Wednesday, February 1, 2023

It's called "work" for a reason... by Cathy Ace

Now that 2022 is well and truly "in the books" (!) did you learn any business tips you can pass on?

Business tips are tricky, because, quite often, they are only really helpful given a quite specific set of circumstances. That being said, here are a few things I learned that you might find helpful:

DO NOT get overwhelmed when you’re reading about how phenomenal other authors are at their writing output.

This might not sound like “business advice” but it is, for authors, because writing is their business. Some authors – believe it or not – write and publish a dozen or more a books per year. Bear in mind they might have spent years writing them all, then are using a rapid release strategy because that’s what their target market demands/expects/wants. Other authors will write and publish one book every two years. Again, maybe they have a life plan that means they won’t be writing for the whole of those two years. So – slow release or fast release doesn’t necessarily signify current workload. And we, as authors, need to write the right number of books for us, according to how we want to live our lives. I have learned I can only write and publish a MAXIMUM of two to three books per year and not lose my grip on either reality or sanity – if you can write less, fine, if you can write more, go for it – but I have learned I have to be content to be me.

DO NOT get overwhelmed when you’re reading about how wonderful/active other authors are at their promotional effort.

When I had traditional publishers, they had a whole promotional department to work on my behalf, which organised my international book tours, advertising campaigns, appearances on local and national television chat shows…oh no, hang on, that wasn’t me…that was the author who signed a million dollar contract with one of the Big 5 publishers, who couldn’t be seen to fail! LOL! Silly me – I was the author who got a thirtieth share of the time of one overworked promotional person who did their best with miniscule budgets…and had to do the rest of it myself either out of my own pocket, or for free. Now that I self publish, everything is down to me…and I still need time to write enough to keep new books coming out. So – I have learned to breathe, accept that I cannot do everything, and now try to promote my work “smarter”.

DO consider ways you might be able to promote your work to readers beyond Facebook and Twitter.

As recent events have shown, if an author relies too much upon one channel of communication, they might find the people they need to speak to removing themselves from that platform for any number of reasons. A good author website that’s kept up to date, and building a mailing list for a newsletter that contains special offers, and actual NEWS, as well as an insight into one’s life and writing are both important, and often overlooked. That said, it’s critical to know how to reach your readers/potential readers: my books are NOT read by those who use TikTok, so it’s pointless me using it, for example.

DO whatever you can to try to work out who is reading your books, and how they choose to get their hands on them.

Libraries are important to society as well as readers and authors – I believe this deep in my bones. Do you know how many libraries have your books? Does your country have a way for you to make an income from this (Canada and the UK have funding for authors whose works are found on library stock lists, for example.) If people are buying your books do they buy print or digital? Where do they buy those books? If you have a traditional publisher, work with them to help you understand this – because then you can better target that time-sucking promotional effort. If you’re self-publishing, you can gather this information from your own data. And, boy, have I learned a lot this way – for example, I know that for my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries, libraries want hardcover vs paperback, buy them soon after release date, and buy multiple copies; by far the most sales are digital, through amazon vs Kobo vs Nook, with about 50% of sales in the USA, 30% in the UK, and the rest split fairly evenly between Canada and Australia/NZ. And the digital to print sales ratio? About 100:1 Knowing this? Priceless!

Not every writer wants to be involved in the business of publishing...BUT I BELIEVE THEY SHOULD AT LEAST UNDERSTAND IT.

While we all have to do our bit in terms of promotional effort (try keeping a traditional publisher happy without doing this!) for some, the craft and process of writing is where they want most of their focus to be – which is fine. So the business of publishing isn’t what you’re interested in – but that might leave you high and dry in the long run, so I urge you to read about the business you’re participating in and learn as much as you can about it. I recommend Jane Friedman’s website to everyone I can: it contains most of the answers, and direction for those areas where you want to learn more. KUDOS to her!  https://www.janefriedman.com/blog/

As for me? I have ANOTHER new book coming out:

On 20th February 2023, the 7th WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery will be published – the cover is above, and the blurb appears below. 

It’s available for pre-order NOW!

