Stepping Stones to Writing Success

Stepping stones

Along the journey from staring out the window thinking of a marketable idea for a new book to unpacking the box of freshly printed books sent by the publisher, a writer needs to set small goals to serve as stepping stones to writing success. While each person will have a unique approach to setting project milestones, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Conduct market research: Stroll through several local bookstores, flip through the pages of catalogs, and browse the websites of online book retailers to see what books are on the market now in the category of your book proposal. You will need to find about five comparable books to discuss in the Comparable Titles section of your book proposal. However, marketing research is helpful for you as you define what you hope to accomplish and cover within the pages of your potential book. You do not want to duplicate the work of another author. By reading what has been said by other writers about your topic, you can better understand what you have to contribute to the topic. Do not be discouraged from writing a book in a popular category. The existence of many books on the topic indicates a market for that subject.
  2. Set realistic deadlines: As you prepare to publish your book, you will encounter many deadlines. Within your book proposal, you will specify how long it will take you from signing a new contract with your publisher to handing in the first draft of the manuscript to the editor. A time period between five to six months is a good goal for completing a nonfiction manuscript. Make sure that you are confident you can complete the manuscript on time. Once you sign the book contract, break down the goal of writing the book content into smaller deadlines for yourself. Be sure to allow some margin for the interruptions and distractions that arise in the life of all writers. The sooner you finish your first draft, the sooner you can move on to the other tasks necessary for publishing your book. Set ambitious but achievable deadlines.
  3. Connect with key influencers: As I wrote about in an earlier post, “Finding Champions for Your Book,” many people will contribute to the future success of your book. Hopefully, you already have strong relationships with many of these key influencers. Use the time from the beginning stages of book proposal preparation to the completion of the manuscript to strengthen existing relationships with champions for your book and forge new ones. Connecting with people will provide a welcome break from the tedium of writing. You will remember the purpose for your pursuit of your writing goals. You can sharpen your ideas by discussing them with a few trusted advisors. You will prepare yourself for the upcoming transition from writer to marketer of your own book. The sooner you prepare to connect with potential readers, the better for everyone involved in publishing your book.

What do you consider as important stepping stones to writing success?

Advertisements

You can only eat so much eggplant.

eggplantI’ve rediscovered the joy of vegetable gardening, thanks to our move to a warmer clime that allows for gardening year-round. As a result, I’ve acquired some hands-on experience with how my garden grows…or not. And, being the reflective person I am, I can’t help but apply those lessons to not only life in general, but also to life as a writer. So whether or not you’re a dig-in-the-dirt kind of person, I hope you’ll find some gems in the guidelines I’m culling from my veggies.

  1. Sow liberally and see what comes up. For my first crop of lettuce, I ignored the seed packet instructions and laid seeds thickly the whole length of the row. I wanted to be sure something came up, and my confidence didn’t match the packet’s. The result: I had all the lettuce I could eat, and then some. The next time I sowed lettuce, I followed the instructions and spaced fewer seeds farther apart. The result: nothing came up and my work was a wasted effort.

Writing take-away: when you’re new at writing, try it all. See what develops for you. It’s better to produce more than you can use than have no success at all.

  1. Thin the rows to get better results. When I noticed that the new plants were crowding each other, I pulled out the smaller ones to let the bigger ones get the full advantage of soil, sun, and water. I got healthier plants that produced more and for longer periods of time.

Writing take-away: Capitalize on what’s working for you. If your fiction isn’t doing well, focus on the self-help material that’s popular with your audience and helping your platform grow. Put your energy where you’re seeing the strongest results.

  1. Some seeds just won’t sprout. Get over it. Plant something else. For some reason, I couldn’t get snow peas to grow despite two tries. Instead of letting the soil lay unused, I planted beets, which turned into a bumper crop, forcing me to try lots of new great recipes using beets.

Writing take-away: If you just can’t find an audience for something you’ve written, it’s time to try a different approach, treatment, or subject. The new material you produce might prove an easy winner.

  1. You can only eat so much eggplant. I didn’t think I could get tired of eggplant parmesan and mixed veggie grills, but after this summer and fall, I know there really is a limit to how much eggplant I can eat. Next year, I will plant only one plant, or make a habit of giving excess produce to my neighbors much earlier in the season.

Writing take-away: You can get tired of writing in the same genre. When you just can’t face writing another devotional, or romance, or even a blog post about writing, take a break. Write something else. Binge on reading books. Watch all the movies you missed in the last year. Then a day will come that you really want to write in your genre again. You’ll feel fresh and your writing will benefit.

