Tag Archives: writing

Rush to Preorder: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 3

Missed a part? Play catchup here.

“Rush to Preorder”

In August 2015, I gave my novel, The Computer Nerd, a preorder date for October 20, 2015, the day before Back to the Future Day. Then I started to write it, or add to its existing short story form, rather. I thought this was a good idea. I was on such a hot streak that I thought two months was plenty of time to produce a great title. I thought wrong.

I had just finished and uploaded the revised version of The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, a novelette that I’d written as a simple short story years earlier (and am currently in the process of revising again to include more story and less fable, but more on that another time), and because I was trying to keep my release momentum up to one new title a month, it was time to get my next e-book title in motion. I was planning on revising and releasing the short story version of The Computer Nerd, which was only about 6000 words and ended with the protagonist taking a chance on his wife not murdering him in his sleep by going to bed with her, but I decided rather quickly that the story was just a first act and really needed more. So, by the second week of August, I ditched my progress on Teenage American Dream, which was supposed to be my next title at the time, and went to work crafting a novel out of that single-act short story. By September 9, 2015, I finished the first draft of the complete novel, and I was happy with it.

I’d set the preorder date for October 20th, because I thought that would give me plenty of time to revise it and get enough beta readers to tell me how to make it better, even though setting a preorder for October 20th meant I’d actually have to have the whole thing done and uploaded by October 10th. But I couldn’t get the beta readers I wanted even though I asked. I got one reader and two advisors for certain moments in the story to cover my every question. Hardly enough feedback to tell whether the story truly worked, or if it was even any good. Had I given myself, say, six months, I might’ve gotten more feedback, or even given myself enough time away from the story that I could read it with greater objectivity and see for myself what works and what doesn’t. Had I given myself that kind of time, or even a year, I’d have been able to learn enough about editing for genre that I could clearly see what was off about the story and worked to fix it before anyone in the public eye would ever see it.

But I didn’t do that. I obsess over most of my stories, which is evidenced by the fact that I keep going back to stories I’ve written more than ten years ago to see if I can improve them, but I didn’t give myself time to obsess over The Computer Nerd. In fact, as I write this two years later, I still don’t know if my ideas for improvement are actually good enough to make it worth public attention even now. All I know is that my plans for its revision are better than what I actually published in October 2015, as a preorder, in an attempt to publish something new every month.

In Part 1 of this unintended series (I thought I would tell this story in one part, not three), I mentioned my plan to rerelease this story with new content and a new title. This is why the planned update for a “finished” novel that people have bought on Amazon or downloaded for free at Smashwords during promotion seasons. I rushed the current version without giving myself enough time to really let it sit with me. I rarely rush through anything without giving myself adequate time to meditate on its details and fix whatever doesn’t work. But the conventions of indie publishing pushed me in ways I wasn’t ready for, and I broke my own personal conventions (and convictions) to see how the story would perform in the marketplace. The result of that performance was poor to say the least. I had no sales at Smashwords or its affiliates, short of a couple hundred free downloads during my I-no-longer-care phase, which aren’t sales, and may not even be reads, and only a couple on Amazon, the first of which yielded a one-star review. The print book never sold. As of this writing, I have the only print copy in existence, and I don’t get far into reading it without cringing. It’s not bad, but I know I can do better.

I intend to do better.

And I wish to do so by giving it a new identity, hence its retitle to Gone from the Happy Place. I want to make sure that readers get the story they deserve and not the one I felt obligated to rush out the door. I still have logistical questions to answer, like whether or not I want to change the opening, or even scrap the original first scene (my gut says yes), but I also have to consider conventional rules for its genre and figure out how best to incorporate those ingredients that the current version lacks, like, say, adding a new character who complicates everybody’s relationship to each other by simply being in the same room as they (because she’s trying to arrest two of the three characters while stealing the third away as a romantic interest even though he’s married to one of the two she’s trying to arrest, and you get the idea…spoiler alert).

The end result of this tale is that each of my stories are now under scrutiny, and some, like Gutter Child, as much as I like their current versions, still need more to become competitive in the marketplace. I can’t save every story or turn them all into blockbusters. But I can still do my best to give each one a proper foot forward, and that’s why I no longer wish to rush anything I write, even those stories I need to rewrite. Gone from the Happy Place is “finished” already; at the same time, I haven’t actually begun the version that will earn its new name, and I won’t start it until I’m satisfied with my rewrites for The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, Shell Out, and whatever else needs my attention. And even when I do finish it, I won’t release it until I can get proper marketing in its fuel tank. I want to have a better launch for its next version.

So, if you’re wondering why my publishing pace has suddenly slowed to a crawl, or why I’ve produced nothing commercially since May 2016, that’s why. I believe in quality over speed. I ignored it in 2015. I won’t do that again. It’s the same reason I don’t blog all of the time. I’d rather spend my writing on novels than on lectures.

But thanks for reading this all the same! Please come back. Next time I’ll write about…er…stuff, I guess. You won’t want to miss it!

Note: You can find links to most of the books mentioned in this series as thumbnail images to the right. If you’re reading this on your phone, you can find the links at the top. Alternatively, you can wait until I release the revisions and just subscribe to this blog for updates instead.

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

Cover image by Pixabay

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Public Revision: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 1

Would you like to go back in time a few years and redo something you screwed up? Or maybe just a few days? Or even this morning, perhaps? If you could do it all over again, would you refuse that job offer, or decide not to date that person (or marry them), or make that investment in that swamp that was supposed to be the home of the next big mall but to this day remains a swamp? If given the chance, would you have decided against erecting that statue of a controversial figure to our national history?

We all fantasize about correcting the bad choices we’ve made in life, but rarely can we ever do anything but forge ahead and hopefully make better decisions the next time we’re faced with something similar.

In videogames, we see this fantasy realized in two places:

  1. Most games come with a reset button of some kind. We make a mistake in the game, we turn it off, we reload from our last save, and we try again but tackle the problem differently and see if that earns us better results.
  2. Game developers who release a bad or buggy game have many opportunities (if finances allow) to patch it before their clientele finishes lighting up the pitchforks, as long as they remain in communication with their fans and customers that improvements are coming. In this way, they can turn a bad game into a great one, if they pour in the time, money, and love to see it through.

Okay, three places:

  1. In the case of old or poorly executed games, creators can remake their games with better technology and/or better ideas, and anyone who appreciates the idea behind the original may be onboard for trying out the new version. Take a look at SimCity for example…

Or don’t; your choice.

