UR Turn: What’s the Most Encouraging Thing Anyone Has Ever Told You?

A simple word of encouragement can mean a lot to a writer

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...As a person who uses words to make a living, words have a great impact on me. The words of others have encouraged me—and discouraged me. Even the lack of words, the things left unsaid, can have a powerful effect—a negative effect.

The things others have told me about my writing have helped me move forward, as well as almost derailing me. But let’s talk about the positive. Some of those comments have stayed with me for years.

Once, when working on a joint proposal for myself and another consultant, he reviewed my work and gushed. “I thought I was a good wordsmith,” he said, “but you put me to shame.” His remark truly affirmed me.

Another time, someone who I respected was reading my work. After a few minutes, she paused and said, “Well, you certainly know how to write, so that’s not an issue.” That was all the impetus I needed to think I could begin to call myself a writer.Maybe we use our words wisely. Click To Tweet

I have also had times when other writers have reminded me of encouraging things I’ve said to them. This, too, shows me the power of words. May I always use mine wisely.

Now it’s your turn. What’s the most encouraging thing anyone has ever told you about your writing?

The Key Consideration in Self-Publishing Versus Traditional Publishing

The Key Consideration in Self-Publishing Versus Traditional PublishingIn the past few weeks I covered the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing (sometimes called indie publishing). I strove to be fair in comments and balanced in my coverage. Here are the four posts:

Where do I stand on this? Will I seek a traditional publisher or go the indie-publishing route?

Though this publishing deliberation looms as a decision every author needs to make on an author-by-author basis, it’s not that simple. It’s a consideration every author must make on a book-by-book basis.

Yes, depending on the book, some lend themselves to traditional publishing and others cry out for self-publishing. Critical considerations are the book’s topic, genre, and audience size, as well as an author’s goals for reach, distribution, and earnings. I have some books I hope to publish with a traditional publisher, while others I expect to go the self-publish route.

The key is that the self-publishing versus traditional publishing debate isn’t a once-and-done consideration, but it’s a topic to revisit with each book.Traditional publishing vs self-publishing isn’t an either/or decision. It’s a yes/and strategy. Click To Tweet

That’s my plan. I want to do both.

It’s called being a hybrid author. I will seek a traditional publisher when it makes sense and self-publish when that’s the better path. Combining these two options will maximize my career as an author—and hopefully my earnings potential at the same time.

Traditional publishing versus self-publishing isn’t an either/or consideration. It’s a yes/and strategy.

Five Downsides of Traditional Publishing

Five Downsides of Traditional PublishingIn my post “5 Reasons Why a Writer Should Go With a Traditional Publisher,” I gave five advantages of traditional publishing. Although these reasons are compelling, there are also some downsides. Consider these five items:

1) It Takes Longer: Unless a book is “fast-tracked” it will typically take eighteen months to two years from your first pitch to it sitting on bookstore shelves. Smaller presses may be nimbler. While larger publishers seek to streamline their processes, but the bottom line is, traditional publishing takes a long time.

2) Agents Are Often Required: Increasingly, publishers will only deal with agents. It makes publishers’ jobs easier, as agents become the first level of screening. Unfortunately, finding an agent is challenging. Since agents are paid on commission they won’t take a project they don’t think they can sell.

3) Rejection is Likely: For those publishers who will talk directly to writers, the odds of them being accepted are small, sometimes less than one in a hundred. Even with an agent, rejection is expected.

4) Authors Must Market Their Own Book: Traditional publishers will do a small amount of promotion for all their authors, but the bulk of their attention and dollars go to the A-list authors. If a book is to sell, the author is the best person to make it happen.Don’t rely on book royalties to pay bills; treat them as a bonus, if they occur. Click To Tweet

5) Be Patient With Royalties: The process of publishers accounting for and paying royalties is confoundingly slow. Don’t rely on book royalties to pay bills; treat them as a bonus—if they occur. Since initial book sales are applied against the advance, some authors never sell enough copies to earn any royalties—ever.

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Is Following a Writing Model a Good Idea?

Though using a pattern to inform our books’ structure has merit, it may lead us to a troublesome end

Is Following a Writing Model a Good Idea?There are multiple guides we can follow to properly structure the books we write. Perhaps the most common is the three-act structure, but there are many others as well.

There’s enough to make me dizzy, so I won’t start to list them. Besides, this post isn’t to promote these various models as much as to share my concern about them.

For example, I know that when watching a movie, I should expect a plot twist about three fourths of the way into the show. The incident may be trivial, could have been telegraphed too much earlier in the movie, or come as an unexpected shock, but one thing is certain: I know that something is about to happen, so I brace for it.

Because I expect this plot twist to pop up, it seldom delights me. I know that this annoyance is just one more hurdle for the protagonist to jump over before I can enjoy the ending—and I better enjoy the ending.

