Tag Archives: writing

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?

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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!

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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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The Marketing Author 001

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

“Introduction”

We all aspire to become excellent at what we do, and what we do, we hope, is somehow tied into our hopes and dreams. People who aspire to build the greatest architecture in the world hope that their names will be synonymous with structures equaling the likes of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, or Freedom Tower in New York, or that skyscraper in Dubai that Tom Cruise risked his life scaling for a scene in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the Burj Khalifa. But to reach that level, these dreaming architects must prepare themselves for greatness, and while many may want to just skip to the awesome, becoming awesome generally takes a few baby steps and a lot of planning.

As an author who aspires to become well-sustained on passive income from my novels, especially from my A Modern-day Fantasy series, which I’m still working on and will be for a while still, I can relate to this thinking, to this become-awesome-today-and-worry-about-the-details-getting-there-tomorrow idea of success. And thanks to my hubris at having great titles to share and ignorance at having a great marketing plan to get the word out, my journey out the gate has been a rocky reflection of this poor excuse for an ideology.

Fortunately, I’ve spent countless hours—amounting to weeks most likely (there’s 168 hours in a week, so, you know, math)—studying how to market, how to give my books the best foot forward and so on, and the one thing I’ve learned consistently in this journey is that everyone has an opinion about what works, what doesn’t, and that all of them say pretty much inconsistent things to the tune of a similar drumbeat.

Granted, I like these inconsistent things because it convinces me that any strategy could work, as long as it isn’t destructive in nature. Coming up with my own brilliant ideas could also be a strategy, if I had brilliant ideas to come up with. And sometimes I think I do have brilliant ideas.

But, I often cut my ideas short when I think about the cost involved or the legislation I have to deal with to ensure appropriate business. Then I tend to bury my ideas when I realize the planning involved is extensive and the dedication to consistent marketing is unrelenting. And, of course, the worst part of all marketing, the thing that puts to the death all of my good intentions, is the money needed to make it all happen. I usually don’t have anything left over after my bills are all paid each month. How am I supposed to do much with nothing?

The gurus I listen to all want to give free advice up to a point. But then they want money for their truest lessons. That, too, is a sound business model. For them. For me, as someone who’s trying to learn on the tightest of budgets, it’s a terrible business model, as the high cost of learning anything valuable makes it a challenge getting the information I need to succeed. I can generally learn something from these people’s free advice, but probably not enough. And they know that. That’s why they write books, sell premium courses, and save their best stuff for the paying customer. It’s an education, dangit!

Yet, these people know what they’re talking about. They’re marketers, and good ones at that. Their strategies, though sometimes conflicting with other strategies, work, so I’m shown in their promotional videos. I, and any writer (or inventor, game designer, etc.) who aspires for success, should listen to any and all of them and sort out the elements that work best.

But the money….

This is when I realized that for every Author 101, Author Marketing 101, Author Business 101, and so on that’s out there, there is a need for a prerequisite course to prepare us for the education and marketing ahead, a 001 if you will.

I don’t know of any that are out there, so I figure it’s time to start one if none exists (or is so obscure that no one has bothered to sell me on it in some lengthy email campaign). So, that’s what The Marketing Author 001 will aspire to do: To help pave a smooth road ahead of the drive that aspiring authors (and anyone else with a great idea) plan to take on their journeys toward greatness.

I won’t charge for this. I don’t expect there to be any video involved (I’m on a tight budget, remember?). I don’t know that it will even go beyond the first post—there may be no need for anything past my initial thoughts. I just want to share what’s on my mind regarding my rocky journey out the self-publishing gate and hopefully help aspiring anybodies to adequately prepare for the 101 instructions that flood the Internet and the marketing measures necessary to drive success.

As per my Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun series, I don’t know how many installments I’ll have for The Marketing Author 001 as of this introductory article, but I will have at least one starting on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at 1pm EST. If more follow, I’ll update this post with links and estimated times of arrival, so bookmark this page and check back often. Or check the tabs at the top of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm for an upcoming section for “Blog Series Posts,” where I’ll give easy access to any series I’ve written. (I haven’t set that section up yet, but I’ll revise this post once I do.)

Until then, remember this piece of advice: Preparation is more important than release. If you pull the trigger before setting up the target, you’ll hit the wrong thing, or hit nothing at all.

Check back here soon for Part 1 and the roster of potential future posts.

Oh, and please subscribe to my blog to receive updates. I always forget to suggest that. There’s your first free lesson: Remind your readers or customers to take action that’ll keep you relevant. The button to subscribe can be found at the bottom of this page. Just as I promised, that advice is free.

Update (3/1/17):

Just a quick programming note and content update: I’m going to experiment with a release schedule for later in the evenings, between 7 – 9pm, instead of early afternoons. I’m still trying to find the best time for connectivity with readers. The release schedule may seem screwy at first, but that’s because I want to maximize visibility, and that might require experimentation. I know; it’s the Internet, and an article release schedule shouldn’t matter, but if no one’s reading, then something’s wrong, and I want to fix it. (And I know it has nothing to do with the quality of the articles because this is golden information, people!) Also, I have a brief outline for The Marketing Author 001 series. As of now, I’ve got plans for 11 articles. Make sure you stick around and read them all. I’m sure they’ll open your eyes to things unseen.