By the way, if anyone wants eggplant, let me know…

A Matter of Time (Part 1)

HourglassTiming is everything.

This phrase appears frequently in the books of my mystery series, because my protagonist is a birder, and the timing of nature determines what birds he might see in each adventure: depending on the season, only certain birds are (typically) in a particular area. The phrase also is a descriptor of a ‘perfect’ crime – timing is everything if you’re going to get away with murder.

As it happens, ‘timing is everything’ holds true for all kinds of genres, fiction and non-fiction alike, both in regards to content and the pacing of narrative. In this post, we’ll take a look at how content benefits from timing; in my next post, we’ll focus on the art of pacing.

Content is dependent on the context of your experience of time. Everything a writer writes reflects his or her unique perspective and experience of life. For example, five years ago, I could convincingly set a book in a high school because I worked in a high school, and the students and faculty I met provided me with the raw material for characters and plots; a year earlier, I would have been inept handling the same material. The take-away: no matter the genre, write out of your own experience, because authenticity depends on reality. That’s not to say you can’t write a medieval romance – you can research the historical details that make the setting accurate, but you need to infuse your own feelings and insights, based on your own experience, to make the story ring true. Pay attention to what’s going on in your life, because that’s where your story will ultimately come from – the feelings and ideas you have in response to real-time life.

Content is strengthened by its connection to what is happening in the world right now. The obvious example is the spate of books that are published when an anniversary comes around, such as the books that hit the market last November to remember the JFK assassination. Holiday books do the same thing – they capitalize on timing. Any time you can connect your content to current events or trends, you accomplish two things: you strengthen your content by association, and you build in marketing opportunities. Are you writing a novel about a young person struggling to achieve success? Use current research about how depression can manifest in video game addiction to add intriguing layers to one of the characters; if you’re writing a study about age 30 being the new 18, that same research would add depth and attract readers.

If you’re lucky, time can even solve writing problems! I had that experience with my book A Murder of Crows, which dealt with the conflict between wind energy development and bird advocates. Mid-way through writing my manuscript, that exact conflict erupted in a neighboring county, furnishing me with ideas and even plot twists I hadn’t considered. I don’t routinely plan on serendipity to help me out with manuscript issues, but the timing couldn’t have been better for that one.

How do you make use of timing in your writing?

How a Blue Bird Can Save You Time

bluebirdI love Twitter.

Yes, it’s true – a year ago, I said I would never get on Twitter.

Just like I said “no Facebook,” the year before that.

The truth is that as an author, if you’re not on the social networks, you’re missing the boat, and while I’m still learning the best ways to use social media, I’ve found a surprising, but HUGE, benefit to spending time every day on Twitter: it’s my go-to source for content.

Content – the endless supply of information you need to share – is one of the things you have to manage on social media, and for me, it was one of the most intimidating. I barely eke out enough time to work on manuscripts between book marketing, my part-time teaching job, mothering, housekeeping, and walking the dog, let alone to come up with bright new pieces of information to post on my social networks every day. Effective social media marketing requires new content to keep your followers interested in what you do as an author; if your audience doesn’t hear from you in a while, they’ll move on to someone or something new, which defeats your whole social media strategy.

On top of fresh material, I also have to find/create the right spin on the content I collect to make it appropriate for my social networks. My readers expect humor, which isn’t nearly as simple or easy as it may sound; all authors – no matter what they write about – have to somehow personalize the content they curate to reflect their own signature brand.

Enter Twitter – tiny snippets of titles on anything and everything. It’s like an overflowing cornucopia of trivia, which is exactly what I like about it – I can skim through my Twitter feed and if some title catches my eye and strikes me as funny, or inspires a witty response in me, I can open the link and immediately bookmark it into a folder on my laptop. (Keeping a bookmarking folder dedicated to raw social media content has been one of my better ideas.) Then, when I’m making the rounds on my social networks and need new content, I can open that folder and retrieve the snippet for instant material. I’ve discovered that in just a few minutes a day, I can find enough tweets on Twitter to provide me with ideas and quick posts for a week, which frees up more time to write.

The danger of wasting time on Twitter was originally one of the reasons I didn’t want to use it, because like all social media, it pulls you into engagement that is hard to escape. (How many times have you told yourself, “I’m only reading one more post,” and then, an hour later, you’re still on Facebook?) By mindfully turning my Twitter time into content development time, I’ve made it a more productive and focused task that actually reduces the amount of time I need to spend on creating posts for my other networks. And that makes me tweet with happiness! (And you can join me @BirderMurder!)

What are some of the creative ways you use one social media to assist you with another one?