To Write a Book Someday, Share Your Writing Now

8139708904_9a1d1783d4_bSome people will tell you the defining characteristic of a writer is that he or she is someone who writes. There is truth to that perspective, but it fails to offer a complete picture. It also gives many “aspiring writers” an excuse to be nothing more than journal keepers: diligently plucking away at Moleskine memoirs or first-novel manuscripts that have zero chance of getting published, ever.

The point here is not a matter of quality. It’s about privacy.

The reason why many written works-in-progress will never see the light of publishing day is that they are stowed, always and forever, in a drawer or on a hard drive where they have no risk of being evaluated by a second person. The writers of these works will never be writers because they will never have readers. They exist completely outside the writing market, and the only critical eye they allow to view their work is their own.

If you think that one day you’d like for people to read your writing, then you should begin by inviting people to read your writing now. Here are five ways readers can strengthen your writing and make it even more worth reading:

Readers help you get over yourself. It’s not uncommon for writers to feel uncertain or insecure about what they’ve written. Will this technique work here? Am I being clear? Am I using a marketable concept? Does anybody else care about the subject? Without readers to help confirm where and how a piece of writing is hitting its target (and where and how it’s missing its mark), these uncertainties and insecurities often grow and fester. But when you prioritize feedback, typically you get it. As a result you might find that your sinking suspicions will be confirmed. Some of your assumptions might be challenged. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by rave reviews. Whatever the case, you won’t be stuck wondering anymore, and that will help light a clear way forward.

Readers identify strengths in your work. Encouragement and affirmation give extra fuel when you’re trying to produce a manuscript. So ask your readers to note the places where they laugh out loud, hold their breath with anticipation, get caught by surprise, can’t stop turning pages, or are struck speechless. That paragraph you’re thinking about deleting? It might be your readers’ favorite part. Give them a chance to tell you so.

Readers identify weaknesses in your work. That poetic metaphor you’ve taken days and months to craft? It might be so complex that it’s confusing your readers. The story you’ve built a whole chapter around? Your readers might be bored out of their minds.

As the writer of a work, you will undoubtedly feel more attached to it than your readers will. Because of your heightened emotional attachment, you’ll probably miss seeing some of your writing’s flaws. You might even be blind to enormous holes in the work. Let your readers open your eyes to the problems you don’t see, so you can take the opportunity to fix them.

Readers expand your perspective. You are only one person, so your outlook on the world is limited and skewed. You have strange views about certain things, and some of your views simply haven’t been challenged in a way that forces you to clarify them well or charitably. Readers can help you identify the odd little points in a draft, the ones that either are or seem arrogant, stingy, dismissive, hyper-emotional, you name it. Points like these will jut out in unseemly ways, always subtracting and distracting from good work, unless someone will be so kind as to call your attention to them, so you can know to improve them.

Readers make the process realistic. If your writing aspirations are real, then you’re going to have to accept the reality of readers at some point. Get used to feedback now, and critiques won’t make you crazy later. Write with readers in mind now, and it won’t feel strange when they’re a part of the process later. Start learning what readers are interested in now, and then when your defining moments as a writer come, you’ll be prepared to deliver for your readers.


YOUR TURN: Respond in the comments: How have readers helped your writing? What kind of readers give the best feedback? What keeps you from pursuing readers?


Photo credit: cogdogblog cc

Leadership Insights for Writers

When you think of a leader, you may envision the executive of a large corporation swiveling in a luxurious leather chair behind a large mahogany desk, or a speaker delivering a keynote address behind a podium. Perhaps you think of a coach motivating a football team to persevere after a tough first half of the game or an inventor changing lives through technology. You probably won’t think of the writer quietly typing words in an unseen office early in the morning or late at night. But maybe you need to think again.

Creating art wallpaper

Writers can lead with ideas, and history provides examples. Science fiction writers have shown us the future long before engineers drew the designs and filed the patents. Nonfiction writers have changed how we do business, emphasizing the importance of trust and emotional intelligence. As a writer, even if you do not see yourself as a leader, you can benefit from applying leadership insights to your work. Consider using the following three concepts to improve your writing:

Know Your Mission

Successful leaders know why they are doing the job they do. They know their mission and communicate it effectively to their followers.

