What A Debut Author Fears Most

what a debut author fears mostI thought I was afraid of public speaking. And I am. (That’s why I’m in Toastmasters.) But it turns out that’s not what I fear most about my Cinderella’s Dress book launch in two weeks. TWO WEEKS.

Saturday, I went to the Blink Tour at Changing Hands Bookstore to meet YA authors Lisa T. Bergren, Jill Williamson, Lorie Ann Grover, and Jonathan Friesen. Before the introductions were made, my launch event was listed in the announcements. Later, during Q&A, Lisa, author of 40 books was kind enough to ask me about my novel. This led to me asking the panel for their advice for an author heading into her debut month.

What Lisa said tipped over a domino that had me thinking all weekend.

She said that there are going to be people who really like my book. And people who really don’t. But the majority will be in the middle of the two extremes. She advised me to focus on the core readership and ignore the rest.

Walking with my husband that night, I told him about the event and what Lisa said. That’s when the mulling started. You know that thing authors do…when we go over every possible scenario, focusing heavily on the bad things that could happen. Note to self: You are supposed to do that for your CHARACTERS, not yourself.

Up until now, writing has been a very private activity. The only people who have read my work have been other writers, who get it. They get that it’s a work in progress. WIP. That anything and everything is up for revision. They get the striving to put the movie in my head into words that conveys that movie to another person. They get how hard that is.

Readers? Big scary readers? Do THEY get it? Do they get how hard it is to write a novel?

And then there has been the infamous Road to Publication. I look behind me and see a road littered with rejection slips. In front of me is the Cliff-of-the-Unknown.

Up until now, those rejections have been private. Shared, again, mostly with other writers who get it. Those who are also developing tough skin to suck up the rejection and keep trying. Keep writing.

Up until now, the advent of my first published novel, every book I’ve written has been rejected. Even though this book has been accepted and professionally edited, the dark cloud of rejection is not too far behind me. I still remember it.

What was once private will now be public.

I know there will be readers who reject my work publicly. They will forget that a real person is on the end of that rejection. I know this because I’ve read some reviews for other books and cringed in horror for the writer.

Book tastes are subjective. Once, I wrote a blog post about reading a book I didn’t particularly like (Too. Much. Voice). I was thrilled because it meant that even though my work was getting rejected by agents who liked their fairy tales “darker” all it would take is one editor whose tastes were like mine. It took awhile to find her, but I did. Now I’m in search of my tribe of readers.

A fear voiced loses some of its power.

That everyone won’t love my novel. This is what I fear most as a debut.

I am eager to meet my first bad review and get it over with. Like ripping off a Band-Aid!  *Please note, this is not a call for people to give me bad reviews. Truly, there is no need.*

And I am glad that—as always—I’ll have writer friends to talk it over with when it happens. The writing community is amazingly supportive. And one day, when a wide-eyed debuting author asks me for advice, I will give willingly and freely as I remember the fears leading into my own debut.

Now, if only I could nail public speaking.

A to Z Blogging Challenge

A to Z Letter AWe here at Routines for Writers are big fans of writing challenges, specifically, NaNoWriMo. The November writing frenzy is firmly implanted in my writing routine arsenal. Even if I don’t write a novel that month, I at least increase my output for whatever I’ve got going at the time.

So imagine my excitement when I stumbled across a month-long blogging challenge in April! The A to Z Blogging Challenge has you blogging every day (except Sunday) using the letters of the alphabet as your prompt. Every. Day.

As I type this, I’m getting ready to blog the letter M on my personal website. It will be a wonderful Mushroom Soup recipe that my mom gave me last winter. Yummy. Check my blog on Tuesday: http://shonnaslayton.com/

Here is what I have experienced so far, and why I think writers should participate in a challenge such as this:

1. You learn to blog faster. You can’t spend forever thinking about what to blog, writing the blog, editing the blog, etc. If you are going to survive, you’ve got to pick up the pace. Don’t worry about being less than perfect.

2. You learn to write shorter blogs. People are busy and they are zipping through the blogs. Be short and sweet. Write the occasional masterpiece to stand as an evergreen article, but not every time you blog.

3. You learn to write about topics other than writing. You become very aware that the people visiting your site for the month will not all be writers. They aren’t going to want to read about plot structure. They are readers .You have to entertain/inform them a different way. Isn’t this the problem so many of us writers have? What else are we going to talk about if we aren’t writing about writing?!? Take the blogging challenge and find out.

4. You learn to visit other blogs–not just writing blogs. This has been one of my favorite lessons. As part of the challenge, you start at your name in the sign-up list and you visit the five blogs below yours. I’ve learned such interesting things this month, going outside my normal blog-type.

Also, this sequential method gives you a reason to visit a random stranger’s blog. You are all in this challenge together and it brings an instant sense of camaraderie. You’re not just trying to sell your book or build your platform.

5. You learn to comment. When you visit the five blogs a day, you are supposed to comment. And then if you have time, you can go back and visit the blogs of the people who left comments on your blog. I’ve “met” some really great people and found some new blogs and Pinterest boards to follow.

Bonuses: I’ve picked up a couple Twitter followers and newsletter subscribers. I feel more connected to the blogging community. My blog is not as lame as it used to be 😉

How about you? Are you in on the A to Z challenge? Are there other challenges like this out there?

