About Kimberly Vargas

Kimberly's debut novel, Gumbeaux, received a gold medal in the 2011 Readers Favorite fiction contest. Her hobbies are writing, painting, cooking, movies, creative projects, travel and reading. http://www.kimberlyvargasauthor.com

Would You Write A Book Without an Outline?

You probably wouldn’t drive across the country without a map.

You probably wouldn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner without recipes.

Would you write a book without an outline?

The practice of outlining a book in detail takes an enormous amount of discipline. Focusing on the infrastructure of the story is a whole different ball game than writing in free form and letting things evolve as they may. My first book was a result of rambling writing sessions, often resulting in superfluous content which ended up being taken out of the story. Although it was fun to just write and see what happened, it seemed there had to be a more effective method out there, one that would result in a greater yield with less exertion. Most writers have other jobs, and when it comes to writing time, every moment is precious.

Some writing coaches suggest that creating a detailed outline is the most important part of book writing, and the part where most authors struggle. Writers may spend weeks or even months on the outline alone, to provide some frame of reference for how detailed the outline can be. Writing a book is a project, not unlike building a house. There is the foundation, there are the walls, the flooring, the roof, etc. Only when the skeleton of the house is in place can homeowners enjoy working on some of the more aesthetic features of the home – picking out colors, the yard, creating curb appeal, you name it.

A project manager friend who has been intrigued by the writing process asked how my latest book was coming along. Our casual conversation at a wedding evolved into something else when I mentioned being stuck halfway through the book. The project manager asked if she could help me in going back to the drawing board and getting serious about planning it all the way to the end. I started sending her samples of my content and images of people that remind me of my characters. She would go through what I had written so far against our burgeoning outline and provide feedback: “I don’t think the character would say that on page 73,” or “When are the characters ever going to make it to Barcelona? You said that they have been saving up their mileage points for the trip,” etc.

At first I wondered if it had been a little premature to share my work with someone else. She had questions that were not always easy to answer, such as why I chose one title over another. Each time I had to explain an aspect of the story, it helped me figure out how to convey metaphors and messages with much greater clarity. After a few short weeks of this exchange, we finalized the outline. It’s all been downhill from there. Writing to an outline hasn’t seemed restrictive at all. It’s been like driving with a navigational system in the car, so you can better focus on the traffic, the scenery and the passengers.

Compass and Bible
Writing can be a very solitary profession, but creating an outline is a great opportunity to collaborate with others, should you desire to do so. It’s a lot easier to get someone to read an outline than to read a manuscript of 120,000 words or so. If you can have the feedback given to you in a postive way by someone who can deliver it in a manner that makes you comfortable, then your writing will become that much better for having another pair of eyes review it. Having to discuss and explain your work, your ideas, and your story line can be pretty awkward in the beginning. However, writers have to do it eventually anyway, so why not start from the get go?

Writers, do you sit down and just write, or do you use a more formal approach?

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“Have I Arrived?” Defining Your Expectations as a Writer

I recently went to a fabulous wedding. It was held at a vineyard in California wine country and everyone was dressed to the nines. I was able to interact with many acquaintances I rarely see.

“You’ve published a book!” A friend’s mother cried, hugging me with enthusiasm.

“Self-published,” I felt obligated to mention.

“Yes, but you always wanted to be a writer, and now your dream has come true! You have arrived!”

As she ran off to be photographed next to the bride, I let her gracious words marinate in my head for a while. Have I arrived? Not by my system of measurement. In many instances, a writing career is something that can take a lifetime to establish. So, how do authors know when they have ‘arrived?’

On the outset of any undertaking, it is important to determine what success looks like. Writers can only benefit from defining their own expectations of success. Does success mean self-publishing a book on Amazon for friends and family to enjoy? Does it mean filling a need or service in the community? Does it mean a lucrative career and multiple bestsellers that are optioned for film?

Plane red carpet

If you aspire to have your work read by as many people as possible, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a popular writer. However, if you only recognize success as a big time book deal and an over-sized cardboard novelty check, you may never reach your ultimate goal. The writing journey is a long one, with many milestones on the path to success. Reaching a milestone goal might be cause for celebration. How about celebrating the first time a stranger approaches you and asks about your writing? Why not celebrate your first book review that goes online? Maybe one of your milestone goals is selling three hundred books and you celebrate by going out for sushi. There are people who have sold three million books and it doesn’t feel like enough to them. That’s the difference between people who walk the earth happy and those who are vaguely dissatisfied and unfulfilled. They never established the finish line, so all they can see is what they have yet to accomplish, not what they have already accomplished.