In the writing world, every book carries a theme. Whether you are writing a guide to preparing salads from locally-sourced ingredients or a historical novel describing life in rural America in the mid-nineteenth century, your book has the opportunity to fulfill a mission based on its theme. Even books written primarily to entertain teach life lessons through the way the plot unfolds.

As you work your way through the chapters of the book you are writing, keep the mission of your book foremost in mind. Ask yourself how the passage you are writing today furthers that mission. Arm yourself with a red pen so you can edit out material that detracts from the central theme of your book.

Create the Necessary Structures

Leaders who build companies from small start-ups to large, stable corporations understand the value of creating structures. They find the best ways to do something and embed those methods into the company culture. Perhaps they teach employees specific phrases to use when interacting with customers. Maybe they develop a certain philosophy that guides corporate policies, such as the importance of giving back to the local community. Without the necessary structures, the leader’s ideas will become diluted and diffuse as a company grows, with employees far from the leader on the organizational chart losing sight of the vision.

Writers who hope to influence others through their writing need certain structures as well. One way to maintain a consistent message throughout a book is to break the book into parts, with each part developing the theme in a certain way. Fiction writers might want to consider how plot development furthers or detracts from the main theme.

Writers need structures in place for marketing once the writing phase is finished. By strengthening relationships with key people who will understand and promote the message in your book, you are creating structures that will expand your influence as a writer. A column in a magazine related to your book, a web presence through a blog or social media, interactions with local bookstores, and a network of places to speak all serve as necessary structures for the writer who wants to make a difference by leading with ideas.

Paint an Image of the Future

One of the key tasks on the to-do list of all leaders is sharing their vision. People like to follow individuals who can paint an attractive image of the future. We buy products that we feel will improve our lives and make tomorrow a little easier than today. Even if you are writing a book set in the past, provide your readers with life lessons that will move them forward into a better future. Help them imagine how the world will be better if more people invested in the theme expounded in your book. Throughout my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I invite people to imagine a world where individuals take the time to build bridges to one another instead of dismissing the insights of those unlike themselves. I apply the theme to faith and reason, feeling and thinking, and theology and science. However, the overall theme works beyond the scope of the book. My hope is to persuade people to improve the way they relate to others, leading them to live more fulfilling lives. I want my words to make a practical difference for my readers, bettering their everyday lives.

In what ways do you hope to influence people through your writing?

Conferences and Friends


writingWith the beginning of the ACFW conference barely a week away, you’ll see many posts outlining the reasons you should attend a writers conference, what to expect, how to approach editors and agents, and basic conference survival guides.

I’d like to tell you about my first conference (albeit not ACFW, but RWA) in San Francisco. The day prior to the start of the conference was the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter meeting, which was RWA’s chapter for inspirational writers. There I met three special, very gifted writers, Debra Clopton, Linda Goodnight, and Janet Tronstad.

We had hooked up briefly in a pre-conference chat room and decided to take in a few of the San Francisco sights together. It was an afternoon of laughter and fun, especially when we ended up on the wrong street car and found ourselves in the Painted Ladies section of town rather than at Fisherman’s Wharf. Long story short, we finally made it to our destination, but what impressed me most was not the sights of the beautiful Oceanside city, but how these women took me in. Me–a green newbie writer. The encouragement I received from them that day has fueled my writing efforts for years.

I have since met other wonderful woman, such as the dozen who formed the group called the My Book Therapy Ponderers. A God-ordained story that I’ll save for another post, but just as impactful in my writing career.

The key to a successful conference is making connections. Surround yourself with as many writer friends as you can to encourage you, pray you through the journey, and help you along the way. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. Get their business cards or write their names and emails down on a piece of paper. Then afterwards send them an email, or perhaps invite them to do a guest post on your blog. The key is to make new friends. It will be one of your best takeaways from a conference and an invaluable resource to the future of your writing career.

Your turn: What have you found to be the most valuable takeaway from a conference?

When the Bad Reviews Come {And They Will}

 

bad book reviews

“She needs to have more respect for the process . . . trying to claim that everyone should heal like her.”