Click here to access pre-order links

‘IT MURDERED ONE OF OUR GUESTS, AND NOW IT’S TRIED TO KILL MY HUSBAND. YOU HAVE TO STOP IT!’ 

When the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency are approached by the desperate owner of a rental cottage in a picturesque Welsh seaside hamlet, they agree to help. After all, there can’t be any such thing as a killer cottage, can there? But a cursed cottage? Isn’t that just as unlikely? They’re about to find out…when Christine and Annie take up residence.

Meanwhile, Carol goes undercover to investigate a day spa at a swish country hotel with some dangerous treatments on offer, leaving Mavis to stake out a man who might be incapacitated because of a work-related accident, or might just be a malingerer; will this bricklayer become belligerent if he spots her on the job?

While our engaging private investigators are busy with paying clients, it looks as though it’s going to fall to Henry, eighteenth duke of Chellingworth, to try to solve the riddle of the missing christening mugs, which is a priority as far as his mother the dowager is concerned.

Early spring in Wales is a busy time for the WISE women – join them to find out how they cope, in this, the seventh book in the series.

Want to get all my news, and exclusive sneak-peeks FIRST? Sign up for my newsletter by visiting my website: https://www.cathyace.com/





Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Lessons Learned in 'The Business' in 2022

 

Now that 2022 is well and truly “in the books” (!) did you learn any business tips you can pass on?

 


This author’s public life has been a work in progress. I created a short listicle from practice areas where I am constantly learning. As I strive to improve my writing, I strive to continuously improve my digital footprint and the perception of my work and myself as an author. Any one of the bullets below are worthy of a full-length post, but I think you’ll get the idea without me having to belabor the obvious.

 

 

The Do and Don’ts of Blurbs

My view on the matter: Asking for them is like dating, you won’t know until you ask. Blurbs are a marketing tool to lure readers to your work.

 

·      Don’t wait to the last minute

·      Don’t make the blurb about prestige

·      Be professional with your request, in person or by email

o   Conferences are an excellent time to request a blurb

o   Don’t underestimate the face-to-face encounter

o   Target authors like or similar to what you write

·      Provide a clean and edited manuscript

·      Provide Word count (so they can estimate time-commitment)

·      Set expectation and propose a Target date

·      Provide a short description of your work (a mini-pitch of 100 words)

·      Never take it personal if a fellow author says No

o   Authors are busy people

o   Authors have their own deadlines

·      Store your blurbs in one place (The Credibility File)

·      Writing a blurb is hard work

o   If you write one, look at the latest fad in wording and avoid them (example: ‘propulsive’)

o   Make comparisons for the reader. It is X meets Y

·      Say “Thank you”

·      Promote the writers who promote you

 

 

Social Media

·      Work the platform where you are most comfortable (FB, IG, Twitter)

·      Check to make sure you tag the right person on Social Media

o   I keep two tabs open when I tweet

·      Use images or make graphics because they are more memorable

o   I use Canva, and search Unsplash for royalty-free graphics

·      Create content as opposed to always Retweeting someone else

·      Don’t scream BUY MY BOOK All. The. Time. (obnoxious)

·      Leverage your tweet

o   Give #shoutouts to:

§  Publishers

§  Authors who blurb the books

§  Fellow authors in an anthology

§  Local writing organizations

§  Local MWA chapter

§  Local Sisters in Crime

§  Other authors mentioned, if in an article (example: Crime Reads)

·      Communicate INFORMATION about Events

o   The 5 W:

§  Who

§  What

§  When (Don’t forget Time Zones)

§  Where

§  Why

·      Use an URL short-link

·      Make your tweet readable and not a string of hashtags

·      Use trending tags strategically

o   Example: I pimp my cat Munchkin on #Caturday

·      Be consistent and CREATE AN EXPERIENCE for the visitor (that is your brand)

o   I use humor on FB because I want visitors to have their first smile of the day seeing my page

 

Be PROFESSIONAL & Positive

·      Avoid political screeds, troll wars, and pile-ons [waste of energy]

·      Be cautious with humor and sensitive to tone in your wording, especially in emails

·      Act as if someone is always watching (readers, reviewers, and agents)

·      Everything on the web lives FOREVER

Monday, January 30, 2023

Two Paths to Getting Your Books Out There

 Q: Now that 2022 is well and truly "in the books" (!) did you learn any business tips you can pass on?