It’s the perfect medium to work with because gamers are the most forgiving people on earth…at least it could seem that way as long as you ignore the flames they fan on gaming forums (especially on Steam) or if you constantly update your game, preferably weekly, even after you’ve released the final version of the final version of the version that jumped the shark because people keep demanding updates when the game has outlived its need for updates and you just want to get on with the sequel or a new property already, but can’t because those ingrates won’t leave you alone about adding that stupid feature where the hero blinks when you press the mouse button three times while upside down because real heroes blink and your game sucks if the hero doesn’t blink and you said that the hero would blink way back when you announced the game was coming and foolishly published your wish list of features as a motivation or goal for yourself, which included the possibility of having the hero blink at the click of the mouse, as if you were making promises to the people to implement these features when you really intended to implement them only if time and money permitted and that anyone who trusted this wish list to double as your infallibly planned features list would inevitably have their hearts broken, and as a result cry out to the masses that you’re a fraud who only cares about grabbing cash and couldn’t give a crap about releasing a quality or finished product to everyone who deserves the game that they want because they spent a whopping five bucks on it, dangit, and demand to get their every penny’s worth! See, it’s the perfect medium.

But books and movies don’t get the same love, it seems. Or do they???

I can’t speak much for movies, as I’m neither a filmmaker, nor am I in the loop with filmmakers, and the only time I ever see a movie “revised” after its theatrical release is when it goes to DVD or Blu-Ray as a director’s cut. But books are becoming friendlier as a medium for post-release revisions, and I think readers may even be at a point where they’re ready to accept it.

Okay, I don’t actually know if that’s true, but it should be. Here’s why.

Remember The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien? Have you read it? It’s, in short, a brilliant fantasy novel that jumpstarted the fantasy craze that continues today, eighty-five years after its publication. It’s a tightly-written children’s book about hobbits, dwarves, elves, trolls, adventures, wizards, and kings, told in a sing-song, fable kind of way, mixed with rhymes, riddles, and rendezvous with fate that captivates the imagination of any of its readers. But did you know that, according the video interviews by Peter Jackson, Tolkien had plans to revise it? After the success of Lord of the Rings, he decided he would write a revision to The Hobbit to better tie the two stories together thematically and theatrically (sounds better than plotrically, so, you know), which, to me, sounds like a worthy plan. If you suffered through The Hobbit movie trilogy (I have, and I’m a better man for it), you’ll get an idea what the rewrite could’ve been like, as Peter Jackson, the director of both Middle Earth trilogies, took Tolkien’s notes about the planned revision (that he clearly never finished) and filmed that, according to the documentaries that come with the films, which are worth watching, even if you don’t care for the movies themselves. Whether that revision would’ve been better or not remains to be seen, but after the success of Lord of the Rings, both in book and movie forms, it stands to reason that readers, whether they’d like it or hate it, would’ve been willing to give it a shot.

And that’s a fair assessment, as we give movie adaptations of books a chance all the time. Sometimes, in the case of movies like Silence of the Lambs and Silver Linings Playbook, these adaptations work. Sometimes, like in the case of The Running Man, the movie even improves on the book. Revising an already published work is not a bad thing, nor should it be a problem, especially in today’s world where e-books are biting off a piece of the reading market.

To revise is to sand off the burrs that mar the otherwise perfectly sculpted image, and reshape that statue of Mr. Controversial into one that looks more like Miss Congeniality, and that revision can happen at any time, even decades after the first version originally went live. The goal is to make sure the new version is better than the old one, and to make sure the end result won’t piss anyone off or cause a riot in the streets.

Having said that, tomorrow I would like to move toward a discussion about my book The Computer Nerd, and why I think it’s important to write and release a revised version, retitled Gone from the Happy Place, and why you should be happy that I’m doing so. I’ll begin by discussing the nature of independent publishing and why it’s a tough business. Hope you’ll come back for it.

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

Cover Image by Pixabay

Calendar of Upcoming Posts: August – September 2017

As I said last week in Friday Update #10, the four-month silence of Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm is coming to an end, and a new slate of posts, series, and big ideas is on the way. Although this may not represent the entire span of things I have planned in the coming month, here is a working schedule of content postings you can expect soon.

August 23, 2017: The Marketing Author 001, Part 11
The emotional recovery hiatus I spent away from writing happened during the weekly stint of The Marketing Author 001 postings, and for months it looked like I would never finish the series. Well, I did, last night. The next installment about finding experts to guide you along your authorship path debuts tomorrow night at 7pm EST.

August 24, 2017: Photobucket Apocalypse
A heart wrenching story about what happened to my online promotional screenshots of a project I’ve been working on for years, wrapped in a lesson about trusting third parties to handle our content and essentially giving them the basket in which we put all of our eggs into. It’s a lesson we can all learn from.

August 30, 2017: The Marketing Author 001, Part 12
The Marketing Author 001 series reaches its conclusion, giving aspiring authorpreneurs encouragement to take a chance on the independent authoring business and have some confidence about the outcome, even if success takes a while.

August 31, 2017: New Entry into the My First Mullet Saga
Although the plot is a secret, at the end of August the next terrifying installment in the ongoing My First Mullet series will make its debut exclusively on Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm. But to give you a teaser, this time both man and mullet are forced to confront a force that could ultimately destroy them both. Has their war pushed them into the face of a new common enemy?

September 4, 2017: The Art of Censorship
Based on a concern I’ve had as a writer for years, this likely controversial essay will attempt to call out a writer’s responsibility to show authenticity in his or her writing, regardless of how it might be negatively or positively received by people with opinions. This may or may not be split into two parts, depending on length. If it becomes two essays, the second will be released the following evening. For now I plan to keep it as one complete piece. As writers, we need to consider the truths we write about. This essay will attempt to show why that matters.

September 6, 2017: The Marketing Author 001, Part 13
The true final installment in The Marketing Author 001 series, this bonus chapter will offer a list of recommended software to use during your foray into independent authorship. This list includes Microsoft Word and Scrivener, but promises to go beyond just the word processors to help you build a toolbox for future success.

September 7, 2017: Using Scrivener for Game Design
Two years ago, I wrote a first impressions article about Scrivener, but I never wrote the second half of that piece. This isn’t that second half, but it is a new idea for how an untapped market can use Scrivener to its advantage. Even though it won’t outright say so, the theme of this essay is to be creative in how you use software to your advantage, regardless of your industry. Even if you don’t design games, you should still read this for ideas.

September 13 – 15, 2017: Write at Your Own Risk…Er, Pace
A three-part essay exploring the importance of developing quality writing versus the commonly advised approach to rush independently produced books out the door within a month or two of conceiving the idea. This will also double as my postmortem of what happened and will soon happen to my novel, The Computer Nerd. Don’t miss it.

And this is just what’s on the planner. I also aim to produce a number of book reviews for my summer reading list (and many of the books I’ve read in the last few years that I’ve never reviewed), and will hopefully post those one after another throughout the coming month.

In late September, I hope, hope, hope to be ready to launch a series I’ve been wanting to do for the last year-and-a-half, which I’ve been putting off because I didn’t quite know how I wanted to tackle it. But I think I’m just about ready to give it a whirl. I’ll talk more about that soon enough.