If your goal is to be the best writer in America, that’s not possible to quantify, and trying to measure your success will only frustrate you. Whatever your endgame, the point is to determine the location of the finish line and create goals and expectations for building your writing career. It’s important to be honest with yourself about where you want to end up. If you can clearly define and articulate where you want to go, you have a much better chance of getting the help you need to reach your destination.

Emily Bronte only wrote one book in her life, but it was Wuthering Heights. She did not live to see the widespread acclaim for her book, but we can all agree that she was an exceptionally successful writer. Many writers wait for their audience to decide if they have arrived. They are waiting for a stamp of approval from the world, a bestseller list placement, their parents, friends, or maybe their high school creative writing teacher. At the end of the day, though, only the writers themselves can determine if their goals have been met and they have finally arrived.

Do you think that success as a writer is about the destination or the journey?

Behind Every Great Writer is an Ideal Reader

Writing can be a lonely business. One way authors can alleviate that issue is to build a relationship with a person that they consider their ‘Ideal Reader.’ An Ideal Reader is a trusted partner, advisor and the first person to read the writer‘s first draft of a book.

The Ideal Reader is symbolic of the writer’s audience overall. This person represents a composite or a common denominator of the author’s demographic, so in this case one size will definitely not fit all. Once common ground and a willing exchange has been determined, what qualities should the Ideal Reader possess? They should be well read in the genre of the book, whatever it is. They need to be a person that the writer trusts implicitly. They should also be able to communicate in a way that the writer will appreciate. Assertive communication occurs when there is open and honest feedback presented in a respectful manner. The Ideal Reader will be able to convey their suggestions in a way that will make the writer think twice. The suggestions are taken under advisement and there is no weirdness if some or all of the suggestions are not implemented.

Girl Browsing Books at the Library

The Ideal Reader should be able to detect structural flaws, such as a deceased character showing up in a later chapter. It is a first draft, after all, and first drafts are usually a bit of a mess. You probably know a few people you don’t mind coming over when the house is in disarray. Those are the people with whom you feel most comfortable, who you trust, who you are willing to let see you at your worst – not just your best. That’s the kind of confidence to have in your Ideal Reader.

You may even have different Ideal Readers for different areas of your writing. Think of them as subject matter experts who can check your content for flaws. Have a friend in the medical field review your story which takes place in a hospital. If you don’t know much about something on which you are writing, give it to a person who does work in that field to see whether or not they find it credible.

Another aspect of the Ideal Reader is that they need to be into your writing. Writers, don’t hold yourself hostage by trying to make an Ideal Reader out of someone with a “you’re welcome” attitude who looks annoyed whenever handed a manuscript. If you have to follow-up with them multiple times over several months, then keep looking. The partner you want will be naturally enthusiastic to see what you have created. They are engaged and interested, and they can’t wait around for several weeks or months or years to find out about your latest opus. They are supportive but provide constructive criticism. They are collaborators actively involved in the process. Once you have established your Ideal Reader, do what you can to maintain the relationship. They are rarer than diamonds and even more valuable.

What is your approach to collaborative writing?

Do you have an Ideal Reader?

Pitch Your Book Like it’s a Movie (The One Sentence Synopsis)

I recently attended a screenplay writing seminar with Publishers and Writers of San Diego. It was taught by writing coach Marni Freedman and focused on taking an existing book and developing it into a screenplay.  Screenplays are extremely concise – they average around one hundred pages. Being concise means really having to know the infrastructure and outline of a story. There are several aspects of screenwriting that are helpful in book writing, and one of those aspects is the creation of a logline.

A logline is a one sentence synopsis of your story. It is like the cover of a book. A good one makes you want to open it immediately to see what is inside. Before you can create a logline, you will need to understand where your book is going. When you try and select a movie on cable, you see loglines all the time. They are very brief descriptions of the show’s content.

For example, let’s look at a logline for The Godfather by Mario Puzo: A 1940’s New York mafia family struggles to protect their empire from rival families as the leadership switches from the father to his youngest son. Although The Godfather is an epic, the plot can still be boiled down into a one-sentence pitch. Audiences have short attention spans and you only get one chance to make a first impression. Effective loglines are compelling: they draw people in and make them want to know more.

