Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Road To Publishing – Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts chronicling my journey to publication.

Photo courtesy of Visual Hunt

“So much to do. So much to learn.” 

Okay, I finished the first draft of my debut urban fantasy last month. I’m pretty much done, right? All I have to do is polish up the manuscript, have it edited, and then upload it to Amazon. The champagne is cooling even as I type.

Hold on, not so fast. According to everything I’ve read, I should have been working on my author platform long before now. I should already have an author website, an email list, and a tribe of followers on social media. I should have already begun connecting with other authors in my genre. I should already have a small, yet rabid, group of superfans.

The sad truth is, I don't have any of those things. (Hangs head in shame) My focus the last few years has been on finishing my book, not worrying about how I would sell it. Luckily for me, I’m a slow writer, which means I still have plenty of time to accomplish these things before my book comes out.

But where do I begin? I know I need a dedicated author website, but what should it look like? How often should I send out newsletters, and what should they contain? Which social media platforms should I focus on? What should I put into my automated email welcoming sequence? I’ve spent the last two years researching all this book marketing stuff, but there’s a big difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. In the end, I have to decide which approach works best for me. So, with all the aforementioned questions, what should be  my very first step in my grand plan to conquer the book-reading universe?

Build a list of comp authors.

Not what you were expecting, was it? Think about it. If I want to evaluate the various techniques for building an author platform, what better way is there than studying how other authors go about it? Having a list of authors will allow me to:
  • Compare their websites
  • See how they engage with their readers
  • Discover what social media platforms work for them
  • Find out which editors and cover designers they recommend
  • Lots of other things I haven't even thought of yet.

So how am I compiling this list? 

Step 1. Find 20-30 authors in my genre, urban fantasy. I'll want a nice mix of A-listers, B-listers, as well as authors who are just starting out. Each group has different strengths. Finding them is easy. I read urban fantasy, so I already know seven or eight names of authors whose books I enjoy. By entering their names on Amazon, I can peruse their “also bought” lists and find more authors. This shouldn't take more than an hour.

Step 2. It’s important to find authors outside my sub-genre, too. In my case, there's epic fantasy, magical realism, dark fantasy, etc. Do their platforms differ from urban fantasy authors? If so, how? And I don’t want to forget science fiction authors either. My story weaves in some science along with the fantasy elements, so finding authors that mix fantasy and science is a must.

Once I have all these names, what am I going to do with them? I’ll tell you next time.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Insecure Writer and Stepping Into the Publishing Arena

Today is January's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

What makes me an Insecure Writer this month?

It’s the start of a new year, which also marks the beginning of my roller-coaster ride of becoming published.

Last year, my goals were to finish uploading my Hogwarts fanfiction to Wattpad, complete the first draft of my urban fantasy, and begin making contact (once a week) with other authors in the fantasy and science fiction genres. 

As you might expect, the results were mixed—mostly due to events beyond my control. 

Back in February, I was downsized by my company, causing major disruptions both to my family and my writing.  The edits to my fanfiction ground to a halt, as did my plans to connect with other authors. Needless to say, searching for another job can be kind of time-consuming.  

I'm happy to say things have finally settled down. The job market in my area is not good, at least in my area of expertise, but I eventually settled into tutoring chemistry online. It doesn’t pay nearly as well, but we have enough savings to keep us afloat, so all is good. And in a classic “lemons to lemonade” bit of self-delusion, I took all this as a sign that I should become more of a full-time writer. 
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Hey, at least I finished the first draft of my WIP. Woohoo!

So, now it's time to get my butt into gear and buckle down for the real work of publishing my story. Editing the book, formatting it, uploading it to Amazon, and then marketing the darn thing isn’t going to happen by itself. So here are my 2020 goals.

  • Publish my urban fantasy.
  • Make significant headway on the sequel.
  • Connect with other authors in my genre.
  • Build an author website.
  • Post on this blog (the one you’re reading now) on a regular schedule again.

The original goal of this blog was to chronicle my journey as a writer. Although that journey will never really end—there’s always more to learn—my focus has changed over the past few years. These days, I’m more interested in the marketing side of things. For this reason, this blog will now be concerned with chronicling my journey to becoming a published author. I’ll still have the occasional post on the craft of writing, but mostly it’ll be about the trials and tribulations of publishing. 

I’ve done tons of research into topics like reader outreach, marketing, and publishing, but to be honest, these are just abstract concepts floating around my head. It’s figuring out what to do on a day-to-day process that I have to figure out now.