So, please come back each evening to see these latest posts. With the exception of “The Art of Censorship,” all of the above posts are written and scheduled for release, and will only be tweaked between now and their live dates. So, they are coming. Look for each one to go live between 7:00 and 8:30 pm EST on their respective release dates. Feedback is welcome. Looking forward to seeing you then.

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

Cover image by Pixabay

Plan to Succeed, Be Ready to Fail, Then Go Ahead and Succeed (The Marketing Author 001, Part 10)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Plan to Succeed, Be Ready to Fail, Then Go Ahead and Succeed”

Life is a nut.

There’s no joke or punchline here. Life is a nut. You can have the most perfect plan in the world, perfectly orchestrated, perfectly prepared, perfectly funded, and life will still find a way to intervene on its own behalf to do whatever it can to push your plan into a wall at 900 miles an hour because life has to dip its hands into everything perfect and mess it up because life is also a jerk. It’s a lot like a Batman villain. Just when you think you have some sense of control (Batman), you lose it because life has other crazy disturbing plans, which may include laughing in your face or watching the world burn (Joker).

Is this something you recognize? Have you had something planned, something that would change your life for the better even, just to watch it come crashing down because you can control only some of the factors involved? If the answer is no, then congratulations, you have no ambition or vision. And, if you have neither, then you have no need to read further. You are in a safe space, and nobody likes you.

Life didn’t become a nut by obeying your will or granting your wishes. It became a nut the moment man thought he could improve upon perfection then eternally messed up the order of what perfection is. Life became a nut because when life has order (perfection), it doesn’t need to fill any holes with incompatible plans. And life would never have such a thing! Not these days!

When we set out to write a book, we have big plans in mind. Writing the book is part of the plan, sure, but so is getting it out to the public. We imagine sales upon sales rolling in, growing for us a massive passive income that can sustain our appetites for weeks, months, or even days! We think every word will translate to “wow,” and every period will be akin to the stroke of a gong, filled with such bravado, such resonance that the whole world must hear it.

But no, our periods will get squashed by life’s big nut sack with the rest of our dreams. It’s the order of things today.

Launching a book presents the same problems. We can set up a preorder and still come out with zero sales. We can host a giveaway, and still lose all of our newly interested participants the moment the prize is drawn and all but one person loses. We can build our email lists over time and never crack 10 subscribers. We can spend hundreds of dollars on promotions, hundreds more on covers, copywriting, and editing, and still fail to sell more than a handful of copies at launch.

Life is a nut.

But we can stand up to it.

We have to be ready to fail at anything we do, especially in marketing and writing, but only because it strengthens our resolve to continue; because, at some point in this journey, we’ll figure out how to outsmart life. At some point, we’ll develop the knowledge, skill, endurance, drive, or random luck to find success.

And success is a lot like blood. When we taste it, we become ravenous for it. Then we start making life listen. Then we find our rhythm and learn how to dodge the wall that life is driving us toward at 900 miles per hour.

Yes, we have to be ready to fail at anything, but we should still plan to succeed. No plan is perfect, but even imperfect plans can reach a happy resolution, as long as the people enacting them don’t give up on them, instead making changes as needed. The reason the most successful people become successful is because they know life will try to screw them over, and they know that they will fail before they succeed, and they will develop a thick enough skin to drive them forward even when failure tries to drive them back. They won’t back down in fear. They won’t give up on their prayers. They will keep fighting for what they believe in, even if the opposition keeps knocking them down. Eventually, the opposition will tire of their persistence and back down. Eventually, life will throw down a peace offering and say, “Okay, you win.”

Remember, Batman defeats the Joker in the end. Usually.

Yes, life sucks, but don’t give up on it. If you want people to read your book, learn those marketing tips that so many successful people before you have learned and then take a chance on releasing it. You won’t reach everyone, but you can use your experience to reach someone. It’s a lot like meeting the person of your dreams. The first step when you meet them is to say hello. Life rarely botches that part up. Usually.

But even if it does, you can try again next time. Make sure there will be a next time.

Next week will be about instructors. Maybe you’ll read that one, too?

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

Know Your Platforms (The Marketing Author 001, Part 7)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Know Your Platforms”

What is a platform? Is it something you stand on? Something you wear on your feet to look taller? Some form of plat? Well, yes, clearly.

But it’s more than that. It’s a foundation. A display. It’s something that writers are told they must have by all marketing experts the world over if they wish to ever sell anything with their name on it.

It’s something writers usually balk at, especially if that platform is fiction.

I’m one of them. Platform? Psh. My platform is that I write. Like it!

Okay, you don’t have to like it. Nor do you have to accept platform as an unobtainable force that’s always working against you. Start with the simple ideas and complicate them only as needed. Think of platform as your key to the world.

Nonfiction writers understand this better because they usually have something important to say in order to supplement something important they have to share. For example, the person who designed the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner has a platform as the person who designed the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner. If he writes a book about vacuums called This Sucks, you’ll know he speaks the truth. Likewise, if the inventor of the toilet wrote a book called This Stinks, again, you’ll agree that he knows his stuff and that any book he writes about toilets will tell you all you need to know about toilets. That’s his platform. He knows when something stinks.

Fiction writers don’t have to spend as much time building an information platform because their job is to build a fiction platform. Want people to keep coming back? Want people to take your work seriously in the first place? Write fiction they want to read. Simple!

Well, not simple, because you still have to write the stuff that builds your platform. But the concept is simple. If you’re a person who writes, then your platform is as a writer. If you’re a person who writes mysteries, then your platform is as a mystery writer. If you’re a person who says he writes even though he plays video games every free minute he gets, then your platform is as a gamer. Simple.

But that’s not all that platform entails. You also have your publishing platforms.

If you write a stellar book (or stellar proposal) and want to get it traditionally published, then you must first seek representation from a literary agent (consult the Writer’s Market, Guide to Literary Agents, or visit Agent Query for help in finding the right representative), wow him or her with your amazing idea or storytelling skills, and then do all that you can not to piss him off during the submission process, which can happen if you don’t read and follow his exact instructions for submission. Then you must follow the advice I wrote about rejection and feedback, take your knocks like a man, and then giggle like a schoolgirl when somebody actually accepts your work and agrees to terms you can both benefit from (maybe have a literary lawyer on hand, just in case). Then you must go through the process all over again when that agent (assuming you like the person who accepts you enough to keep him or her) begins the submission process to the publishers. Hopefully you’ve got that manuscript finished and polished, or that proposal fully charted and ready for manuscript development, before you get to the publisher-seeking stage. Having your synopses and other helpful supplements will also be to your advantage (you can research these other supplements—I don’t need to do all the work for you). Once the agent finds a publisher who wants your manuscript or idea for a nonfiction book, prepare for the long road of making deadlines, fighting with procrastination, lying to yourself that everything is perfect, lying to yourself that everything is good enough, rewriting, marketing, pretending you like the cover the publisher’s cover artist designed, resigning yourself to allowing the publisher to market the book a specific way, even if that way means dying an early death, and crossing your fingers that the book will even go to print much less find its way onto the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble, and all that for about a dollar a book in royalties (after the advance is paid off), assuming you’ve survived the gauntlet to the end.

