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?

The first ever novel about…

Residence Life.

Ok. I didn’t do this intentionally. I just thought it would be cool to write a story about my experiences as a live-in college professional. But working in student affairs didn’t allow for much time for this goal. I mean, who wants to write about their job after working a 12 hour day? However…

After the Virginia Tech shooting that occurred in 2007, I started thinking about the resident assistant story more, the unexplored point-of-view of teenagers confronting crises. And if that isn’t enough, they have to live with their peers and deal with these situations often while trying to get a degree.  RAs deserve to have a book just for them.

When I started actually writing this story in 2010, I couldn’t figure out how to pitch the book (#writerproblems101).  At the time the New Adult category wasn’t around and the literary world didn’t see an audience for college-aged characters. And Reslife culture is so unique like the military; unless you’ve lived in it it’s hard to understand. But I went to a writers’ conference anyway and pitched it to one agent. They loved it but wanted me to make the characters fit more into the YA genre. I thought about it but the story didn’t work for me as a YA. So I was kind of frustrated, and didn’t query. Why bother? My book didn’t fit. I couldn’t find one novel centered on Residence Life.

As I read more and more novels, I kept coming back to mine and thought: What do I have to lose if I actually publish it? Well, it could fail. But then I thought about some advice my friend Lisa gave me in grad school because I was scared of flunking out. I was more than struggling with a few of my classes. She said, “So what if you do fail and get kicked out, you can always do something else.” Those words relieved so much pressure I was putting on myself.  And for some reason, remembering what she said helps me to not be afraid. In honor of Dory from finding Nemo, I’ll just keeping writing, writing, writing!! I’m writing the first ever Residence Life novels and that in a way is success.

In the next few days I’ll post an excerpt from, The Hall Speaks #fallsemester. 🙂