I’ll keep you updated. 


P.S. This month's question asks what started me on my writing journey. Just consider the name of this blog and you'll have the answer.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Insecure Writer and Finally Completing That First Draft

Today is December's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

What makes me an Insecure Writer this month?

Knowing that I’m about to enter a new stage of my writing career.   

I had many writerly goals for 2019.  Most of them won’t be met—no surprise there—but I feel fairly confident that I will finish the first draft of my debut urban fantasy by the end of December. There is still plenty of editing to do before it’s ready for publication, but I’m on the home stretch.
Photo courtesy of VisualHunt

As happy as this makes me, it also means I’ll have to start worrying about the rest of this writing business. Cover designers, formatting concerns, figuring out the Amazon system, marketing, mailing lists, reader magnets, social media. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time studying these topics over the past several years, which means I now know enough to know what I don’t know. It all sounds very exciting, if not outright daunting, but I’m ready to dive into the deep end. 

And, of course, while all this is going on, I need to be writing the next book in the series, since the experts say that long periods of time between releases tends to kill interest in a series. 

This month's IWSG question is:

How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream?

If I were really living the dream, I’d be living in a castle somewhere in Britain, living off the proceeds from my writing, and sharing tea with J.K. Rowling. In reality, I’d hope that 

1). the writing would come more easily after having a few books under my belt. 

2). I’d have moved on to my next series (or two). 

3). That most of the marketing stuff would be running on automatic. 

In other words, I’d want my writing to seem more like a real job and less like a pipedream. 

Until next year!


Thursday, November 7, 2019

My Belated IWSG Post for November

Today is November's belated contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why makes me an Insecure Writer this month?

Not knowing what the coming months will bring.  

Needless to say, despite last month's post that I might be doing NaNoWriMo this year, a lack of progress on my outline had caused me to decide I won't be competing this year. A variety of life events, including a cat who's been ailing for the last month and a half, have kept my attention elsewhere. Unfortunately, I'm the kind of person who can't concentrate on writing when I have other things on my mind, especially when it comes to health issues for family members (which, of course, includes all our cats.) 

This month's IWSG question is:

What's the strangest thing you've ever googled in researching a story?

I can't think of anything particularly strange, but I've done plenty of research into alchemy and old legends, both of which can be huge rabbit holes once I get started. I've come across some seriously weird stuff in there. 

I've also been researching chemistry for my current WIP, deciding what my antagonist's secret plan for taking over the world should be. I don't find much of the chemistry strange, but I suppose a non-chemist might disagree.

In other sad news, Halloween is over. 😔 And to add insult to injury, last night it snowed. I was hoping we could put it off a little longer.

For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck!


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Insecure Writer And The Run-up To NaNoWriMo

Today is October's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why makes me an Insecure Writer this month?

Not knowing if I’m participating in next month’s NaNoWriMo or not.  

NaNoWriMo, for those of you who don’t know, stands for National Novel Writing Month, and is all about writing 50,000 words during the month of November.  Despite being a slow writer, I attempted it once years ago, but only made it halfway through before calling it quits. Although I had a rough outline before I began, that outline rapidly fell apart as the days passed (new ideas occurred to me, old ideas suddenly were no longer plausible) and there was simply no point in writing another 25k words that I knew would be thrown away anyway.

But as I near the completion of my debut urban fantasy, it’s occurred to me that I should already be working on, or at least thinking about, the sequel. After all, the best way to market your book is to write the next one in the series. Allowing two or three years to pass between books is a great way to kill interest in your books. In addition, knowing what the next book will be about will allow me to add the necessary hooks to the first book.

This year, I’m going to have a much more detailed outline in place. Or at least that’s the plan. Something I’ve thought long and hard about before I begin writing on November 1. It won’t be a perfect outline—many of my best ideas don’t come until I begin writing—but as long as I don’t veer too far off the range, it should be good enough for 50k words. 

So October marks my prep month for NaNo.  I’ve given myself 30 days to concentrate on the sequel, jotting down as many notes and ideas as I can. If I haven’t made any real headway by November, then I’m calling it off. But if I have a real idea of what the story will be about, then I may go for it.

I’ll let you know what I decide on November’s IWSG day.

Until then, wish me luck.


Monday, September 23, 2019

Are Your Fight Scenes Boring the Reader?

Photo courtesy of Sander van der Wel on Visual hunt.