Ready to create your own logline? It can be comprised more easily if you are able to supply the following story formula that Marni will be publishing in an upcoming book – 7 Steps to a First Draft:

Story idea: Who – Unique Problem – Goal – Ending (Marni Freedman 2010)

  • Who do you want to write about? Why are they interesting? Why should we care about them and want to follow them?
  • What unique problem does this person face?
  • What is this person’s goal? How will the person solve it? Who or what will try to stop them?
  • How does their journey end?

Writing coach Marni Freedman (www.thewriterinyou.com) encouraged our group to create loglines, as they are not just for the authors to be able to quickly explain the heart of their story, but also serve as a pitch that can be used when interacting with agents, entering contests, meeting with producers, or anyone with whom you want to engage. If you would like to practice this exercise, think about one of your favorite stories (which can be the form of a book or movie) and create a one sentence synopsis of the plot and action.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: Four children travel to the magical land of Narnia where they must battle an evil queen with the direction of the Lion, Aslan.

Citizen Kane: Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance.

Toy Story: A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room. 
Clapper Board
The creation of a logline takes time and effort. It’s hard to boil down your story to a one sentence synopsis. It may take you several attempts, so don’t beat yourself up if you find it a harder process than you originally anticipated. You will know that you have stumbled on your perfect logline because it is fun to pitch and rolls off your tongue. Try it out on your friends and watch their reactions. If their eyes light up and they say, “yeah!” then you know you are on the right track. Just start giving it a shot, and you may find that you understand your story with surprising clarity.

Can you see how creating a logline might add value to your writing?

Half Baked: A Publishing Recipe

Is most of your writing only half-baked? It’s easy to get distracted with all the wonderful topics to write about, and many of us have manuscripts that are still rising on shelves in the garage. That being said, it’s sometimes nice to go through the steps of what happens when a book does in fact make it all the way to publication. Here is a basic recipe detailing the steps that are required in creating a fully baked book:

For a first time author, a book usually starts with a completed, edited manuscript for fiction, or a proposal and sample content for non-fiction. Published authors can sometimes sell novels on proposal, but not usually. Best practices suggest that unpublished authors should try and find a literary agent, once their manuscript is ready for submission. Few publishers accept work directly from authors sans representation, and a good agent can greatly aid a manuscript’s success rate.

After a literary agent has taken on a manuscript, they then send it to editors at different publishing houses. The literary agent targets the submissions to the publishing houses that they feel are most appropriate for the book. The editors take a look at the project, and if it’s something they are interested in they will share it with their colleagues to determine the level of interest. If the editor receives word that they can move forward with the manuscript, they will send an offer to the literary agent.

The submission process can take anywhere from weeks to months (or even years), depending on how long it takes to find an interested editor. An offer may include advances and / or royalties. Sometimes the offer may even be a contract for several books. If more than one editor is interested, there may even be a bidding war situation to determine which publisher can create the best offer. When the terms have been agreed upon and the author accepts an offer, the publisher will send a contract to the literary agent. The literary agency may have a contracts expert review the fine print and negotiation points. Once the contract has been signed, it’s time for the author to get writing (if the book was only sold on a proposal).
Little Chefs

Once the manuscript is completed (non-fiction), or after the contract is signed (fiction), the editor will usually send a letter recommending changes to the manuscript. These changes are more or less negotiable, but authors usually follow the recommendations of editors. After all of the recommended changes have been made and the manuscript is deemed ready to go, it is copy edited. Spelling and grammatical errors are corrected. The pages are laid out to show what the book will look like. The author reviews the different versions of the completed manuscripts. The publisher works on the design of the book (including cover, trim size, font, paper type, and other details).

The editor manages the process of having marketing experts write copy for the publisher’s catalog, come up with the cover details, create buzz, and launch marketing plans. Several months before the book’s publication, sales specialists will coordinate with their bookstore partners and take book orders. This part of the process helps determine how many copies of the book will be printed. The agent might oversee this process to verify everything is on track. It usually takes a year or more for the publication process to go from finished manuscript to book for purchase. It can be fast tracked if it is an especially hot project, but the process usually requires quite a bit of lead time. When the publication date arrives, the book goes on sale. The book is now available to customers, and the customers often take it from there. Positive feedback, great reviews, and word of mouth are still some of the best forms of marketing. After that, the author is launched into instant literary stardom (or not). The author then writes a second book and the process repeats.

Hopefully this recipe for completing a half-baked book has been helpful – and now, I’d better get back in the kitchen.

