wrote about the immense importance of small victories last month, I felt it necessary today to discuss the underrated value of failures. In business and in life, we will see victories and defeats, successes and failures. Yes, victory is far sweeter to taste, but defeat often teaches us better lessons—if we’re willing to pay attention.

Personally I hate failure and that’s a trait I’ve had since I was a toddler. Because I’m a natural-born perfectionist, I absolutely despise failing at anything. A defeat if any kind makes me mad, but a mistake in my work makes me crazy. As frustrating as it is, admitting failure is a brave and a healthy act because it punches through the veil of personal pride to get to the truth at the center of every situation. If I want to know the truth about myself, I have to acknowledge my failures right alongside my successes.

Yes, I make mistakes. Yes, I do things wrong. Yes, I fail. And, no, I haven’t failed once or twice—I’ve failed thousands of times in many different ways in all circumstances of life. I’m not sure about the rest of the human race, but I find my pride feeling less like the over-inflated balloon that it is and more like the pincushion it should be with each of these uncomfortable confessions. Failure opens a person’s eyes in a way that success just can’t. Admission of success is often a simple pat-on-the-back. Admission of failure pushes me to think deeper, to ask myself “What went wrong?” and “Why did I fail?” Isn’t it interesting that the answers to these two questions are often the cornerstones to future success?

When I wrote about the immense importance of small victories last month, I first talked about failure. It was the failure of consistent writing in 2013 that pushed me to become more organized and goal-oriented in 2014. That led me to successfully complete my annual writing goal of 75,000 words almost two months early. Likewise I discovered failure when I began piecing together short stories to include in Musings. As I read all of my short stories, I discovered a few of my old tales which failed in some way as good fiction. Reading them led me to ask what I had done wrong. Contemplation of the answers in each case made me a better writer. I doubt I could have written “Winter’s Charge” or “The Twirling Ballerina” without first making and then learning from those flawed stories. Am I a perfect story-teller? No, but I’m getting better.

Now that those admissions are out of the way, we can skip ahead to my most recent writing defeat: this year’s National Novel Writing Month. The end of November saw my NaNoWriMo word count at a grand total of 13,145. That is a figure that is barely 26 percent of the contest’s stated 50,000 word count goal. It is also my lowest NaNoWriMo word count ever. In simple terms, I failed the contest. Again.

Of course, the month of November saw many small writing victories, too. I wrote an average of almost 700 words a day—more than twice the normal 300 words I usually write. As of the first week of November, I also surpassed my annual writing goal of 75,000 words. I also finally finished writing the Thorn and Thistle novella rough draft, which I’ve been working on for half a year. All of these are achievements of which I’m quite proud. That being said, none of them tell me why I failed the contest.

So why did I fail? Well, for starters, I really wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the contest this year. My mother always says, “Attitude is everything” and she’s right. A person’s actions often reflect her attitude. If my attitude is bad, then my performance will be, too. Neither my attitude nor my actions were all that stellar this time. Second, I picked one of the hardest pieces of material to work with when I chose to finish Thorn and Thistle during NaNoWriMo. The manuscript had been a breeze to write up until its last 10,000 words or so, then I kept hitting one writer’s block after another. I spent much of the contest wrestling the novella’s plot-lines into submission while all the while feeling that I still hadn’t done enough historic research to make the story feel authentic. A second draft should solve the plot problems, but I’m still researching to fix the second issue. Finally, I took time off to celebrate my birthday and Thanksgiving with family and friends. Of the three contributions to my NaNoWriMo failure, I don’t regret this last one at all. For me, spending time with loved ones is far more important than work—particularly around special holidays. It’s why most of my vacation time is scheduled around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and loved-ones’ birthdays. That is one failure to work that puts a smile on my face even as I groan about the rest of it.

Don’t misunderstand me; the failures I mentioned above were bad. They were and still are defeats in my writing career. But instead of sulking over or even forgetting about my mistakes, I learn from them. I might never publish my bad short stories, for example, but I will still keep them as reminders of what I learned, so that I can forge future successes out of the broken pieces of defeat. All I can say is that I’m grateful that I have enough successes to encourage me during my defeats and enough failures to remind me why striving for perfection is worth all of the hard labor.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

What’s the Best Weapon against Writer’s Block? Find Out Now!

Rivulets_AC4x6Sometimes writing isn’t fun; sometimes it’s a real chore. I guarantee that you’ll have to trudge through episodes of writer’s block just as much as you’ll skip past easily-crafted scenes. But never fear because we authors have a few weapons in our arsenal to help us break down those ugly creative barriers to get to the beautiful prose on the other side.