After many years, I’m finally approaching the climax of my urban fantasy. It’s been a long time coming, but as I struggle with the final chapters, I realize the journey isn’t quite yet over. My heroine is breaking into the antagonist’s hideout, ready to take him on, and based on the obstacles I’ve set up, it’s going to take a bit of thought to get everything to work out the way I want. 

I’ve gone back and searched through my collection of urban fantasies and space operas for inspiration on fight scenes. This has been useful, but along the way, I’ve been reminded of things NOT to do in fight scenes. Here’s a partial list: 

1. The author sets up a scenario that appears pretty much impossible for the MC to win, at least based on the author’s description, then promptly has the hero successfully fight their way through all the obstacles doing the same standard stuff they’ve done throughout the book. What the heck happened? Did the opposition go on break? And no, having the hero take some minor damage in the process doesn’t make up for this. 

2. The author tosses in a battle scene simply because there hasn’t been any conflict in a while, or because it’s the only way the author can meet their word count. This is an especially common problem for writers who pump out a lot of books per year. Generic fight scenes don’t amp up the tension. Readers skim through them. At least I do. 

3. The fight scenes scattered throughout the story are so generic most of them could switch places and readers wouldn’t notice. Don’t be lazy, folks. Spend time crafting each battle until it’s unique. Use the setting to set up interesting problems for the MC to solve, or that allow the MC to find novel ways to defeat the bad guys. Add some factor that neutralizes the methods that worked for the MC in previous fights. Let knowledge gained by the MC over the course of the story be used to develop new tactics. 

Several examples of entertaining fight scenes can be found in Allow of Law by Brandon Sanderson. They’re fun to read and almost always do double duty by delivering important story information along the way. No one is skimming over them. 

Have you ever come across fight scenes/battle sequences that leave you yawning?


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Insecure Writer and Transitioning Into a (Mostly) Full Time Writer.

Today is September's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because  after six months, I’m still not settled into the routine of being a (productive) writer.

Some of you may know I was downsized from my job at the end of February. Although it was a bit of a shock at the time, I eventually considered this to be a sign that I should devote myself to writing (at least during my more optimistic moods). However, the transition to writing has not come easily.

Feeling guilty for not bringing in as much money as I had before, I dabbled with the idea of taking a less well-paying job, at least for the short term, in order to cushion the financial blow to the family. Not only did searching for such jobs take away from my writing time, but guilt made it harder to concentrate on writing. 

Eventually I began tutoring chemistry students, and although the pay isn’t nearly as lucrative as a job in industry, it lessened my need to find another job.  Still, learning the ins and outs of the tutoring business took more time than I expected, further limiting my writing time.

And then there was the constant feeling that the time I spent writing was taking away from things that were “more important,” like helping my wife around the house, interacting with the kids, or tackling projects that have been on my to-do list for years. I felt pulled in all directions, guilt gnawing at me every time I sat in front of my computer.

But all that is in the past. Six months later, I’ve come to accept my new position in life and no longer feel guilty about not having a regular 9 to 5 job. I’m definitely more productive on the writing front and no longer find myself having to write feverishly at the last minute so as to have something to submit to my monthly critique groups.  However, my transition to being a writer isn’t complete. It may be easier for me to sit down and work on my WIP these days, but there are plenty of other writing related activities where I’m falling short. For example:

•  My lack of blogging. Last week was my first non-IWSG post in several months. Heck, I use to post twice a week back when I had that 9 to 5 job!
•  I’ve been bad about visiting other writer’s blogs, except on the first Wednesday of every month.
•  I haven’t touched my Hogwarts fan fiction in months, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be uploading the chapters to Wattpad once a week.
•  I haven’t been making contact with other authors in my genre, although that task was one of my New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve come to realize I will have to structure my time better if I expect to become a productive writer. At the moment, all my focus is on finishing my debut novel. Not that focusing on the actual writing is a bad thing, but sooner or later I’m going to finish the darn thing and then the real work will begin (editing, publishing, marketing, etc.) So, I better have a structure in place by then or things will get very ugly, very quickly.

Let’s move on to more enjoyable topics, like this month’s IWSG question: If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

This one’s a no-brainer.  It would be in an old castle somewhere in Britain (preferably Scotland), surrounded by fog shrouded moors, preferably in the autumn.  If you don't know why… well, I guess no amount of explanation would suffice. 

My future writing space

Be sure to stop by and say hello to the other ISWG co-hosts this month: Gwen GardnerTyrean MartinsonDoreen McGettigan, and Cathrina Constantine