Or, you can skip the agent entirely and self-publish it through Amazon (ebook), Smashwords (ebook/distributor), Draft 2 Digital (distributor), Apple (ebook), Barnes & Noble (ebook), Kobo (ebook), CreateSpace (print), or Ingram Spark (print), or do-it-yourself (electronic file or bulk printing) for higher royalties, no gatekeepers, and higher exposure due to handling marketing and distribution yourself, at the cost of being shunned at the brick and mortar stores (unless you sell a lot of copies and don’t mind adopting a refund policy (which only Ingram Spark allows for at the moment).

So, those are your platforms. I probably forgot a few. But you should honestly be researching this stuff by now. There’s no reason to read the seventh installment of The Marketing Author 001 without having researched the various methods you can get published or noticed first. No reason at all.

But thanks for reading anyway! You’re helping my platform!

Next week we’ll talk about salesmen. Whoo hoo!

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

Feedback Is for Winners (The Marketing Author 001, Part 6)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Feedback Is for Winners”

Imagine this: The envelope you’ve been waiting three months to arrive at your house is finally here. You race inside, your heart hammering, not because you’re out of shape, but because you’re terrified with anticipation. You throw all the other mail wherever—you don’t care where any of it lands—and quickly move to your coziest spot in the house, where you try to settle down, even though you can’t. You find your favorite chair, reach for that ice tea you’ve had sitting there beside your lamp since you first anticipated the letter’s arrival, take your sip, and then take your breath. Then you stare at the envelope, close your eyes, and get to work. You begin opening that envelope you’ve been waiting three months for. Your fingers twitch as they slide along the flap. The sweat dripping down to the tips is probably ruining ink inside. But you’re ready for the message it holds. You’ve waited nearly 90 days for it. It didn’t take you that long to even write the manuscript in which this letter addresses. You slip out the paper, unfold it, and open your eyes.

Then you drop the letter to your side and shake your head. Then you toss the letter in that drawer where the others live.

“Thanks for your submission, but this isn’t for us.”
-99% of literary agents you pitch your manuscript to

Well, that’s helpful, you may think in that sarcastic way you address any problem you face. You know sarcasm, that teddy bear you keep with you whenever anyone says something you find offensive, the thing you whip out to cope with stress caused by people who simply don’t understand your genius. We all know that teddy bear because we all carry around the same one. There are so many people who love to step on our dreams without giving a suitable reason that we become reliant on any teddy bear to get us through the nightmare, especially the one that makes us feel good because we think it’s making those who’ve wronged us feel bad. We like our avenging teddy bear more than our comforting bear, even if it doesn’t manage to bring back those people who gave us no helpful advice but a broken heart instead. Commiseration is therapy, up until the point that we give up on writing and become accountants because it’s easier.

But, we don’t really want to give up our dreams, so we pine for anyone who might care about our goals in life and do all they can to support us, just to wash out that sour taste of rejection from our mouths. Our cries for help lead to responses like:

“I don’t read fiction.”
-Your best friend

“I don’t read nonfiction.”
-Your other best friend

“I don’t read books.”
-Everyone else you know

Yet, we know it’s probably futile to get any help when we need it the most. We’re told that we live in a world full of readers, even though we can’t find a single one who wants to read what we’ve written. We fall back into that state of defeat, feeling worse than our protagonist feels the night the bad guy steals his girlfriend away. We poured our hearts and souls into this thing that nobody wants to leave a single comment about, positive or negative, helpful or useless. Nobody wants to give us validation, and it kills us inside.

Well, that’s because we’re asking the wrong people to help us.

First off, New York literary agents don’t know you, so they have no reason to talk to you. Don’t let them become your first line of literary feedback because you’ll be disappointed. They’re too busy sending out a couple hundred other rejection letters to authors just like you to give you any special attention. Granted, if they say anything other than “no thanks,” or really, just anything, then you probably have something special because, even though they may not have room for your work, they probably see enough potential in you to encourage you to keep going on the path you’re going, so that should be compliment enough. But you still won’t know how to improve, so it’s useless feedback.

You don’t want to ask your best friend, either, because even though your best friend cares, he or she won’t necessarily know how to give you feedback if you’re writing in a genre he or she doesn’t read in (if he’s a reader at all). If you’re writing a science fiction business book, and your friend watches a lot of reality television, he or she will probably take several months just to read through your book, and he’ll forget so much about what you’ve written that the only advice he can give you when he’s finished is that, “It’s good,” which isn’t helpful, either. That’s not even a decent ego boost. Anyone can tell you that without reading a word. They don’t even have to look you in the eye. They can be staring at their breakfast, noting how well their eggs were made that morning, and comment “it’s good.” You know they’re talking about the eggs. Don’t wait on your best friend to give you feedback. Keep searching.

Now, at this point you might be wondering why you should bother with feedback. If no one in your circle is willing to give you a serious answer, then why keep pounding at a broken drum? Well, the reason is because feedback, honest feedback, gives us an opportunity to become better writers. Feedback is that element in the writing process that alerts us to the problems that still linger in our text, even when we think we’ve addressed everything we can. Without feedback, our writing is blind. We need feedback, even if we can’t get it easily.

So, how do we get it if the people we care about won’t help us?

This is where we begin to search for online reader groups to give us those coveted responses.

Let’s look at four of them. I’ve provided links, so be sure to check them out once you’ve finished reading this article.

Wattpad

Perhaps the most popular among young adult readers, Wattpad is, in my opinion, the most sophisticatedly designed of the online writing forums, if not the hardest to get any attention for, as its popular writers suck up most of the readership. If you write anything other than young adult romance or fanfiction, you might have a difficult time making headway. But it integrates well with social media and looks really nice, and it gives you readership stats, which is helpful. It also lets you “like” each story and leave a comment below each chapter. So, even though I don’t care for it for my own works, as I don’t seem to write the kind of fiction its readers like (maybe that’s a clue that I need to start writing for new audiences), I still think it’s a good site worth visiting. You might even find your next favorite author there. You might even become someone’s next favorite author there.