-from Susan

 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned more than I’d known about book contracts and the role of agents. If you’re going the traditional publishing route, I think having an agent to present your manuscript is a great benefit. Then, having her or him negotiate for you is great. I say that knowing 1. how hard it is to get an agent in the first place; and 2. that not all agents have the same experience, skills, and determination to go to bat for you before you sign a contract.

 

What my agent showed me in the last couple of years is, no, you don’t have to settle for the initial offer. Your agent can – and really should – listen to what’s most important to you and then be in direct communication with the publisher regarding the amount of the advance, how royalties will be calculated, and what ancillary rights will be yours or theirs. For audio books, I found out the author can almost always negotiate the right to audition and approve voice actors. She made that happen for me.

 

The second best thing about having an agent is not having to deal with the awkwardness of saying out loud what you want and hearing silence and worrying you’ve just lost the deal entirely. The best thing is having an agent who loves your work and will go out and fight for you. 

 

So that’s what I’ve learned from the traditional publishing route. Now to self-publishing.

 

I’ve gotten the rights back to my first series from the generous previous publishers who didn’t insist I pay anything, and am in the midst of getting an entire new edition of the Dani O’Rourke series ready for e-book and POD sales. I chose to start with an entirely new graphic marketing strategy. My art director is Brian Shea, my son and an active, successful book designer. I chose not to have clip art or cartoon style illustrations and the illustrator he hired is giving the Dani O’Rourke covers a fresh, unexpected look that, along with the marketing I have to do, may pick up new readers, younger readers who are more Dani’s age than mine. Cover reveals to come.

 

It's more expensive to go this route, with custom illustrations and an art director but I’ve learned that doing anything well, when selling is your goal, does cost at least some money. For me, not having to learn a lot of new systems and do all the work while working on other manuscript projects is the right call. I hope other Minds, especially Cathy Ace, who has practically her own publishing empire, is going to share some of her tips. I’ll be reading her post this week!








 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

  

By Abir

 

 

This week’s topic asks us to offer writing tips for absolute beginners.

 

 

I have to start with a confession. I am so ancient now, and it’s been so long since that first fateful start I made to writing, that any advice I might have to give (eg. keeping a supply of parchment or sharpened quills handy) might be out of date, or simply the misremembered memories of a decrepit old fool. I’ll still try my best to give sage advice, but like anything coming out of the UK these days, it’s best to take it all with a pinch of salt.

 

Right, caveats out of the way, let’s get to it.

 

1.Find the time 


If you’re writing a novel, that’s probably 80,000 words or more. That’s a big investment of time, probably with no guarantees that your work will ever be published. If the average author writes between a thousand and two thousand words a day, that’s a commitment of several months at the very least, and that’s writing every day. In practice it might take far longer, especially if you’ve a day job and family commitments. My first draft took over a year to write, and it was hard finding the time to write while juggling all my other commitments. I’d recommend ring-fencing a period of time each week, even if it’s just a few hours on a Saturday, when you can shut out all distractions and just write. The routine will be helpful, and when you’re not writing, you can be thinking about what comes next. I know several best-selling authors who started off writing just a few hours a week because that was the only time they had spare. 

 

2. Find a space


Just as important as finding time to write, is finding the right environment – a quiet place, free of distractions. Maybe you’ll have music on, maybe you won’t. What matters is that you associate that place and that mood with writing. I have a friend who writes in his study, late at night, with only a table lamp for light, and the Batman soundtrack for company. It’s weird, but it works for him. Find your place and set your mood.

 

3. Get your story straight…or don’t


Your first novel can be daunting. It might help to work out your plot in advance, doing your research, filling as many holes as you can before you start, so that the journey of actual writing is as smooth as possible. Even now, I tend to spend a few months researching and thinking about a story before I ever put finger to keyboard (or quill to parchment). I find it helps keep up the momentum of writing, and momentum is important. Having said that, other people prefer just to dive in and see where the story takes them. There’s a lot to be said for this spontaneous approach. I just find it harder.

