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?

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Get In The Club–No, This Kind Of Club

I lived in Dallas—shout-out to all my Texas writers! I miss Texas.

My writing life flourished there because my support team kept me focused and motivated. I even attended a weekly critique group. I’m still building that writerly support where I live now. It takes time. I’ve only been in DC for a little over a year.

But I’ve found a group, one that helps my writing more than they know.

How I joined was a bit of a coincidence, a friend of a friend sort of invitation. Honestly I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I read books like most people watch TV, keeping up with several novels at a time, but sitting around talking about them in a casual sense…um, well… I was the blank slate when it came to this sort of thing.

I’m talking about joining a book club. A writer in a book club—how perfect?!

Each time we meet and dissect discuss a book, I get an education. Mostly on how the novel failed miserably or why it’s loved. I mean unable-to-put-novel-down kind of love.

For a writer it’s all pretty enlightening. Especially since their perspective is fresh, unbiased, simple-honest. None of them are writers—just readers. Hungry readers.

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And I love hungry readers.

Their advice is so helpful as I apply it to my writing. So here it is: Book Club Happiness and Helpful Tips for Writers.

  1. Question. Readers like books that keep them turning the pages. Sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the true art. How does one write to keep them reading? I noted all the books that we finished quickly. Each book had a big, intriguing question. The author would write around this topic, not really answering the question until way later. And the question has to be compelling enough that you cannot leave the story alone until it’s answered.
  1. Friends. Books are enjoyed best with friends. Obviously books have become just, if not, more social than the authors that wrote them. I can’t count the number of books I’ve read because they had a following. I only read the Hunger Games because all of my campus students were going completely nuts about it. I just wanted to see what had them so excited.Often times it’s the reader’s curiosity and wanting to belong, that makes them pick up a book. In this book club, word-of-mouth is the number one way we select books. Usually it’s a visit to Goodreads, selecting what’s popular (I’m the exception, I always select books by indie authors that none of them have heard of). So, new authors have to find the right group to build their audience. There’s an audience for every book, but finding them–that’s the real work.
  1. Escapism. I’m not sure if it’s the constant drama in the (bad) news, but we are constantly looking for an escape. Something to keep our mind off the world. Our world at times. So it’s not a surprise that we get excited about summer blockbusters, television shows, and book releases. All present opportunities to escape. Even if it’s just for a few hours, from our to-do-list, homework, or life’s problems, these breaks are so necessary. Readers want to get lost in your novel, to completely forget that they were cooking dinner or waiting for the bus. This goes along with knowing your audience and what’s an ‘escape’ for them. Personally, I’ve known too many friends crushed by cancer that reading, The Fault In Our Stars, is a no-go. I have no doubt it’s amazing but it wouldn’t be much of an escape for me. Thank you—but no thanks, John Green. 😉

If you’re working on a novel or enjoying writing, I highly recommend joining a book club. Remember, everything we do as writers is useful research–yep, even a Book Club. Happy Friday!! 🙂

 

Gif Credit: http://cheezburger.com/5206018048

The Most Important Work of A Writer

I volunteer at my son’s elementary school.  Eighty-five percent of his classmates are learning English, along with this rigorous Kindergarten curriculum. And yes, it is actually a hard workload for a five-year-old: book reports, addition and substation, spelling tests.

I’m not sure about you, but my first schooling experience pretty much consisted of naps, magical story-times, and snacks.

Helping these kids with English, led me to think deeper about my writing. I wondered if my writing would translate—the way I intended it—in other languages.  Although hundreds of books are translated, thinking about my novel in a different language never crossed my mind. I imagine an author would need a ton of guidance to make sure the translation is as close to the original as possible.

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As writers, we can tend to spend an exhausting amount of time looking for the perfect word to capture a scene or emotion. But how important is this to the story? Especially if it has potential to reach worldwide status.  I’m sure the writing style changes a bit during the translation process. But there is one thing that never changes.