FictionPress

FictionPress is an older, yet less sophisticated cousin to Wattpad (if they’re related, which I don’t think they are), in that it has similar analytics for detecting which types of readers are visiting your stories. I think the reviewer community is a little more active here, as well, based on what I’ve seen, but you’ll want to experience the differences for yourself. The design of the site is crude, but it’s functional. I also think it’s a better site for cultivating new fans, as authors here are more willing to help each other (again, based on my experience). Wattpad has the tech on its side, and I also like that Wattpad will let you use your real name (FictionPress requires a screen name, and doesn’t want your real identity seeping through—no idea why), but FictionPress has a higher likelihood for feedback, which is what this article is about, and why I prefer it to Wattpad. Both are worth trying out, but FictionPress has a wider participation rate for genres outside of young adult romance, which is also a plus.

Zoetrope

Zoetrope (part of American Zoetrope) is one of the granddaddies of the online writing forums, and one of the only forums I know of to invite artists of any genre, including and especially screenwriting, to participate. I haven’t been here in about twelve years, and I have no idea if my stories are even still on here. But a recent visit shows me that the place is greatly updated to match with today’s social media needs and I’m tempted to come back. The great things about this site are 1.) You can’t submit a story until you’ve reviewed five others, so reviews are the driving force for this site, 2.) You can submit pretty much anything here, including song lyrics, 3.) You can participate in sponsored contests, 4.) You have a shot at making into Zoetrope: All Story, a prestigious literary magazine moderated by intelligent people, and 5.) The person responsible for this site is Francis Ford Coppola, the award-winning director of the Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now, the latter film which now apparently has a crowdfunding campaign for a video game version. The things you learn when you explore. Anyway, I had a lot of fun with this site back in the day, and I highly recommend putting it on your list of places to test, especially if you write anything other than novels.

Scribophile

I have an account here, but I confess I haven’t used it yet. Of the four sites I’ve listed, this is the only one that has a payment plan, which I’m okay with, but not eager to use at the moment. My understanding is that readers on this site are more serious about feedback than the other sites, so the pricing plan is probably justified. But, like Zoetrope, the service is fueled by reviews, which means you need to be ready to dish it out more often than you expect to take it. Last I checked, you get two free postings and unlimited opportunities to read and review other people’s works. The paid plans increase your submission limit. Again, I wouldn’t list it in this article if I didn’t think it was worth checking out, so you should definitely check it out. But I’m putting it last because it’s the only one that requires money to get the most out of it, and I’d rather show you the free sites first.

Even though each site has its own rules and methodologies, the one thing you can be sure of is that readers use them, and you want to go anywhere where readers hang out.

Now, when using these sites, it’s important to realize that there are two types of feedback, and you can use both to your advantage.

  1. Reader reviews are the more obvious forms of feedback because these will be more likely to tell you what works and what doesn’t. A good reviewer will highlight anything important (on a per chapter basis) that you should know. These same reviewers are speaking not to you, but to the community, so, while you’re learning about what’s wrong with your story, your other potential readers are learning about it, too. That can be a positive or a negative, depending on how many people are harsh reviewers, but because it’s honest feedback, it’s fine. Most of the people who read your work on these free reader sites aren’t going to remember you when they find you on Amazon sometime later, and even if they do, they’ll hopefully assume that you’ve fixed the problems that were addressed on the reader site, and won’t intentionally troll your hard work with one-star reviews. Anything’s possible, of course, but highly unlikely. If you want any kind of feedback, these sites are great places to start.

Note: Readers on these free sites are a lot like readers on Amazon. They’ll consume without talking about the product or acknowledging who they are. To ensure that you get reviewers for your stories on these free sites, you’ll need to give some reviews of your own. A large percentage of authors you review will offer you a review in return as a courtesy. Some of the above sites, like Scribophile and Zoetrope require you give reviews if you expect to get any. These reader sites are very karma-centric in that way. I’d advise reviewing many other people’s works before posting your own (or post your own, and then review a bunch right away). Bank your reputation and your readership early.

  1. You may only get a handful of people to review your stories, but you’ll get plenty more to read them, if you market them well enough—even the free reader sites need some marketing love if you want to stand out among the thousands of other options that readers have. Fortunately, most (if not all) of these sites give you readership statistics, including how many have looked at your story and how many have gotten past chapter 1, 2, etc. Even if no one speaks up, you can still use these tools to get an idea on conversion rates for your story. So, if you have seven readers for Chapter 1 and no readers for Chapter 2 (which is the case for my story When Cellphones Go Crazy on FictionPress), then you know something is preventing them from moving on (my guess regarding my story is that the sections are too long). It’s not nearly as good as getting actual handwritten feedback, but it’s better than nothing.

Clearly these are geared more toward fiction writers, but you can still find online resources for getting nonfiction feedback. The most obvious place is a blog where your topic is also the central focus. You can also look for communities of people who are interested in your topic and solicit them for feedback. This is where sites like Reddit might come in handy. Reddit is pretty finicky about its social rules, but it’s a good place to research what people are interested in. If your nonfiction work answers the questions they have, then you know you’re on to something.

Now, at some point you’re going to release your book, and at some point you’re going to get reviews from your buyers (or downloaders, if your book is free). Just as I tell the college students I tutor prior to them turning in their essays, negative feedback from the instructor is still feedback. Learn from everything. If someone rates your book poorly, then learn why (don’t ask them though—there’s still a form of writer-reader etiquette you need to adopt that says never to complain about any review you’re given, at least not in public, and especially not online), then fix it, or do a better job with the next book. You can take everything you learn and apply it to your wheelhouse of knowledge. As the old saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, but if it does kill you, you probably won’t remember it anyway. Okay, I might’ve made up that second part.

As I discussed in Part 4, rejection is probable, but don’t let it scare you out of putting your work on display. When you write in a bubble, you are only good until it pops. Ask for feedback from people who want to read, and you’ll want to find those people in the places where readers dwell. If you don’t want to sign up for an online reader site like those mentioned above (or the many that I haven’t mentioned), then maybe you can find readers at your local library. Maybe your library hosts a readers’ group. I have reservations about readers who don’t understand what makes a novel or nonfiction book work giving feedback to writers who also don’t understand how to make these things work. But, I do think that everyone knows what they like and what they don’t like, and if you’re writing in the hopes of building a readership, then it’s important to know whether you have something people want to read.

At the end of the day, feedback is for winners, not quitters. Don’t give up, even if your sarcastic teddy bear speaks the sweetest kinds of lies in your ears. It’s not worth it. You’ve got plenty to offer the world. Just get it out there.

Next week we’ll talk about platforms. Yay. Boo. Take your pick.

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Understand Writing Essentials (The Marketing Author 001, Part 5)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Understand Writing Essentials”

You decided you want to write. You started working on your marketing budget. You figured out how to manage your time. You prepared yourself for rejection.

But have you actually learned how to write?

If not, this would be a good time to remind you that it’s important to know what you’re doing if you say you’re a writer.

Disclaimer: Much of what I write here is an echo of my seventh article from the Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun series, but it’s also one of the most important parts of preparing for a writing career, so let’s learn it again! Go ahead, refresh your memory.