 

4. Keep Going


You might have the best plot, the best hook, the best story ever, but none of it means a thing unless you get those words down. You need to keep writing, even through the inevitable crises of confidence that all writers suffer from. There will be time to fix whatever you’ve written later; to polish it into the gem of a novel that it can be. Before that though, you need to get the words down, so just keep going.

 

5. Don’t show it to anyone until it’s done


This is important. This is vital. We all have this urge to share our work with others – a partner, a friend, whoever – we want to know what they think; we’d love to bask in their praise; we want feedback etc. so we send them a chapter, or the first five thousand words to read. DON’T DO IT! Wait. Wait until it’s finished. I say that for several reasons. Firstly, a lot of the impetus for writing comes from the wish to share it with the world. The problem is, the minute you show some of it to someone, some of that need is satiated; some of that impetus is lost. Secondly, what’s the point of showing them a part finished work anyway? If they love you, they’ll probably tell you it’s brilliant, regardless of what they might really think. And if they say they hate it, then what? You might go back to the drawing board, or you might stop altogether. Either way, do they know what they’re talking about? 

 

I think showing your work to others before it’s finished makes it a bit harder to keep going. So fight the urge!

 

6. Have Fun


Writing is our love; our passion. When you become a professional writer, it’s sometimes easy to forget that. When you’re starting out, there are no boundaries; no agents or editors telling you what to write or how to write. So, indulge yourself. Write what you want, the way you want. Your first time is special. You’ll never have this opportunity again, so make the most of it. Have fun.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Six Bits of Writing Advice from James W. Ziskin

This week’s topic asks us to offer writing tips for absolute beginners.


TOUGH LOVE

1. Take your writing seriously

Treat it as if it’s a job. Be professional. That means sitting down and writing. You can’t say you’re an NBA player if you don’t play in the NBA. By the same token, you can’t say you’re a writer if you don’t write. I’m not talking about finding a  publisher for your work. And I’m not saying you have to be a good writer or that you have to write every day. But you have to write.


2. Keep track of your production

I’ve written in this space many times before how I maintain a spreadsheet to track my daily word count. I use the data—averages and totals—for inspiration. On days when I’m tired and not in the mood to work, the spreadsheet might show me that I have a good string of consecutive writing days going. Well I certainly don’t want to break the momentum, so I force myself to write something. At least 300 words, even if it’s at the end of the day. The streak continues and I feel better about my writing. Plus the book progresses. It’s a marathon, so you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. (That’s a metaphor for the writing process.) ;-)


3. Revise relentlessly

If you don’t revise, you probably won’t be a good writer. It’s an essential part of writing. As important as the first draft. Revision isn’t something you can leave to someone else to do. “Oh, that’s for the editor to worry about.” No. You won’t even have an editor if you don’t polish your work. If you’re not committed to revising your work, you’re ignoring half the writing process. Think of golf. What if you only like to hit the ball as far as you can? Nothing is sweeter than swinging from the heels and watching that little ball rocket off into the distance. Yes, the drive is important in golf, but what about putting? You hate putting. No patience for it. Couldn’t care less about it. If that’s true, you’ll be a rotten golfer. You’ll reach the green in regulation then three-put, four-put, or worse. Double and triple bogeys will make it hard to break a hundred. That’s not good golf, just as rough, sloppy, flabby manuscripts are not good writing. But they could be with lots of revision.

4. Read voraciously

Let’s be honest. If you don’t read, this isn’t the calling for you. How many chefs don’t enjoy food? How many winemakers don’t drink wine? Read. Then read some more. It will broaden your horizons and you’ll learn. You’ll gain insights into the creative process and writing techniques. You can’t help but absorb those.

5. Know what you don’t know

Easier said than done, but essential nevertheless. This falls under revision and research. Your words and facts need to be correct. And the best way to accomplish that is to doubt yourself at every turn. Every word. Check your work. Make sure what you believe is correct actually is. There are few things more dangerous than thinking you’re right when you’re not. Just ask the bomb defuser—now a smudge on the pavement— who was certain—100% certain—it was the blue wire, not the red one, that needed to be cut.