One of my favorite personal siege engines against writer’s block is research. Now calm down before your collective groans start drowning out my sentences. Research can actually be a ton of fun because it helps satisfy our natural curiosity as human beings. The other reason research is fun is because it makes our jobs as writers much, much easier.

Imagine this: you are writing a scene where two characters are eating in the middle of a deli-style café, but you’ve never actually set foot inside a deli. It’s going to be very difficult to accurately describe what’s going on around your characters or even what they’re eating if you have no experience in a similar sort of setting, isn’t it?

We writers have words as our only essential tools for building a story, so we must describe everything to our readers. That is extremely difficult to do if we don’t understand how something works or the way an object or person looks. This is why research is so essential to writing and why it becomes one of our most important weapons against writer’s block.

There are essentially two types of research. One is what I call focused research and the other is called ambient research. Ambient research is a type of research that most people don’t even know they are doing when they do it. Ambient research usually happens while writers learn something new about a subject while they are doing something unrelated to an actual focused study of that subject. This could be anything from learning a piece of trivia while playing a game or experiencing a new place for the first time while on a vacation. Ambient research is very different from focused research.

When most people hear the word “research”, they immediately think of hours spent studying dusty volumes in the stacks of a local library. Library reading is part of what I call focused research and it is quite useful when authors need to answer specific questions in their writing. However, focused research is much more than simply wading through library bookshelves. Focused research also means that an author might need to interview a key expert in a particular field or participate in a certain activity in order to “really get a feel” for a specific aspect of his or her story such as its plot, setting, or characters. While focused research seems to happen more often for nonfiction writers, I promise that fiction writers will find it just as useful no matter their genre.

We’ll use me for an example dealing with the two types of research since I am an easy target. Like any good author, I write what I love. I am a fantasy author and I also love watching movies and reading books in the fantasy genre. I learn a lot from fellow speculative fiction authors, but I principally read their stuff because it’s highly entertaining. Keeping all of this in mind, let’s say that while I’m watching the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie for the thousandth time that I suddenly become interested in reading more about pirates. I pick up Tim Powers’ book On Stranger Tides, which loosely inspired a couple parts of the movie. After I read that book, I go on to Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes novel because I’m still interested in reading more stories about 18th Century buccaneers—both real and fictitious. This is called ambient research because I have learned more about a particular subject through various forms of entertainment without doing a serious study of it. Some of what I have learned will be inaccurate because the information that I learned came from entertainers instead of scholars; however, some of my new knowledge—like the basic parts of a ship—will be accurate. However, if I suddenly decide that I want a deeper knowledge of the actual pirates who lived in the 1700s, my interest is now intently focused and so my research will be specifically directed toward nonfiction sources such as The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard with the specific goal of gaining a deep understanding of my subject. Hence my research will become focused research.

Because I write what I love, I don’t mind doing research of either type because the research that I do—whether ambient or focused—is about subjects that I find genuinely fascinating in the first place. I often like to approach writing a specific story by reading fiction and nonfiction books of a similar nature or subject-matter before, during, and after the writing process. This constant flow of focused research, ambient research, and general inspiration helps me more easily work around those writer’s blocks caused by a lack of knowledge. I also love to use photographs from my and other people’s travels as a guide to help me describe certain scenes more easily. I use focused research in the form of personal experience, expert interviews, scientific journals, and full-on, library-haunting study sessions for those more persistent blockades.

Whatever research you do, please remember that the key to getting the most out of research is to always make sure your stories reflect your personal interests. Making your stories personal and your subject matters interesting will help drive your passion toward them and your passion will help you ensure that your stories are written accurately. Accurate research is one of the best ways to create high quality writing that readers adore, so make it count. Your readers will pay attention to your story’s details and they will complain when something is incorrect. The last thing you want is to be remembered as a lazy writer, so get your details right before you share you work with the world.

For instance, if your story is set in downtown Chicago, make sure that you know what downtown Chicago looks, feels, and smells like. If your story is set in early 19th Century Montana where horses were the main form of transportation, then talk to cowboys about how they care for their steeds. Study horse anatomy, western-style riding, and tack terminology. Then give subtle hints of your new-found knowledge to build your story’s accuracy. Even if your characters set foot in a completely imaginary realm, you should do some research to find out what realistic place and time period most closely resemble the fantasy world you are trying to build. Remember, good writing drops the reader smack-dab into the middle of a story’s scene. Good research should do the same for the author.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

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