This happens in books too, but because I’ve watched more movies then read books, I’m more tuned in to it with movies.

While I think it’s important we know about these writing devices and be able to apply them when needed, I worry about slavishly following them.

Why is that?

Computers.

Computers and artificial intelligence.It won’t be long before computers will write passible stories and even books. Click To Tweet

Even now computers can write. And it won’t be long before computers will write passible stories and even books. Just enter a couple of characters, a story arc, a conflict, and a few other key parameters. Press enter, and a finished story emerges, following an established writing model.

This technology will one day make most writers obsolete. And I think it will happen much sooner than most people expect.

What computers and AI software will have trouble emulating, however, is the truly creative writers who don’t follow the writing models that the computer programs follow. These writers—and I plan to be one of them—will still be in demand, because computers will struggle to produce a truly creative book that transcends its writing-model programming.

Are You Okay as a Writer?

It’s hard not to compare ourselves with other writers and dangerous when we do

Are You Okay as a Writer?As a teenager I remember reading the book I’m Okay—You’re Okay by Thomas Harris. As I recall, the book explained that we consider ourselves in one of two ways, either as being okay or as not being okay. Conversely, we judge others the same way, either as okay or not okay.

Combined, these two dichotomies result in four distinct perspectives of how we view and interact with others:

  1. I’m okay—you’re okay.
  2. I’m okay—you’re not
  3. I’m not okay—you’re okay.
  4. I’m not okay—you’re not

The first view is healthy, and the other three are not, with the book explaining what to do.

I fear a lot of writers struggle with the third scenario. They compare themselves to other writers—the popular, visible ones—and wrongly conclude everyone else is doing better than they are. By comparison they fall short, often way short.

I get this. I struggle with this from time to time. Perhaps you do, too.

We hear of writers who receive lucrative book deals with huge advances, ones we hoped for ourselves. We see authors who make some prestigious best sellers’ list or win a coveted award—sometimes on their first book—which we dream of for ourselves. Others have their books made into movies, which we yearn to experience. Then there are the indie authors who make six and even seven figures annually just on book sales, an outcome we secretly covet.

Then we feel small. Even our best accomplishment seems insignificant in comparison. Then that writer voice inside us says “They’re okay, but I’m not. They’re a success and I’m a failure.”Writers compare themselves to others and wrongly conclude everyone else is better. Click To Tweet

We need to stop that. It’s not healthy to our wellbeing, and it’s not helpful to our writing.

Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we need to compare ourselves to us. Ask two questions:

First, did I do the best I could with what I just wrote? If so, then be proud over our accomplishment.

The second question is, how could I do better? Pick one area, and set about to get better. Then our future self can look back at our present self with the firm knowledge over having improved. That’s success. Then we can say, “I’m okay.”

My hope for you is that you can truly say, “I’m okay—you’re okay.”

What steps do you take to avoid making unhealthy comparisons?

What’s the Difference Between Self-Publishing and Indie-Publishing?

Publishing labels are important and using them properly is critical

Difference Between Self-Publishing and Indie-Publishing?I often use the terms of self-publishing and indie-publishing interchangeably. I shouldn’t.

They mean different things. So what’s the difference?

That’s a great question. I turned to my friend Google to investigate. It turns out Google doesn’t know. It simply confirmed a lack of consensus. Here are the findings of my research:

  • Self-publishing and indie-publishing are not the same thing. However, the difference is a matter of perspective.
  • Self-publishing and indie-publishing both emerge as alternatives to traditional publishing. And we need those alternatives.
  • Self-publishing may be a subset of indie-publishing.
  • The difference between self-publishing and indie-publishing may boil down to attitude.

Here are my thoughts on the matter.

Self-Publishing

  • Self-publishing finds its roots in vanity publishing, a pay-to-be-published model. (Though four years ago I asserted that attitudes have changed and traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing, offering a stamp of validation that I, for one, want.)
  • Self-publishing is all about art, and making money from art isn’t the point—or so they say.
  • The motivation of self-publishing is making books available to the public.
  • The hardcore self-publisher does everything, from cover design, to editing, to interior layout, to marketing. Unfortunately it shows in the final product. And for that reason I hate reading self-published books.
  • Self-publishing finds its place with the writing hobbyist.

Indie-Publishing

  • Indie-publishing finds its roots in the entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Indie-publication is a for-profit endeavor with a clear objective to monetize the value of books as a business.
  • The motivation of indie-publishing is profit from the art of books.
  • The indie publisher assembles a team, tapping others to assist with the publishing process, from cover design, to editing, to interior layout, to marketing.
  • Indie-publishing finds its place with the writing professional.

I view my writing as both art and a business opportunity. Click To TweetFrom all this, I realize that when I say I plan to self-publish some of my books, I really mean indie-publishing. Though I view my writing as art, I also see the results as a business opportunity. And I’ve been an entrepreneur longer than I’ve been a writer—though not by much.