6. Don’t give up

Have you ever lost anything? Of course you have. Your keys, your phone, your glasses. And have you ever found that lost item? Congratulations! And where was it? In the very last place you looked. If you’d given up your search before looking in that last place, you never would have found it, And that’s how it works with a writing career. You can only succeed for the first time after your very last failure. Don’t give up.


Feel free to add your tips in the comments.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

If it’s in there, get it out.

A lot of folks will have resolved that 2023 is THE year when they write the book they have inside them. Any tips for absolute beginners?

by Dietrich


If you feel the urge to write, don’t let anybody tell you different, especially that little voice in the back of the head.


Don’t put it off, and don’t kick the can down the road. Sit down and get started. Be in it for the long-haul and have fun every inch of the way.


You work at home, so there are plenty of distractions. Don’t play with the cat, switch off the phone, and stay away from the internet. I like to crank up the music before I start. I know that’s not going to be for everyone, I get that, but it’s good to find whatever works to help get yourself into that writing zone.


Don’t aim for War and Peace. Do some trial and error, find what works — find your voice. I wrote short stories, quite a few of them, trying to find what worked for me.  


Read the kind of books you want to write — and read a lot of them. Personally, I love to read fiction, non-fiction, biographies and autobiographies. There’s so much inspiration in any great book. And there are some good how-to books too. If you haven’t, check out Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s like the how-to bible for writers. 


And there are classes and courses that are worth checking out, many of them online. 


Refrain from reading the daily noise, and anything else that might distract, depress, or keep you from planting that bum in the chair.


Find a mentor. Meet some published writers. They hang out at writers’ conferences, festivals, writers’ events. They’re generally a fun and helpful bunch and easy to approach — especially in a bar.


Create your own best set-up for writing. A desk, a quiet corner, and if possible, find the best time of day to write. And by all means, jot down those little ideas that come to mind, and keep them handy.


Don’t be in a rush to send your masterpiece off in hopes of finding an agent or publishing house. Get it right first. There’s nothing worse than sending something off that has potential before it’s ready. It’s like self-sabotage and a set-up for hearing, “No thanks.”


If you’ve been out of school for awhile, you may want to brush up on your grammar. 


When you get through a first draft, set it aside for a few days before going back through it again. And don’t have a total number of drafts in mind. Four, five, six, or more — who cares. Rework it until it feels ready. How do you know when it’s ready? When you write enough, the confidence will build, and you’ll know.


Get set to hear, “No thanks.” Then get ready to hear it again. You’re putting yourself out there, and that takes a certain amount of courage. Go for it.


Last thoughts: When you edit, look for anything that doesn’t move the scene forward, and cut it. You want to make them laugh, and you want to make them cry, but mostly, you want to keep them turning pages. 


When you read a chapter over, read it aloud. 


Never worry about what anybody thinks of your writing. Write it bold.


Lastly, I asked fellow author Eric Beetner to weigh in on the topic, and he had some pearls:


“My biggest tip for new or aspiring writers is to lose the notion that writing a book is a monumental task. I think too many people treat it like scaling Everest or circumnavigating the globe alone in a boat. Go into any bookstore or library and look around you. Books everywhere. Millions of new books every year. How can it be that hard and be done so often by so many people?


Now, writing a good book is no easy task, and that should be where the hard work goes in. But if you free yourself with the idea that starting on page one is the beginning of an arduous journey that will bring you to the brink, then you can focus on the real work of writing a good book. The rest is just typing.”


“Can we please stop this nonsense attitude that a first draft is supposed to be crap? Why would you write a terrible first draft? The work of a first draft, to me anyway, is to get it as close to right as you can. Then the rewrite process isn't spent "figuring out the story" as too many people seem to do, it becomes refining, making it better, elevating what you already have. If you need a whole first draft to find the story, then you're doing it backwards. Make notes, outline, keep voice memos on your phone, but know your story when you start so the first draft isn't awful. So your rewrites and revisions aren't torturous. Writing is supposed to be joyful. If it's a slog then that will come across on the page to the reader.

But, you do you. If you like the tortured artist thing, then go ahead and write a terrible first draft. Just please stop complaining about it.” — Eric Beetner

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Tips for the Beginner

 

Terry here, with this weeks topic (one that I really enjoyed) Tips for Absolute Beginners who want to write the novel they’ve always thought they had inside them. 