Now, I should emphasize right at the start that understanding the writing essentials doesn’t mean that merely typing words or knowing vocabulary is good enough to prove your skill. Any monkey can type, and any monkey has the potential to type out a few actual words. You tap at the keys long enough and you’ll eventually spell out a word someone will recognize. Likewise, you can flip open a dictionary, point to a word, and write it in whatever sentence you’re working on and sound like you know what it means. You might fool a few people, especially those who don’t normally read (assuming you’re savvy enough to get their attention). But you haven’t proven that you know what you’re doing.

We spent the last four weeks talking about the prep work behind establishing a successful writing career driven by effective marketing, but we haven’t yet discussed the most essential role of the writing and publishing journey—the writing itself. If you don’t know how to write, you’re not going to accomplish much with your writing. Common sense, right? For those of you who spend all day sending emojis to your friends, common sense is that thing we call “shared knowledge,” which is what you have when you make decisions or show understanding in reference to an obvious solution to a problem. For example, if you approach a busy intersection, common sense tells you to wait for the crossing signal to display the “walk” sign before you actually cross. The reason nobody waits for that signal is because, well, I’ll leave it up to you to figure that out.

Now, learning how to write is important, but it’s also important to learn how to write the type of work you want to publish. The fact is, writing isn’t just about words, but it’s also about structure, conventions, styles, and reader expectations. If you fail to deliver on any of these elements, then your writing is not going to accomplish any of the goals you’ve set for yourself. In that case, you’ve written into the wind.

Assuming you don’t want to write into the wind, here’s a sample of writing conventions you’ll want to consider before you start:

Are you writing fiction or nonfiction?

-Each major type has its own set of rules, so you’ll need to learn and follow them. For example, nonfiction focuses on true stories; fiction focuses on fake but sounds true stories.

Are you writing a business book or a relationships book (or a combination of both)?

-Every category or genre of nonfiction must address a main idea, and will ideally tell a true story or attempt to solve a problem or inspire you to come up with something profound to share with other readers.

Are you writing a mystery novel or a romance novel (or a mystery novel about why romance is so popular)?

-Every category of fiction must follow a story arc, told in three or four acts, and take the reader through a series of conflicts until the story’s problem has been solved. If there’s no conflict or structure, then there is no story.

Are you writing something original or are you plagiarizing?

-Let’s skip this one. Protip: Don’t plagiarize.

It’s also important that you know how to tell a story, even if you’re writing nonfiction. Readers are more engaged when they’re not only interested in the topic but also when they find themselves captivated by your awesome storytelling skills. Consider any biography you’ve ever read. Chances are, you get more out of the stories about fighters who overcome the odds (like Unbroken or Breaking Night) than those about winners who stay winners and learn nothing in the process (you probably won’t find any successful examples of this). Just because you write a book of nonfiction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to captivate your reader with twists, turns, and a lesson to learn. I recently read a business biography about Nintendo, called Super Mario, that I couldn’t put down because its author knew how to tell a captivating story using real life and a real timeline of events. Nonfiction doesn’t mean boring!

And, of course, there’s grammar. Learn how to write at the sentence level. Yes, it takes time and practice to figure out how to use your commas and semicolons effectively, but your readers will thank you for your clarity. Don’t skimp on the micro level work. While you’re at it, work on vocabulary. You don’t need to write above a ninth grade reading level (and you probably shouldn’t, as higher reading levels will begin to alienate certain readers), but it’s a good idea to know as many words as possible to prevent long phrases from slowing down the reading when you could easily condense your thoughts yet say the exact same thing.

Challenge Time: Use your vocabulary skills to condense the above paragraph to its simplest form without changing the meaning. Submit your answers in the comments below.

Yes, learning how to write takes time and effort, but it’s the core essential to becoming a successful author. You can save all the money in the world and free up all the time in the world, but none of that will give you a successful writing career if you don’t learn how to write. And the best place to learn how to write is any published book, including those books about writing, of which you can find plenty, online and off. That means you should also learn how to read.

In case you missed my previous article on the fundamentals of writing, here again are some additional tips for you to ponder.

Next week we’ll address the happier sister to rejection, feedback!

Note: This article was supposed to go out on Wednesday, March 29th. I usually set these articles on a timer, but I was falling behind this week, and I hadn’t quite finished with the final draft Tuesday night (still needed to proofread and add my links). I thought I’d be able to finish and post Wednesday afternoon, but I was out and about from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, and yesterday I was recovering from exhaustion. So, it’s late. But now it’s posted. I should probably do a post about punctuality and meeting deadlines one of these days.

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The Fun Side of Rejection (The Marketing Author 001, Part 4)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“The Fun Side of Rejection”

Okay, so in The Marketing Author 001, we’ve talked about drive, budget, and time management so far. But what we haven’t discussed yet is intended audience and whether or not they want to hear what we have to say. Yes, we think that everyone is entitled to our opinions, but not everyone will agree. What are we supposed to do with the people who don’t want to hear from us?

Well, ignore them. They’re ignoring us, after all.

But, okay, what about the people who pay attention to us but decide we’re full of crap, or interesting but not interesting enough to respect, or good but a bit overpriced? How do we handle them?

We’re entitled to those people’s opinions.

Here’s the thing: There will always be somebody who doesn’t like what we’re selling. Case in point, in a video series I recently watched, a 17-year-old entrepreneur talks about his first foray into Amazon publishing. When he was 13, he published his first book, but it was so bad (and badly formatted) that his own grandfather gave him a 3-star review (out of five). What he learned in that experience, and what we will all learn at some point, is that you can’t expect to please everyone, and you’re probably lucky to please anyone. This is especially true if you choose to go through traditional publishing (more on that in another article, but good luck with that if you do), but it’s especially true if you’re expecting to extract anyone’s hard-earned money or time to read your stuff. Some people will simply get pissed off, no matter what you do.

It’s human nature to feel ripped off and to preach to others the perils of investing in this shoddy product. It will come to you, even if your name is Harper Lee.

As of this writing, I have five unique reviews posted across several platforms: three for Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One, and two for The Computer Nerd (soon to be rereleased under a new name). Both books average at three stars each, when you total everything together. Specifically, each book has one 5-star review, one 1-star review, and Cannonball City currently has a 3-star review on Goodreads (just discovered that the other day, actually, so thank you to whoever rated it—I was beginning to give up on Goodreads). How does each book get such a wide swath of ratings? The same way any book does: readers have unique tastes and expectations, and you’re either going to deliver or you’re not.