Yes, I still have a goal to traditionally publish some books. I also plan to indie-publish other books. Together they will help me to one day make a living writing full time.

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Should You Go with a Traditional Publisher or Self-Publish?

Be open minded about the options available for book publishing and then pick the best one

Traditional Publishing is the New Vanity PublishingMy goal as an author has always been to be a hybrid author, one who self-publishes some books and goes with a traditional publisher for others. What changes over time, however, is the emphasis I place on one over the other. On this, I waffle frequently. Some days I favor the allure of being traditionally published and on others I lean toward self-publishing.

Though I embrace both as viable options, many people do not. It seems that many writers view one of these two options as the only choice for rational people, while outright dismissing the other for those uninformed. The problem is that some land squarely in the camp of traditional publishing as the only way to go, while others adamantly pursue self-publishing as the only sane choice.

I understand both perspectives.

What I don’t understand are people who are so obstinate toward their point of view and so biased against the alternative. They need to open their eyes: both traditional publishing and self-publishing have their pluses and minuses. Consider them, evaluate them, and then go with what seems best for your particular book at this particular time.

That’s my plan.

Here’s why:

Traditional Publishing: Traditional publishing pays authors to be published. But getting a traditional publishing deal is hard. In most all cases we need an agent first, which takes time. Then our agent needs to find a publisher to publish our book, which takes more time. Then our book goes into their publishing machine for edits, marketing, production, and so forth, which takes even more time. It often takes several years from writing a book to having a traditional publisher make it available to the public—assuming it happens at all.

Once we land a book deal, assuming we can, traditional publishers do most of the work and take all of the financial risk. Yes, they still want us to help market our book, but they do everything else—as we lose most of our control over the product and the outcome.

However, once the only real option for authors, technology has provided a viable alternative: self-publishing.

Self-Publishing: With self-publishing the author becomes a businessperson, investing money into a product in hopes of turning a profit. Success isn’t guaranteed, but the benefits are many. The author maintains control over the product, can get it to market fast, and will make much more per book. There are no gatekeepers to stand in our way, no one judging the size of our platform, and no one turning our baby into something we don’t like. Being traditionally published implies a stamp of approval. Click To Tweet

Self-publishing was once decried as vanity publishing, but now I actually see traditional publishing as the new vanity publishing. Being traditionally published implies a stamp of approval. It says we’ve been accepted, our work has gained approval, and we have jumped high hurdles. This strokes our ego.

I get that. I want that.

Yet the very things that make us attractive to traditional publishers—a stellar book and a huge platform to promote it—are also the very things that make us an ideal fit for self-publishing, where we control the product, take a risk, and make a profit.

I get that, too. I want that.

My leanings, one way or the other, change often. What I do know is that I want to publish books, and I’m taking a hybrid approach to get there.

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How I’ll Write My Next Book

NaNoWriMo inspired me on a new way to approach writing a book

How I’ll Write My Next BookI’ve written several books, most of which didn’t have a deadline. Though I would regularly sit down to write and methodically plod through from start to finish, I wasn’t as intentional as I could have been. I would take several months to complete my first draft of these books—and it was arduous.

Last November I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time, where the goal is to write the first draft of a novel in one month. I effectively did this, but it didn’t happen as expected. (Check out my post of my first NaNoWriMo experience).

Going forward I plan to write all my books NaNoWriMo style. I’ll hunker down and crank through the first draft in one month. Here are the benefits of taking this approach.

Increased Focus: Writing a book in one month requires making it a priority. It’s not one of many things to dilute focus; it’s the one thing. This gives a hyper-intensive focus. In fact, I was so into my novel, which took place in May, that I actually thought it was spring in real life; I had to keep reminding myself that summer was not about to happen, but eight months out. That’s intense (or crazy). Regardless I had focus and finished writing that book.

Better Continuity: When writing large chunks of a book every day, it’s much easier to keep everything straight. One chapter easily moves into the next. But had time interrupted my writing it would have also caused me to lose my comprehension of the story arc. This would necessitate re-reading large sections, a too-frequent referring to my notes, and missed opportunities to produce a better read. But because I was able to stay in the writing zone, the words flowed forth with greater ease. Taking fewer days to write a book gets me to the end faster and avoids a mid-book slump. Click To Tweet

Faster Results: For me the difficulty in writing a book isn’t the number of words I need to write, it’s the number of days it takes. When I write a book in one month, there’s no time to bog down in the middle, yet a book that takes several months to complete will always produce a discouraging sag of motivation midway through. Taking fewer days to write a book gets me to the end faster and avoids a mid-book slump.