On the door of my office I used to have a picture of two young women sitting in a hot tub. They had long-flowing locks and bored expressions. One was saying to the other, “I could write a novel, if I just had the time.” 

 So. First tip? Find the time. You don’t have to overwhelm yourself with vowing to hit the computer and type 5,000 words or write for eight hours, a day whichever comes first. That will never happen. Instead, help yourself ease into it. Be kind to yourself. It’s a new venture.
Choose an amount of time that feels doable. Fifteen minutes? Thirty? An hour? You don’t have to work the same time every day, although eventually you may find that you work better at certain hours. But at first, be free-wheeling. 

 Important: you can’t go to bed until you’ve done it. That’s your one strict rule. You have to do it. Which is why setting a short amount of time is better at first. If it’s 10:30 at night and you realize you haven’t kept your promise to yourself to write, having to tackle fifteen minutes is a lot easier than facing an hour. That said, if you find you’ve done your short time and want to continue, go for it. But be your best friend and start by only requiring small chunks. 

 Second tip? You’ve been thinking about this novel for years and now’s your chance. If you sit down and say, “Write that book, now,” chances are you’ll freeze. So don’t tackle it right away. Limber up your writing skills.
For the time being, just write some lines every day. They don’t have to be brilliant. Just describe something, write a scene, write a character sketch. None of it has to be part of your Great American Novel. The idea is to stretch your writing muscles. If you have trouble thinking of something to write, make a list of prompts, then cut them into strips and put them in an envelope. Each day, take one out and use that prompt to exercise your skills. Find some friends to do that with. 

 Third tip: Join a writing group or class. And use it wisely. Don’t be afraid to talk about your hesitation, your worries, your feeling of inauthenticity or inadequacy. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to share your dreams and hopes for your writing. Anybody in a writing group or class will share those same hopes and fears, dreams and worries. 

 Fourth Tip: Don’t tell people the story you want to write.
Keep it to yourself.
It’s fine to tell someone a general sentence or two about your prospective novel, (I’m planning a book about a woman who grew up in a small town and had plans to leave, but fate had other ideas). Keep it short. Otherwise, you risk depleting the energy you have for the ideas in the book. It’s almost as if by talking about it too much, your brain is convinced you’ve already written it! You will have some friends who prod you with more questions, but don’t take the bait. Just tell them you haven’t gotten to the point where you can articulate it clearly. Period. 

 Fifth Tip: Read! Read everything. It doesn’t have to be books like the one you want to write, but you also don’t have to shy away from those. It’s good to know what others are writing in your genre. Read good books. If you run across sentences, paragraphs, pages that really grab you, think about how the author did it. Read not just for pleasure, but for craft.

Sixth Tip: Encourage yourself.
Lots of people have written books, and you can, too. Don’t be discouraged when you read a book so brilliant that you wish you had written it. Don’t say, “I’ll never be that good, so I may as well give up.” You have something to say and it will speak to some readers. That’s all you can ask for and hope for, that some readers will “get” what you’re telling them. That it will touch something in them. That it will teach them something about life. Give them that gift by honoring the book you have inside you

 Seventh Tip: Feed your creativity. Writing a book can give you moments of delight, but it can also be exhausting, debilitating, a lonely endeavor, and drudge work. And your creativity can starve from drudgery and lack of stimulation. So, give your imagination some stimulation.
Go for walks. Go to a museum, a concert, coffee with a friend, set aside an afternoon to watch a stupid movie or try a recipe you’ve never tried. 

 Eighth: Make little goals and celebrate when you reach them. Made a sketchy outline of your book? Champagne! Wrote a tentative first chapter? Cake!
Worked out a character’s bio? Buy yourself a little gift. Every step you take will bring you closer to seeing the book as you imagined it. It’s worth the work. 

 Finally: Put up a sign on your computer: Write the Damn Book!

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Tips for the Beginning Writer

A lot of folks will have resolved that 2023 is THE year when they write the book they have inside them. Any tips for absolute beginners?

Brenda here.