Honestly, there isn’t much to say in this lesson, other than this: If you’re going to put your writing out there, make sure you wear your skin thickener while you’re at it. Because if you don’t, you’re going to spend too much of your precious time living under your covers, hiding from the world, and as we’ve learned in the last part, that’s not good time management. The reality is, if you dare to publish your work on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or anywhere where readers are likely to find you, you’re going to have one of these things happen to you, and probably in this order:

  1. Nobody will buy your book.
  2. Even if you’re lucky enough to get a buyer, it doesn’t mean you’re lucky enough to get a reader.
  3. You might get readers, but nobody will bother to review your work.
  4. A handful of people will rate it, but most will say nothing about it, and no one will write more than two lines about it.
  5. People who thought your book was about something else and missed the point will rate it only to complain about how bad they think it is.
  6. Your friends or their spouses might leave a positive review, if you’re lucky.
  7. You could get a handful of people you don’t know to leave detailed reviews (congratulations; you’re in the top one percent of authors if this happens).
  8. You might get some 4- and 5-star reviews from complete strangers (congratulations; your name is J.K. Rowling).
  9. You could get nothing but thousands of comprehensive 5-star reviews from people you’ll never meet (congratulations; you’re the first).

You get the idea. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s what you’re in for if you don’t have a marketing plan in place.

Oh, yeah, you forgot that this series was about author marketing, didn’t you? To be honest, so did I. But, if you work on your marketing platform early and figure out how to get those beta readers before the book’s launch, you might fare better than the average author at the day of release. You may still get negative reviews (and you should count your blessings if you do because no one will think you got those reviews fraudulently if you’ve gotten some 1-stars in there, and you should never get anything fraudulently), but negative reviews are better than no reviews, so take them while you can. At least that means someone was willing to read your work. They may not get the message you’re delivering, but at least they tried.

The important takeaway from rejection, however, and I’ll talk more about this in my article about receiving feedback (in a couple of weeks), is that sometimes your rejection will yield a reason for rejection, and when that happens, if it happens, you can use it as an opportunity to learn. And, yes, we love positive reviews. We love them because they elevate our egos—I wrote a 5-star reviewed book, so suck it, world!—but we also love them because they validate our decisions, which we all want to make soundly. But there will always be blind fans, as there will always be informative naysayers. We have to train ourselves to take everything with a grain of salt and remember that not everyone belongs to our audience, and not everyone understands our vision, but not everyone is ignorant, and some people who reject us do so with good reason, and it’s our job to listen if they tell us why.

But we should also forgive those who don’t tell us a thing. At least they bothered to leave a rating, and at least they bothered to buy our books. So, chill the next time you see a bad review, or are told “this isn’t for me.” At least they didn’t ignore you. Some writers don’t even have the luxury of getting noticed.

Next week we’ll focus on the writing essentials.

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Time Management Looks Like Success (The Marketing Author 001, Part 3)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Time Management Looks Like Success”

Last week we talked about budgeting our money. This week we’re going to talk about budgeting our time.

Before we go anywhere with this, I think it’s important to acknowledge the value that we put on each. If you’ve started building a marketing budget, and if you’ve made any progress toward securing payment on your next big marketing need, then you probably feel accomplished and progressive. Good for you; you recognize the value of money. But have you actually created the work that you’re going to pour all of that marketing dollar juice into? If not, then perhaps you need a refresher on the value of time.

Let’s start with a brief narrative about my state of mind the day I wrote this article’s first draft:

Even though I’m posting this article on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, I’m writing it on Monday the 6th, while I am currently on vacation.

And, guess what? I’m also sick. Yay!

Okay, so what does this mean for The Marketing Author 001? It means I had plans to be up early today, at an hour when I’d normally be at work, and get loads of writing, research, and whatever important things I can think of done, “whatever” including anything I normally can’t do when I’m at work. But because I’m sick and don’t want to face the world today, I slept in. I slept in hard. I’m writing this in the evening, when I’d be home from work anyway, because I got a late start today. My opportunities for accomplishing more were inhibited by my reality for having time for less. When I’m sick, I don’t want to think, or speak, or do anything other than sleep. If I don’t have to work, my excuses for sleeping in grow. That’s what happened this morning.

(And now for a quick writing break because my pizza is here and I must eat it.)

Okay, see? Distractions abound, and distractions like dinner will happen. Sickness, too. Having these things happen on vacation when I’m supposed to have all the time in the world to get anything and everything done will also happen. At some point, I just have to expect the distractions and figure out how to get around them. We all do.

This is not a surprise. Distraction is an enemy of time, and one that we all fall into at some point.

But so is disinterest. That, too, is something we all fall into at some point. Surprise!

Okay, so let’s pause, breathe, and explore this idea for a moment. We write because we want to. That’s what we tell ourselves all the time. Right? No one is forcing us to produce our business books or novels because we’re beginners who have no writing contracts. Right? We write because we want to.

But, do we really want to?

Really?

Often, unprofessional writers will make the excuse that they don’t have time to write because they work too much or have families to give attention to or have too much content on their DVRs going to waste, and if they start writing, they have to neglect those other things, and why would they want to do that? And sure, that may be true if they think they have to devote eight hours a day to writing, or fit in those requisite 2000 words before bed that every professional writer claims to write every day.

But those are just excuses. What does excuse even mean? To get out of something? What are we getting out of? Something we want to do???

Tell you what; to save time, let’s just skip to the list of ways we can manage our writing time better, since that’s what we really want out of this message. It’s always about the lists, right? Here we go:

  1. Make sure you want to write.

The end.

Yep, that’s the whole list.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t writers always having to force themselves to write? The answer is no. No, sometimes writers actually want to write. Just depends on what they’re writing. To paraphrase a quote from my favorite author, Max Barry, if you’re lacking the motivation to write a particular scene, chances are that scene isn’t very good and probably doesn’t need writing anyway. So, work on a different scene. If the whole book is going downhill, then write another book. I think this also applies to nonfiction. If you’re struggling to work through a particular piece of information, ask yourself if you really need to include it in the book. If the whole thing is flawed, ask yourself if you’re working on a topic that anyone can actually benefit from reading about.

But, what if we have an interesting or helpful topic and still have to force ourselves to write? Well, the straightforward answer is that we just force ourselves to write, just like we force ourselves to go to work. End of story. If we want to write, we will. If we don’t, we won’t.

Or, if we’re professionals who actually want to develop a business through writing, we’ll write anyway, even if we don’t want to. We’ll sneak writing into the crannies of our days. Or we’ll carve out large chunks of hours at those times we know we’re at our creative best. Or we’ll hire an assistant to type while we dictate over the phone, assuming we’ve established a budget for that sort of thing.

It’s important to realize that we give most of our time to the people or things we care most about. If we find ourselves making excuses why we can’t make the time to do something, it’s time to figure out where our hearts have gone because our hearts clearly aren’t in the business we say we’ve sunk it into.