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 4): The Importance of Managing Fun

Missed Part 3? Read it here.

“The Importance of Managing Fun”

Stephen King had to start somewhere. His book, On Writing, gives us a history lesson on how he started, how he grew, and how he became a success. His main message to aspiring writers is to remain consistent. But, he also encourages writers to bring with them a sense of discovery. There’s a turf war in writing right now between the “plotters” and the “pantsers,” the latter of which King is the king, but both camps agree that discovering the story is as important to writing as knowing its structure and its ending. Discovery is important to the writer because the writer is the story’s first reader, and emotionally, it makes sense for the writer to plot the story along as if he is discovering things for the first time with the reader.

This is where writing for fun comes into play.

One of the big questions when we write anything (for this argument, we’ll focus on fiction, even though nonfiction writers have the same question to ask) is whether or not we should write for an audience or write for ourselves. If we’re writing an adventure story when our personal preference is thrillers, for example, are we being true to ourselves as authors? If we love screwball comedies, but are forcing ourselves to write a serious vampire drama because it’s what’s hot in the market at the moment, are we doing our job well? If we discover things about our protagonists, even if we don’t actually care about his journey because he doesn’t live within our preferred genre, are we still expected to “ooh” and “ahh” at the discoveries the way a potential reader might?

To that, I say, the author is also the audience.

Now, this isn’t to suggest exclusivity, of course. As we take writing more seriously, we need to start asking ourselves whom we want to read our stuff. But the real first question is whether or not we want anyone else reading our stuff. As I said in “The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear,” I began my writing life as a private citizen, unwilling to share my stories with anyone who didn’t also wear my underwear. As I wrote more and had more fun doing it, however, I had a greater willingness to share what I was writing. (If I had fun writing it, then maybe others would have fun reading it.) I started by sharing my work with my dad; then I started reading my stories over the phone to a select group of friends. Nothing I wrote was “good” per se, but I enjoyed writing it. And they enjoyed reading it (so they said). But I was not about to release any of it to the public.

Why?

Simply put, I wasn’t ready to put myself out there.

I’m an introvert by nature; though, life has taught me that even introverts have to show their faces to the world from time to time. The invention of the Internet has helped me to combat my fears. It’s given me a comfortable way to get out there, spread my wings, and grow as not just a writer but an author, too, as sharing work can be autonomous, based on discovery, and not require me to slap potential readers in the face with copies of my manuscript as I shout, “Read this!” In other words, I can put my name on a work, keep my face off of it if I want, and avoid the awkward conversations that could’ve formed had I given someone my work directly.

The flipside to using the Internet, however, is that now anyone can read anything I’ve posted anywhere, including the good works and the crap I should’ve kept to myself, and now I can’t hide my imperfections, my poor thoughts on a subject I know little about, my lame turns of phrase, my general ignorance about how the world works, and perhaps worst of all, my inexperience with business and my lack of professionalism as an author. Once it’s out there, it’s out there for all to see. And even though my memory sucks, plenty of people have solid memories that endure years upon years, and they’re the ones who will inevitably read the stuff that made me want to remain a private citizen in the first place. Question then becomes, should I put my name on this thing at all?

Well, there’s a flipside to that, too. Putting my name on crap means everyone who finds it will now think I’m a bad writer. But leaving good work anonymous will mean anyone who finds it won’t know I’m a good writer.

Everything is a risk. Putting our names on the line like that is a risk, just as leaving our names off of things is also a risk. Crazy thought, huh?

That’s when we need to decide whether we want to write for business or for fun. We usually begin our writing life for fun, just as I did, and it’s okay to write for fun. But when we post our work for the public, we have to acknowledge whether or not writing for fun is still our goal. Otherwise, why would we bother sharing anything with strangers? We’re the ones supposed to be having fun, right? Are the people who read our work having fun? Does that even matter?

I’m sure Stephen King began writing for fun. But here’s the kicker: I think he still writes for fun. I think it was, is, and will always be in his blood. The difference now is that he gets paid to do it. He had to start somewhere, and even he will tell you that he’s written crap once upon a time. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I’m pretty sure he admits that in his book, On Writing.

The reality is, we should write for fun. It’s okay to write for fun. But we should also forward-think a little. Just like posting about our bad day on Facebook, we should think about what sending this piece of writing up the line will do in the future. Will we be okay tomorrow if this gets out today, or will posting this cause something consequential and irreversible? And is that a bad thing? Perhaps that’s why we need coaches and mentors in our lives. We need gatekeepers to let us know if what we’re about to do is helpful or harmful, and if the job we’re doing as a writer will still be fun tomorrow if this gets out today.