Tips for beginning writers. Hmmm.

It's been a while since I wrote my first book, some 25 years or so ago. That was a mystery for my two daughters, twelve and nine at the time, mainly to see if I could do it. So my first tip would be to commit to finishing the manuscript. Don't let the sticky middle defeat you, and plough through to the end.

I've found that you first focus on a sentence, then a paragraph, and then a page. The chapters begin to accumulate, and you shouldn't question how they all fit together when you're deep in the thick of it. Have faith that all will come together by the end. I'm often amazed when I go back to reread from the beginning how the story flows and the characters take shape.

My next tip would be to immerse yourself in the editing process after that first draft. Here i'm often amazed again at how many plot holes, errors and repeated words or phrases show up. Allow lots of time and sweat for revision and tweaking. It's necessary on the way to turning your book into a polished stone.

Tip three is to be open to constructive criticism from other authors and people you trust once you've got your manuscript in good enough shape to share. Weigh what they say and only accept what makes sense to you to make your story better. Be prepared to do more editing. This is not a failing; it's simply part of the process.

My last words of wisdom (ah hem) are to encourage you not to lose heart or become dejected with all the time and effort. Keep your final goal in sight (one step at a time) and know that it's normal to go from thinking your manuscript is the best thing ever written to believing nobody will want to read anything so terrible. We all go through this. (Did I mention the process?)

I remember walking to catch the bus to work one morning about the time my first adult mystery was to be released. Even after all the editing and work with an editor, I felt this wave of embarrassment at the thought of people reading what I'd written in case they didn't like it. I felt vulnerable for having written without a filter (sex, love and death) because there's always a bit of the writer and a lot of our thoughts and experiences in our work. Anyhow, the book came out, got good reviews and my friends and family were impressed, helping to quell that feeling that had threatened to overwhelm me. In other words, write what you want to write without censoring yourself, and don't write to please an imaginary audience -- this will only stifle your voice and creativity in the end.

Writing takes a certain amount of bravery and an ability to still that inner voice that tells you that your work is not good enough. Push past these negative thoughts and feelings, realizing that they are normal and need to be squelched. Write for yourself and all the rest will fall into place.

Website: www.brendachapman.ca

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Friday, January 20, 2023

Balancing Life Work and a Chainsaw, by Josh Stallings

Q: The balance between life and work can be difficult to manage as a writer, because we all "work at home". How do you succeed, and fail?





A: The balancing act. Yesterday Catriona described it as a teeter-totter, I like that and some days it does feel like a playground game. Other days it feels more like juggling chainsaws, same balancing act, but the stakes are higher. Yes that’s hyperbole. Yes it’s a a bit overly dramatic. But I’m running on little sleep and my work/life balance is out of whack.


I am blessed/cursed to have spent my life working as a creative in one field or another. As a trailer editor I felt at times like a gunslinger. Come to town, break a movie campaign’s back, roll on to the next. There was zero balance. I never missed a deadline but my family paid a price. As I did. 


I always felt I was one stumble away from losing it all. And in some ways I was. Fail to open a couple of big films and clients stop calling. Same is true for authors, under-perform on a couple of books and your prospects shrink. To up my odds for success I worked around the clock. Not a recipe for a balanced life.


When I was able to write full time I worked hard to balance my life, and for a while I attained something like a teeter-totter. Now due to health issues in my family, I need to step up there. My writing is taking a back seat. 


Waaaa waaaa…. Wait. Readjust my lens. Drop the micro and cut to a wide shot. Get some perspective.


Everything of any real worth that I have written was based on my experiences. Yes they have been amplified, settings have morphed, characters have been composited, but the heart of any work is based on scenes from a life lived.


If that is true, and today it is, then maybe the whole concept of work/life balance is flawed. Walking across a snowy meadow with my wife, we are in the middle of a heavy conversation, for a moment we both stop and take in the snow draped mountains surrounding us. In the face of this natural beauty everything feels less immediate. Driving home we will sort out the best way to handle life’s latest stumbling block. It is easier to see solutions once the mountains have shrunk them to the right size. This thought will make it into my writing, oh damn it did just now, and you’re reading it… So was that walk in the meadow life or work?