Many writers ask, “What’s more important, the writing or the story?” I ran across a statement on Tumblr that gets us closer to the answer. A student sat in a presentation given by  Brian Doyle and here’s what they posted:

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing author, and an even better man named Brian Doyle. There are a few authors named Brian Doyle, but this one is the author from New York who wrote “Mink River” and “The Plover.” He talked about his own life and how he writes and what his process is, and it was all very standard for an author visiting a group of college students, but then he said something that really caught my attention. He said this:

“I don’t call myself a writer or an author. I call myself a story catcher. I don’t come up with stories, I live them and I take them and I keep them in my pocket until I need to tell them. I do this because stories are important. They are what we all live for. Stories are all anyone can know about anyone else. And so I challenge you to find the story that matters. Because behind everything there is a deeper story. When 9/11 happened everyone wrote about the brave firemen who rushed back into the buildings even though there was no chance that they could save everyone. Everyone wanted to write the story about the terror and the fear and the loss of an icon. But behind all the fire and tire and white ash is a more important story. Everyone tells the big story. No one tells the story about the family that sets four places at the dinner table, and has to put one plate back. I challenge you to find the important story. Find the story that really matters.”

The Story wins! 

Sky, fog, and clouds on a textured vintage paper background with grunge stains.

It’s been proven for centuries that stories are all we have, they confess the human experience. From The Great Gatsby, The Kite Runner,  Alice in Wonderland, all translated in several languages. But why? Because these stories captured a generation and continue to do so today.

I don’t know any teenagers reading original Shakespearian language for fun, but most enjoy stories from that era. We love them—like Disney, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, MacBeth, are here to stay.

So, the most important work of a writer is this: write in a way to help readers listen to the real story. It’s the story–even over time—that doesn’t change, but can change the world. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

 

Sources:

blog.writeathome.com 

http://modern-major-cannibal.tumblr.com/tagged/Brian-Doyle

letswritetogether.wikispaces.com

Stuck: Personal Rights vs. Public Safety

A few weeks back me and my hubby attended a Mental Health seminar held at the University of Maryland. We work with college students, and mental health is a continual problem on campuses everywhere. So we are constantly seeking advice because we love our students. The seminar was informative, for sure, but I left with more questions.

I’m going to take you back to my Hall Director days. And what I’m about to share my make you feel uncomfortable. But that’s not my intentions.

One of my RAs called me because her resident was banging her head against the wall. I was in my pajamas so I slide on my staff jacket over it. I didn’t have to go far, just down the hallway. When I got there, the resident was still hitting her head against the wall and she was bleeding. Even though I had worked in residence life for five years, handled several situations, I was still a little scared. She assured me she was fine—just stressed. Somehow I got the resident to calm down and to promise me that she wouldn’t hurt herself. It was 4am-ish, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I was making the right decision in leaving this resident alone. But she told me she wasn’t suicidal, and I wanted to believe her.

When I got back to my little apartment, I didn’t bother to wake my husband. He looked so peaceful, I, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep. All I thought about was that resident and if she’d be dead in the morning. I prayed that I had made the right decision. I called her two hours later, she was okay and a little shocked about my concern.

On college campuses, situations like this happens more than anyone would like to admit. Most schools want prospective students (really parents) to believe they’ve creative some Utopian environment that will foster academic growth and personal development. And I believe many practitioners really work hard to do just that. But here’s the deal, let’s drop off thousands of 18-21 year olds, give them a ton of work and remind them that their future success depends on it,  make them live with each other, encourage self-discovery, and there are bound to be a few mental melt-downs.

At times I felt lost confronting situations because students weren’t required to self-disclose. I never knew which students struggles with mental health unless they told me. So I spent many years treating symptoms because the cause was a privacy right that each student had—and still have to this day. I respect this right, I do. I just wonder can a right to privacy compromise public safety? For me, it’s a hard question to answer. Mental health is one of the themes in my book. I hope it will spark discussion that helps lead to a solution.