Truth is, it’s easy to make excuses why we can’t write today. And those excuses can cut a deep gash into our allotted 24-hour days. But if we really want to become successful at this craft—the learning, the doing, and the sharing—then we gotta stop making those dumb excuses and get back to work. We don’t have to spend eight hours a day writing. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish in just eight minutes (I mean, if you can improve your abs in that much time, imagine what you can do to your brain!), so stop coming up with reasons why you can’t write. If you want to be a professional, then start acting like one, and if you are a professional, start setting a good example for those who are trying to learn from you. I still have to decide if that’s a blanket statement to all professionals, or if I’m just talking to myself here.

Next week we’ll focus on rejection.

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Make Sure You Want It (The Marketing Author 001, Part 1)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Make Sure You Want It”

Once upon a time, I was told that writers, on average, don’t make any money. I laughed at this. Of course they make money. Ever hear of James Patterson? Stephen King? J.K. Rowling? Should I continue? Writers, too, can make money, even better money than their doctors and lawyers. All they need is Powerball level luck. I got this.

Yeah, I don’t got this.

When I took English as a major in college, I saw the possibilities waiting: copywriting jobs, editing jobs, marketing jobs, and so on. Do you want to teach? they’d all ask me. No! I saw copywriting, editing, marketing, etc. in my future. I graduated over a decade ago.

I now tutor for a living. That’s one stage below teaching.

Sheesh.

When I was in high school, and the counselors asked what I “wanted to be when I grow up,” I didn’t know what to tell them. I settled on “computer applications” because I liked computers, but I didn’t like programming; I liked writing. I settled on this fusion of job goals for most of my high school career because it seemed to be what aligned closest to my actual goals. I was fully aware for most of that journey that what I was essentially saying was that I wanted to be a secretary when I grow up. Eventually I stopped lying to myself that this was an aspiration, caved to reality, and changed my focus. When I got to college, I chose “Liberal Arts” as my major, since that was in “Communications,” which was the only field I could stomach as a career choice given my options at the time. None of that would lead me any higher than the rank of secretary, most likely. I sucked it up because I trusted the education system for some reason, and I assumed it would all work out in the end.

Finally, when I got to the University of Central Florida, I could choose the major I wanted most: English. And, to my even happier surprise, I could choose a specific track tailored to creative writing. Finally, I could work toward the life and career goals I actually wanted: I could become a creative writer when I grow up!

English? Do you want to teach? No! I want to write for a living.

I got that degree, but I couldn’t get any real opportunities with any company to write anything. I’ve been told time and again that technical writers, copywriters, editors, copyeditors, etc. are paid reasonably well (at least three times better than what I make in education currently), but what I wasn’t told is that you need a portfolio of contracts you’ve fulfilled with other companies prior to getting a job to show off what you’ve done (not what you can do), that freelancing is often reputation based (meaning, someone had to take a chance on you once upon a time, and then you had to do such a great job that they’d be willing to hire you again), and that to get a job doing anything worth the education you have, you have to know someone on the inside who believes in your ability enough to give you that shot (and as I’ve discovered in certain cases, sometimes that’s not even enough to get the job).

The end result has been heartbreaking, frustrating, and not a day goes by that I don’t regret investing thousands of dollars into getting what amounts to a useless English degree. I like helping people get better at writing, but I don’t like swimming in debt while having to live in a garage to spare myself from paying rent or a mortgage to anyone. Not to mention, my poor car is looking like it’s ready for the junkyard, it needs a paint job so badly, a paint job that would break my budget. It would’ve been awesome if one of these companies I’ve applied to over the years had believed in me enough to give me a shot.

The things we dream and the realities that follow…

This is why we write fiction (or nonfiction in some cases). We need something to perpetuate the dream as far and as long as possible, as reality tries so hard, and often succeeds, at killing it.

When we make the decision to write and publish our own books, we set ourselves up for a new level of heartbreak, under the same exact conditions given to the job market: It doesn’t matter how good we are, or how well we can entertain, educate, or prove our talents; if no one is willing to take a chance on us, then we will come up zero every time. You can love your craft all you want; until you get someone else to believe in you enough to actually give you money for your work, your craft, the love of your life won’t feed you or give you a stable roof over your head.

At the end of the day, you need to make the decision that you write because you have to, because it’s the only thing that makes sense to you. Maybe you’ll get lucky, like Stephen King, who says in his book On Writing that he couldn’t imagine doing anything other than writing, so that was his excuse for taking the gamble on a writing career (it worked out just fine for him, by the way)—sometimes the chance pays off, too. But even if you know you won’t make a dime, you need to make the decision that you’ll write anyway, because you have to, not because you expect it to make your dreams comes true (except for maybe that one dream about writing a book someday).

But you should still strive to make it work in your favor. You have a message to share, a story to tell, a reason to need to write. At some point, you’re going to realize that writing is a terrible career if you want to eat something other than soup seven nights a week. But defending criminals in court for six figures a year is equally terrible if you’re betraying your heart or your nature. Sometimes you just have to realize that there is no greener grass, that all of it has its pros and cons, so you may as well just stick to the thing that gives you the most fulfillment. For me, that isn’t defending criminals who deserve to be locked up. For me, that means writing.

If you feel in your gut that you need to give writing a chance, and by proxy, publication a chance, then be ready for the pain. But, no amount of pain can deny the end result: a book you can be proud of, and a wide world in which to share it in. If anything, sometimes the pain is worth it. Any woman who gives birth to a happy child could testify to that. Sometimes, in spite of the statistics, the naysayers, and the quite likely reality that you won’t make any of your investments back, you just got to do it anyway. When that story or instructional burns within you, you’ll lose sleep if you can’t get it out, which is worse than losing money.

Of course, if you’re smarter than me, you’ll get that six-figure job and make time to write on the side. Doctors and lawyers publish books all the time. As do secretaries and people who work in education.

If you’re looking into the future and you want to see success, do what you can to secure it with something realistic first. You can always write on the side. Chances are, if you specialize in a field (we’ll say politics for laughs), you can use your knowledge to tell even deeper stories than those of us who have no specialization. What can a doctor write about? Medical dramas! What can an English teacher write about? Literature analysis dramas! Wait…no; that sounds awful. Or does it?

The purpose of The Marketing Author 001 series is to show you how to be ready for the opportunities that come your way, assuming you have decided that you need to write. Next week, we’ll talk about money. But before we worry about money, we need to get our goals in order. And, in order to prioritize our goals, we need to understand what our goals will get us. We need to make sure that we want this, this writing life. It’s an exciting life, sure. But like anything else, it comes with its buckets of stress. You ever wonder why writers drink so much? Because it’s a stereotype that isn’t necessarily true today. But also because writers don’t know how to relax. There’s always a story to tell, just as there is always a bill to pay. Stress comes from not knowing which will come knocking first.

Can you handle that? If so, then let’s get on the rollercoaster together.

Come back next Wednesday for Part 2, budgeting.

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