The words pierced my heart.

Until then, I had enjoyed a couple good months of positive feedback, those heartwarming days after the release of my debut nonfiction book, When A Woman Finds Her Voice. The book hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases charts and then walked the Amazon {paid} bestseller list {in its genre} for a couple weeks in the top five. It also won some literary awards. But more importantly, my words were reaching the hearts of readers as comments like “inspiring,” “introspective,” “encouraging,” and even “life-changing” peppered online reviews.

That sort of feedback overwhelms a girl with God’s goodness, giving value to this shy writer’s words. To think He had somehow exchanged these primitive ramblings of one who simply longed to spread hope and had used them as encouragement for others, that’s humbling.

I’d finally felt the freedom to say it above a whisper: I am an author.

But then that two-star review hit my screen, attacking my sense of worth. It shouldn’t have, I know. Mentors warned me it was coming; they’d suggested I not even read it.

I didn’t listen.

I determined to mentally counter the negativity and then quickly return to my illusory sense of fulfillment. After all, I welcomed reviews—good or bad. Perpetual student that I am, I’m known to {relentlessly} solicit constructive criticism as an opportunity to learn. And here it sat, this chance for free education, this two-star review therapy.

But in a review-driven culture where we allow others to determine what we read, watch, eat, and even where we spend the night, how can we not be impacted when someone misunderstands our heart?

The judgement sliced soul deep, challenging insecurities I’d long ago buried.

This is the sort of vulnerability we open ourselves up to when we cast our words, our heart, into a public arena that holds potential for not just admiration and esteem but also misunderstanding.

You see, there’s nothing I’m more compassionate about than reaching the heart of a wounded woman and leading her to the restoring, redemptive feet of Jesus. But this particular reader didn’t know that, didn’t know me.

So how do we filter through these words when they come?

  1. We anchor. It’s crucial to anchor any negativity with perspective. We can’t allow disapproval to overtake our thoughts. For the one poor criticism, I had 49 positive reviews from folks who had been uplifted by my words. I worked hard to focus on those. {Very hard.}
  2. Bounce back. To feel defensive at first is natural, but if you find yourself wanting to respond negatively {as in hunt the person down on social media to blast them back}, walk away from the screen and refocus. Immediately.
  3. Consider truth. Ask yourself, “Is this true? Is the criticism valid? Did I somehow fall short?” If so, use this information in a positive manner and seek to write with excellence. However, if the negatives aren’t well-rounded and constructive, the point baseless, you simply have to let it go.

As word-weavers, this should become our default: in the face of bad reviews, let’s practice our ABCs to rebuild our confidence. Anchor. Bounce. Consider.

Okay, I’m curious now: How do you handle criticism?

Is Multi-Genre Writing Right For You?

to do list (2)One of the ongoing debates in the writing world is about the wisdom of writing in more than one genre. The reality, I think, is that most writers want to write in several genres and, in fact, may be quite good at it. My first projects were poetry, and then I moved on to magazine articles. Think pieces followed, as did newspaper humor columns. My first published book was a small volume about practical Christian spirituality, but then I found my stride in humorous murder mysteries (#6 is out in September, with #7 currently taking shape on my laptop).

Last but not least, a few months ago, my first memoir was published.

So, for me, the big debate about writing in multiple genres is a no-brainer, because I already do.

My experience of doing so, however, has made me recast the debate from a writing perspective to a publishing perspective, and, as a writer who wants to build a career as a published author, I offer my own pluses and minuses of working in a multi-genre career.

