Simon Says: Writing Tips for Indie Authors

Decide what kind of artist you want to be before entering the industry.

Writers can’t excuse that all artists are screened through consumers’ expectations. Experts in the entertainment industry understand this concept. And yes, more than ever, books are heavy contenders in this, generating amazing movie deals, inspiring songs etc.

Recently, I’ve been catching up on talent completions, specifically X Factor. It’s funny to watch the contestants wait in anticipation for Simon Cowells response. Deep down, his feedback is the only one they really care about (so it seems). Because what Simon says is right. He knows talent, but more importantly he knows the business and the market.

Over the years there is one thing he says repeatedly on American Idol, Some Country Has Talent and X Factor that has stuck with me. Several times, mid-song, he’d ask the person auditioning to sing something different.

Why?

Because their voice wasn’t right for the song, possibly the style didn’t suit them. Basically, it wasn’t working. Then they’d perform something different and it would wow the judges. Choosing the right song is everything. Just because a singer can sing anything, doesn’t mean they should. Think about some of your favorite artist for a minute. Why do you like them? How would you define (categorize) their music? Is their style consistent?

There’s a reason why Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Muse, Dave Matthews Band, and countless others (really the list could go on), stick with one genre of music. It’s not because their talent has limitations–not at all. But their audience has expectations and, as artists, they understand the value in meeting those expectations.

Leonardo DiCaprio established himself as an actor in similar (type-cast) kind of roles, then blew our minds as we discovered later on the depth of his acting. This is easier to see with comedians. So, Jim Carey stuck with comedy for a while before shocking us with The Truman Show. Proving yourself in one area really pays off. Consumers need some sort of brand recognition–a way to place the artist in their minds.

For indie authors, the same applies. Just because you can write any genre doesn’t mean you should–well, not in the beginning. Build an audience in one genre first, then you can cross into another. And pick the right genre for your writing style. Like Simon says, this makes all the difference. And let me say:

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What are your thoughts on choosing the right genre, building an audience, and brand recognition as an author?

Coming up with a Book Cover

Book covers are tricky business. While I was writing that was one thing I never envisioned. Sure, I could see the character, each scene unfolding like a blockbuster movie, but an intriguing cover–nothing. I mean nothing. And for me that was kinda hard to accept being a former fashion major. Knowing what looks good visually comes naturally, I can dress people surely I can dress a book. Boy was I wrong.

I started researching book covers in my category, New Adult, and well, there were all kinds of girl-lusting-after-boy covers, or the hunky guy exposing his sculpted chest. Not quite my style. However, I read on NA Alley that book covers with people on them sell better. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of characters on the covers of books, I understand why this sells. We are so relational and want to connect with others. Seeing a real person on the cover probably draws interest just because of that fact. However, I still wasn’t sold on the idea. I’m a child of the 90s and I know just how silly people can look when fashion goes wrong. Seriously, these would have been models for book covers in the 90s.

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And we all know what this looks like to us now. I just couldn’t.

So, I thought of all the cool campus type images I could use as cover art: buildings, mascots, book bags. Along with all the Reslife stuff like, key cards, duty logs, t-shirts galore.  But then there’s this little copyright issue I kept running into that killed the dream I had in me.  I’d have to get permission and pay for most of the images I thought would work best, which led me in a different direction. I wanted to have a picture that wouldn’t violate copyright laws but display something meaningful to the story. And I wanted to include a person too, but without showing their gender or fashion style. This is what I came up with.

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How did you decide on cover art? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I have to figure out an image for the last installment of the Hall Speaks. 🙂

*image source: Will Smith picture from www.fashionupevents.com

Five Things Writers can learn from Rocky

I met this guy named Rocky when I was in college. At Virginia Beach, actually, carrying around his guitar singing to whoever would listen. A free soul being himself, something that most people have a hard time doing. I knew I’d never forget him—he was so, so different—in a good way. So last year when I learned about Blood Brother, this year’s first place for the Sundance Festival, I wasn’t surprised that Rocky was the main character. I knew he’d make an impact one day. Honestly I thought he’d be in the music industry…but film is just as cool.

Real quick: Blood Brother is a documentary. In it, Rocky leaves everything to help children infected with HIV living in an orphanage in India. The film is incredible. I mean, incredible. At first, I was scared to watch the film because I didn’t want to feel saddened by children suffering and dying of AIDS. But I know so many of the special people who put this big story together. I know the directors wife really well along with her family. My husband lived with them for a while. So I had to support them— I had to, they all worked extremely hard on this project.

Being a writer, I’m always looking at everything through that lens. What can I learn? How will this make me a better writer? Naturally, I asked myself these questions after watching the movie. At one point in the film Rocky says, “I think some people think I’m crazy.” I don’t. Rocky taught me a lot through this documentary, and I can’t cover it all, but here are five things that I learned as a writer.

1. Heart- This is so important. Writers gotta have a lot of heart! Others may say passion is key. Passion alone can be a wrecking ball, so singularly focused on a goal and self-driven, and tragically running over anyone that gets in the way. And that’s not always a good thing. Heart, on the flip side, is a mix of passion and humility. Writers need to care about the readers and other writers. But it always troubles me seeing authors bash each other on reviews. I’m not discouraging honest reviews. However, if they remember an actual human being wrote the work they’re critiquing, it would probably help them filter mean, nasty comments.

2. Love- Need I say more? Well, just a little. Every story is about love. Even your story. Don’t forget what you love about writing. Even when it gets crazy-hard and you hate your work and think no one really cares. Remember why you fell in love with writing, and hold on to it when you get a negative review, have to start over, or when your book doesn’t sell.

3. Inspiration- Find this, and if you lose it, search for it until you find it again.  Inspiration is the magic; it’s powerful enough to separate the talented from the phenomenal.

4. Take Risks- It’s okay. Go for it—take the plunge! Be different, not for the sake of being different, but do what works best for your story. Even if it’s never been done. Ask any successful writer, ask any successful person for that matter, and they all take risks. Risks are how dreams become reality.

5. Ownership- In the movie Rocky does everything in the orphanage from cleaning gutters to cleaning and caring for children’s wounds. He “owned” his role in the orphanage. And whether you’re going traditional or self-publishing, take ownership of your work. No one cares about your characters like you do. Seriously, no one’s going to mull over that perfect word you used in a scene that took you days to decide on. You’ll also need to pay attention to all aspects of the business. From marketing to editing. Do whatever needs to be done because at the end of it all, it’s your name, your work, and your story that’s building a reputation.

What are you learning about being a writer?