My father was an artist, he spent his life seeking and creating beauty. I asked him what that meant. “Beauty?” He pointed out over the Puget Sound, smiled and laughed. “See that? It never doesn’t take my breath away.” 


Were we living or working?


Both require me to be present. Where I get out of balance — if there is such a thing — is when I’m walking in a meadow but my mind is in the pages at home. Doing that I risk missing real life happening in real time. I might miss seeing Ernie the adventure poodle pulling a sneak attack by diving off a picnic table onto Buster. After a rolling tussle they both disengaged and chased after a real or imagined rabbit. They were filled with the pure joy of life. And they were just two pups running in a snowy field. 



We get to choose what we see and then how we report it, but only if we’re present for it. 


Everything is work. Everything is life. And isn’t that wonderful.




Thursday, January 19, 2023

Achieving balance the fancy footwork way, by Catriona

The balance between life and work can be difficult to manage as a writer, because we all "work at home". How do you succeed, and fail?

Work life balance. Hmmmmmm. That phrase always makes me think of two bundles at either end of a seesaw (teeter-totter in US English. Incidentally, it was quite recently I learned that teeter-totters and tater-tots are two different things. That demystified a lot.).

Classics you've missed (keep reading) 

But the thing is, my life doesn't feel like a bundle along a plank from another bundle called work. What I've got feels like a work life continuum, no way to indentify the tipping point.

Right up at one end would be something like . . . checking page proofs. I'm pretty sure no one reads novels line-by-line with a ruler, looking for typos, for fun. That's definitely work. But there's no way it would ever unbalance my life because when I get my proofs I divide the number of pages by the number of days till I need to return them and knock them off at that rate.

First panel I ever moderated (read on)

What next? Well, work in progress is the bit that comes in the biggest chunks: banging out a first draft; reading it - fainting couch and smelling salts to hand; doing the first edit with a shovel and a peg on my nose; reading that; editing with a hand-trowel, then a cake-slice, then a scalpel . . . until it's ready for someone else to take a look at.

Then again, though, that work is self-regulating. I simply can't write or edit for long enough that meals, telly and yoga get neglected. If I tried, I'd be writing drivel. Or not noticing that I'd written drivel. For maybe three days at the end of a first draft I can pound out four or five thousand words in four or five wild-eyed hours. Still leaves time to watch The Repair Shop.

Books there's a buzz about (it's coming)

Research? Well, that's either finding stuff out - fun - or going to places and poking around - also fun. And, since my books are set in Scotland where my family and old friends all live, you'd be looking at my research trips a long time before you thought "Poor Cinders".

Social Media? It's mostly hanging out with people I like talking about stuff I love. Poor me.

And speaking about hanging out with people . . . conventions, festivals and other book events. That bit of this job is tax-deductible travel to nice hotels on a budget rate to talk about books all the livelong day. 

And then there's the books themselves. Some of the reading I do is absolutely work. Blurbing forthcoming novels, for instance. But what kind of miseryguts would find it onerous to get a sneak peek at new work and give fellow authors - especially debut authors - a boost? I read Harini Nagendra's THE BANGLORE DETECTIVES CLUB and Rob Osler's THE DEVIL'S CHEW TOY the year before last and seeing both on the Lefty shortlists yesterday gave me a warm feeling that might have been naked power.

Then, in order of workiness, there's: reading books to moderate a panel; reading co-panellists' books out of camaraderie/nosiness; reading books there's a buzz about; reading classics you missed somehow . . . and generally making myself ever more acquainted with our beloved genre.

Some reading is a challenge to call targeted graft, right enough. Today, I just finished Akwaekwe Emezi's YOU MADE A FOOL OF DEATH WITH YOUR BEAUTY, a romance. But you know what? It's useful to look at other genres, and setting and dialogue are relevant no matter what, and the insights into conceptual art were fascinating, and when things got ugly (the protagonist falls for her sort-of boyfriend's father - yikes) the scenes could have come straight from domestic noir. 


In conclusion, sitting in the garden just now, reading to the end of a romance novel on a Wednesday morning was work. See me for all your rationalisation needs, folks. Satisfaction guaranteed,

Cx