  1. Minus: If you think it’s demanding to build one platform, try building several at once. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but in my experience, it can’t happen simultaneously (unless you have clones of yourself ready to go – and in that case, please drop me a note at my website, because I could use a couple of clones these days). To launch a book, you have to be single-minded to make the best of marketing opportunities: appearances, talks, media, book clubs, etc. Your new book/baby needs attention 24/7, and if you leave it for a day or two to nurse along another genre, you find yourself playing catch-up when you get back to the newborn. I’m guessing it’s like having twins-one person can’t really hold two babies equally well, so there’s always some juggling going on. Same thing with two genres: you end up feeling like you haven’t been as successful as you could have been with just one book. At the very least, you don’t sleep much, because you’re trying to do the work of two marketing departments in one body.
  2. Plus: Working in two genres is exhilarating! You get to double the people you meet and the interests you cultivate. Your horizons expand and life is so rich with new experiences, it takes your breath away. It’s wonderful to be a writer!
  3. Minus: Publishers are very hesitant to take a chance on you in a new genre. The more you’ve established yourself in one genre, the less a publisher wants to take the risk of launching you in a different direction. Publishing is a business, and publishers have to respect the bottom line.
  4. Plus: If your genres share something in common (mine share humor and a love of nature), your fans of one genre are more likely to follow you into new territory, giving you a base readership on which to build and a headstart on creating a new platform.

Have you had any experience in multi-genre writing? Any insights to share?

Writing Inspiration from Anne Rice

Sometimes, what you need is a little inspiration from those that have braved the path before you. That’s really what this blog was designed to be– a way to help those who are a bit behind on the publishing path. To offer knowledge, encouragement . . . a helping hand.

Regardless of what you think of Anne Rice, she has “been there, done that.” I came across this interview on You Tube and found the information pretty interesting.

Hope it inspires you today.

What authors inspire you to keep perfecting your writing craft? What words of advice have kept you going?

Spiritual Marketing: Martha Carr

There are now endless marketing tips and tools available to everyone with every kind of budget. It has gotten much harder to know when to stay strong and push on through a marketing plan that’s not quite working and when to let go and see what happens. It’s a blessing and a curse for a writer.

TheKeeperI’ve been writing and publishing for a few years and I’ve been fortunate enough to get the chance to be traditionally published and to self-publish. I’ve had the chance to have no money for marketing and a healthy budget. The lessons I learned from the experiences have proved to be invaluable to my life as a writer but not in the way I expected, especially when it comes to marketing.

What I discovered has felt like an obvious answer and has given me back my love of writing. Years of frustration over marketing had slowly taken that from me till I wondered if I wanted to write anymore. That’s when I paused and started listening from within and finally got an answer.

First, remember that when it comes to the actual writing, we all have a calling, an urge to write in one style or another and it’s pretty difficult to get us to stray from it. Mine is to write a series of thrillers, the Wallis Jones series, that include big conspiracies and average families searching for a way to deal with it all. For some, the answer is God, while others keep searching, hoping for a different answer.

No matter how many times I went and tried another style of writing, I eventually came back to that mix.

Marketing, however, is altogether different, especially in a quickly-changing world full of experts who say they can help sell your book. I’ve tried quite a few of them and with both good and bad results. In the end, it was all a lot simpler than I was trying to make it.

The answer was to live life on life’s terms. In other words, if there’s enough in my budget to do some marketing, then consult with the experts, weigh the options and set out with a plan. Keep the focus on the one plan and invite God into the entire process.

Instead of focusing on how many books were selling, my attention shifted back to what motivated me in the first place. I wanted to write because I had something to say. The fun returned because it was no longer about the outcome. So much of marketing can be about outcome if you let it.

That’s where I’ve started using spiritual marketing as my guide and letting go of the results. My part is to just do the piece of marketing that’s due today and then stop. I find myself sitting down to write without gritting my teeth or thinking about who might want to read it. I’d still like to sell a lot of books but my stomach doesn’t lurch when someone asks me how many have sold and I don’t feel compelled to hunt down opportunities.

I’ve got a plan in place for The Keeper that is reasonable and in line with my current budget for time and money. Outcome is out of my hands and I turn it over daily to the one place I know will be able to do something with it. I do my part in all of it but I’m not making sure everyone else is also doing their job. Until I adopted the idea that God would need to be part of the marketing as well, it was never enough. But for me, spiritual marketing means God can get me wherever He wants me to be so I can be assured this is my journey and relax into it.

*******************************************************************************************

MarthaCarrMartha Carr is a journalist and author of five books, including the Wallis Jones series. The 2nd thriller in the series, The Keeper has just been released. http://www.wallisjonesseries.com/.