Sticks and Stones: The Highly Sensitive Writer Toughens Up

I recently attended a writing seminar about creating compelling titles for books. A burgeoning writer volunteered her book title for the rest of the group to critique. The consensus of the group was that her title wasn’t catchy enough and needed to be reworked. Several people in the group offered sage advice that would probably have helped her a great deal, had she been open to suggestions – but she wasn’t. The novice writer became incredibly defensive (and borderline angry) about the feedback. She was not ready to be objective about her work. The facilitator had to smooth things over and hastily get a more willing participant for the exercise.

Throughout history, even the most successful writers have to deal with criticism, so there’s no reason why we should consider ourselves immune to feedback. Check out these excerpts from actual famous author rejections from http://www.writersrelief.com:

  1. Sylvia Plath: “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”
  2. Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
  3. J. G. Ballard: “The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.”
  4. Emily Dickinson: “[Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.”
  5. Ernest Hemingway (regarding The Torrents of Spring): “It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.”

Ouch! So, how does one not get touchy about his / her work? Writers are still artists, after all. Artists are famous for being highly sensitive. Artists who have to self-promote themselves may find it incredibly awkward to listen to face-to-face or written criticism. Once I gave a book I wrote to a professor friend to review. He said. “Well, perhaps you should focus on writing things you know about, as opposed to rock stars.” It was a fair point well made, and my creative writing has become much more real as a result of sticking to what I know.

Boxer Flexing Her Muscles

Aside from writing, I also like to paint. One time, it took 3 months to finish a large 12×12 foot piece and I needed to get a moving company to deliver it to my showing – longdistancemovingcompanies.co is my favorite long distance moving company for that. At one of my showings, I overheard a man telling his friend that my art might be best displayed at a fast food restaurant. “It’s convenience store art,” he said as I looked on, trying not to have any sort of facial expression. The critic didn’t know I was the artist or that I was in earshot. It stung, but feedback is still feedback and should be regarded as just that. It proved to be a valuable lesson – you can’t win them all. If you will accept nothing less than 100% acceptance, you will be plagued by disappointment. But here is the silver lining: You don’t need to win them all. You just need a percentage, and as long as you keep putting your work out there, the correct audience that appreciates you will find your work. It’s all about maintaining perspective.

Why does one need to develop a thick enough skin to withstand criticism? Because unless you have someone else to promote your writing on your behalf, it’s all going to be done by you. You will be the one going into the front lines to promote and defend and champion your own work. Confidence helps, so if you don’t feel you have any, then act as if you do. Pump yourself up until you start to believe it. If one reader doesn’t appreciate your writing, that’s okay – there will be others who will. Instead of harboring hurt feelings, why not just say, “There are other audience members in the literary sea. Next!”

How do YOU maintain perspective about your writing?

Building the Perfect Brand

I recently attended a branding seminar for authors and wanted to share best practices with the WordServe Community. Here are 4 Sizzling Secrets to Branding You and Your Book from speaker Liz Goodgold, Branding Expert for www.RedFireBranding.com:

1. WIIFM: What’s in if for me?

Your audience wants to know what they are going to get out of buying and reading your book. Sell a benefit or a result – think in terms of a call to action. Will your reader learn a skill, come away with increased knowledge, or be entertained? Knowing your endgame is a huge part of selling the benefits and the results.

2. Consistency is Key

Brands have to be consistent. In-N-Out Burgers always taste the same, and they have since the forties. That is consistency at its finest.  Your audience is looking for that kind of consistency. Once you have established your brand it’s important to stay with it. Think in terms of household names like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or the ‘Dummies’ do-it-yourself guides or perhaps the Mars and Venus books. For writers who tackle random subjects without a real sense of continuum, Liz recommended that the books should still appear consistent with regards to style, size, type, and font. Branding by color is a popular way to go.

3. Book Title – Easy Recall

A well-branded book title is catchy and simple to recall; it also carries over easily from one book to the next. In hindsight, my book, Gumbeaux, was probably not the perfect title as it can be considered difficult to pronounce. However, I have the opportunity, based upon Liz’s learnings, to title my next book: “Rancheaux” or something with a similar suffix. The suffix could work as well for me as “itos” does for Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, etc.

4.You Are the Brand

You are not building a book, but an empire. Don’t create a website that is only useful to promote a single book unless you are positive you’ll never write another one. It should be fluid enough to support your blog, sales channels, books to come, a potential series, etc. Check out the websites of your favorite authors and notice how they position themselves not just as writers, but as brands. Use jargon that resonates with your writing platform. You are the brand – not your book – so think big.

How are you building your brand?