Sense of Accomplishment: It’s a great feeling to finish the first draft of a book. Writing with NaNoWriMo intention rewards me with that feeling of satisfaction faster. Having that great sense of accomplishment encourages me as a writer and motivates me to produce even more.

Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I plan to write the first draft of my next book in a month. And I won’t even wait until November to start.

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for Writers

What writers can learn from the life and career of Carrie Fisher

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for WritersOn December 26, 2016 my wife and I went to see the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The next morning I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. Like most people I knew her for her iconic performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Her obituary revealed so much more:

  • Worked steadily as an actress from 1975 through to her death
  • Author of several semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge
  • Wrote the screenplay for the film of the book
  • Starred in an autobiographical one-woman play
  • Author of the non-fiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on her play
  • Spoke about her experiences with bipolar disorder and drug addiction
  • Mental health advocate
  • Script doctor

All these items are impressive, but the last one caught my attention: script doctor. As the title suggests, a script doctor is someone who comes in to fix the screenplays of other writers. In short, when a screenplay is good but not working as well as it should, a script doctor reworks it to make it shine.

Carrie Fisher’s Wikipedia page says she was “one of the top script doctors in Hollywood.” Who would have thought? According to her Wikipedia page and her IMDB bio, here are some of the movies she worked on as a script doctor:

  • Hook
  • Sister Act
  • Lethal Weapon 3
  • Last Action Hero
  • The River Wild
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Coyote Ugly
  • My Girl 2
  • Outbreak
  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Milk Money
  • Love Affair
  • Made in America

I’ve seen all but one of these flicks. In a lot of them she worked on dialogue or to develop a specific character. She worked as a script doctor for about fifteen years and said that at that time it was lucrative work (but apparently not so much anymore).Carrie Fisher was an actress, author, script doctor, and advocate. Click To Tweet

Carrie Fisher was known primarily as an actress, but she was also an author of books—both fiction and nonfiction—and screenplays, a script doctor, and an advocate. From her example, I have four takeaways for authors:

  1. Diversify our income stream. (She earned money as an actress, author, and script doctor.)
  2. Write in multiple genres. (She wrote fiction, nonfiction, and scripts.)
  3. Capitalize on our strengths. (She had a knack for dialogue and character development.)
  4. Use whatever platform we have to be a voice for what we’re passionate about. (She was able to use her popularity to talk about mental health issues and substance abuse.)

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. You entertained me and taught me about writing.

When We Should and Shouldn’t Self-Publish

Writers need to balance the considerations of self-publishing and traditional publishing

When We Should and Shouldn’t Self-PublishThere is much debate in the writing community about going with a traditional publisher versus self-publishing. Neither is a panacea. Both have their advantages and their disadvantages. Considerations include career objectives, time investments, speed to publishing, potential revenue, and personal goals. Though I am pursuing a traditional publishing deal, I will also self-publish (indie-publish) other works.

The key is to know when it’s the right time to self-publish.

Here’s When You Shouldn’t Self-Publish:

  • Publishers Reject Your Book: It’s an unwise reaction to self-publish your book just because a couple publishers said “no.” Some well-known books and classics were rejected scores of times, but their authors didn’t give up and kept trying new avenues. And I’m sure they continued to work on improving their book in the process.
  • Agents Won’t Sign You: The same thing applies with agents. Agents only make money when they sell books, so if they don’t think they can sell your book, they won’t take you on as a client. Not being able to land an agent may be the worst reason to self-publish because you’re probably not ready.
  • You’re Tired of Hearing “No”: Rejection is a part of writing. It’s often a sign that you or your book isn’t ready. Self-publishing prematurely will just give more people a reason to reject your book.
  • You’re Weary of Waiting: Traditional publishing takes time and requires patience. Being impatient with long production times is not (usually) a sound reason to self-publish.

Here’s When You Should Consider Self-Publishing:

  • You’ve Written The Best Book Possible: When your book is the best it can be you might want to consider self-publishing it. This means you have carefully edited and proofed it, you’ve received feedback from others, and you’ve hired people to make it shine.
  • Your Book Has Been Professionally Edited: There are three types of editing and you need a different editor for each type. Usually you need to hire these people. If someone gives you free editing, you often get what you pay for. First there’s a development edit (the big picture stuff), copy-editing (sentence structure, flow, and word choice), and proofreading (grammar, punctuation, and typos). There are three types of editing and you need a different editor for each type. Click To Tweet
  • You Will Invest In Your Book: In addition to hiring editors, you will need to pay for a front cover design. Since “a book is judged by its cover,” don’t skimp on this. Other considerations include the book jacket, the interior layout, and file conversion. Each one costs and your book will look “off” if you try to do these yourself.
  • You Are Ready to Market Your Book: Successful self-publishing requires marketing. While traditional publishers will also expect you to help promote your book, when you self-publish, it all falls to you.

Consider both of these lists before you self-publish your next book.