It’s okay to write for fun, but we should have some sense about why we’re doing it first.

Next Week: “The Importance of Balancing Priorities and Knowing Audience”

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 3): The Importance of Imperfection

Missed Part 2? Read it here.

“The Importance of Imperfection”

So, let’s take a hypothetical situation here. Let’s pretend we’ve written something stupid, incoherent, and laughable. But let’s also pretend that we wrote it for fun. Let’s pretend we wrote it knowing it would be stupid, incoherent, and laughable. Should we present it to the public?

I’ve been part of two camps when it comes to authorship: professionalism and completionism. With professionalism, we acknowledge that we have a goal to produce quality work for a quality customer. If the work we produce falls apart, injures the end user, or sows the seeds of discord, we probably don’t want to share it with the public, not unless we’re evil supervillains bent on taking over the world. Doing so could damage our brands. However, with completionism, if we have the obsessive-compulsive need to provide everything we’ve produced to satisfy those obsessive-compulsive collectors who wish to acquire our entire inventory of products, past, present, future, forgotten, conceptual, and should’ve-been-destroyed, then it might make sense to share it all with the public, warts included, even if presenting ugly work will still, inevitably, damage our brands. I can sometimes justify leaning on both, as professionalism will keep people coming back for more while completionism will give true fans a chance to see a career charted, from terrible failures to resounding successes, and feel as though they are part of the author’s journey toward greatness. We all want to be a part of something great, don’t we? But should there be a choice between professionalism and completionism? Can both coexist?

In either case, we have to acknowledge that genius is rare, crap is inevitable, and neither should end a person’s career before it begins. Consider this: The original draft of To Kill a Mockingbird was probably decent but lackluster. Harper Lee had time to refine it, of course, and refine it she did. She refined it so well that high schools now teach it as important literature. But, one of the reasons she could refine it so well was because she had actually written Go Set a Watchman first, which wasn’t so well-refined, and her editor knew that and convinced her to write a prequel and release that book instead. Her experience with the first book not only helped her to figure out her story and characters, but it allowed her to write a masterwork for her second.

But, was writing and releasing a perfect novel on her second attempt really the best thing for Harper Lee, or for her readers for that matter? For over five decades, To Kill a Mockingbird was the only Harper Lee book we knew. Go Set a Watchman is older than To Kill a Mockingbird, yet Harper Lee was wise to hold it back for as long as she had, according to her editor, her sister, and probably many others, for it does not measure up to the same quality standard as To Kill a Mockingbird, not then, and not now, and to release anything of lower quality would have inevitably driven down her author stock. If we consider her legacy, however, we could argue that maybe she should have released it sooner anyway, perfect or not.

Question is, why could we argue something so preposterous? If releasing Go Set a Watchman could damage her perfect record, then why bother releasing it at all, decades ago, or even today? Didn’t we ruin Jurassic Park with all of those terrible sequels? Isn’t Star Wars tainted by those awful prequels? If we had left Indiana Jones with just three movies, couldn’t we say, forever, that it’s the perfect adventure series, and not one where the hero can survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator?

Maybe the release of Go Set a Watchman in the 1950s or 1960s would’ve damaged her perfect record. But it also could’ve led her to writing and releasing a third book, a fourth, and so on, furthering her career, as now the high standard set by To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged and ultimately failed to match, and thus the need to remain perfect is diminished. Maybe by failing at sustained perfection, the world could’ve been blessed with a vast library of Harper Lee books to follow, ranging across decades of southern life, with some being lackluster, but others being masterworks. If only she (and her editor) had just taken the chance to release Go Set a Watchman to the public decades sooner, we might’ve seen a brilliant writer fulfill her brilliant destiny of having a robust range of brilliant titles in her bibliography instead of just two (one perfect and one flawed).

We want to produce perfection, and we want to make sure that perfection is all the world will see from us. But, if we wait on perfection, we will never build our careers. Likewise, we potentially shoot ourselves in the foot if we achieve perfection anyway. Think about that. I’ve been saying for the last year or so, “We can’t improve on perfection. Any change we make to it will just make it worse.” If we write the perfect book, we damn ourselves to that perfection, and we can never write anything else ever again, lest we ruin our perfect reputations. So, maybe it’s better that we tell ourselves it’s okay to write crap, and that it’s okay to release it to the public whenever it reaches a stage just above crap. Maybe we’ll give ourselves a chance to succeed with that attitude.

If the masters want to stall their careers because they’ve achieved self-actualization, that’s their business. I like writing, and I like sharing it with anyone who identifies as a fan, so I’ll keep producing, even if it’s simply enjoyable and less than life-changing. Doesn’t mean I won’t try to write the stuff that impacts the world. Just means I’ll probably follow it up with something fun. After all, Nicholas Cage may have won the Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, but it didn’t stop him from following it with Con Air and Face/Off. And let’s be honest, the world is better off for that decision.

Next Week: “The Importance of Managing Fun