Three-Pass Editing System

My publisher, Entangled Publishing, uses the three-pass editing system. As I write this, I’m in the lull between first and second passes, and am busy taking care of my to-do list, so when the second pass arrives, I can dive right in.

The three-pass editing method is a great system for authors to add to their writing routines.

First Pass

THE BIG EDIT. This is the pass where the editor(s) take a look at the big-picture items. The plot, the character arcs, the plot holes, etc. This is the “dreaded editor letter” everyone talks about. It’s a developmental edit. This is the pass where you may have to get rid of an extra character or change the POV or cut/add whole chapters. Here is the video I made for my editors to show them how hard I worked on their notes:

 

Second Pass

The second editing pass shrinks down to line edits. For my book specifically, we’ll be looking at the speech patterns of my foreign speakers. I’ve got an elderly couple who fled Poland during WWII. When they first arrive in New York, their English is limited, but by the end of the novel (which covers several years) their speaking has significantly improved. Well, mostly, because one of them is suffering from dementia, and so I have to show her reverting back to Polish. We’ll also be looking at the other characters, making sure they stay consistent. And, of course, I’ll do a Margie Deep Edits pass to amp up the use of dynamic language.

Third Pass

Yikes. THIS. IS. IT. Unless I find a huge-can’t-believe-we-missed-this kind of plot hole, I won’t be making any changes. This is our final copy edit check for spelling, commas, proper grammar, etc. While I’ve done this kind of pass before sending work out on submission, I’ve never been at this stage FOR REAL. As in, I’m not revising this book any more. I think I will be both elated and incredibly sad at the end of this pass. I don’t know. I’ll have to come back and give an update.

So, there you have it. The three-pass edit. Add it to your routines!

Writing Influences: L.M. Montgomery

Blog Housekeeping:

Our format for this blog has generally been One Topic, Three Ways. We pick a theme and then we each write our POV on it. If you are finding us again after our hiatus, welcome back! We are still taking this same format, but are cutting back our frequency so that each of us takes a week to be responsible for the blog, with the last week of the month up for grabs to whoever has extra news to share.

Author Crush:

And while I’m reminiscing, let me remind you that February has traditionally been our Author Crush Month. To review past guest blogs of the month, check out the Author Crush archive tab above, or click here for the list. I’ve made a pin-able Author Crush graphic for you Pinterest folks out there.

Writing Influences:

Instead of guest blogs we are talking about writing influences this month. For me, this goes back to my childhood. I’ve had so many favorite authors over the years, but if I had to choose just one who influences how I view YA books today, I’d have to pick L.M. Montgomery who was published in the early 1900s.

Now, her writing style would be hard to carry off in today’s fast-paced, media-influenced world. I’m sure most agents and editors, even those who love the Anne books, would be reluctant to touch a book written in that style today. Too much purple prose, even if that’s what makes the main character so charming.

What carries over for me is the mood. The tone. The feeling I get when I read her work. Her books make me want to curl up on a big comfy couch with a quilt and a cup of tea and simply disappear for a few hours. They’re cozy books. Romantic books. Evergreen books.

Even her diaries are fun to read. You can find out how she was influenced by her everyday life when you read her diaries. My diaries? At some point I went back in and scribbled out all the interesting bits. Wish I hadn’t! I would love to read what I was really thinking back in the day.

Trying to capture the mood of the Anne books, I started an Anne of Green Gables Pinterest board here:
http://www.pinterest.com/shonnaslayton/anne-girl/


Marketing in the New Year

business planMy writing focus has changed a lot in the past year. Whereas before I was all about production and learning how to write a novel…and countless pep talks to stick with it, this year I’ve got to add marketing maven to my author resume.  (Because, YAY! I’ve got a book coming out in JUNE!)

Fortunately, I’ve been preparing! We here at Routines for Writers are all about setting routines to help make our writing—or marketing—easier.

For years I’ve been collecting book-marketing advice so that I would be ready once my time came. And my time came at the end of 2013.

As I work on my goals for this year, I’ve realized the first half of the year is pretty much laid out for me, give or take. I start with my release date and work backwards, filling in all the items I plan to do.

Toastmasters

Knowing that I will have a launch party June 3, I signed up for Toastmasters to help me take the edge off my nerves. By the time I get to my launch, I’ll have several speeches under my belt.

What I didn’t account for was being invited to participate in my local indie’s big YA event this month on the 25th! Fortunately, I’ll be one of 12 authors and I won’t have much “screen time.” It will be a nice easing-in to the local YA community. Note: This opportunity came about because I went in early to introduce myself to the children’s book buyer. I was nervous, but she was amazingly supportive–and set me to work right away ;). Marketing tip: don’t put off talking to your local bookstore people.

But, Hello! I’m going to need something to hand out!

Postcards

Since I don’t have any ARCs or even a sample chapter (my book is currently in editorial; I’m biting my fingernails down), I ordered postcards. 1000 of them. And 200 stickers inviting people to my release party. I was expecting to order these later, but it will be nice to have something in my purse to hand out when people find out I’m an author.

Newsletter

My first personal author newsletter goes out tonight. My subscriber base is small and loyal, aka—made up of a few of my friends. My goal is to get to 100 people by my launch date. I have no idea if this goal is too small or too large, but it’s the goal I set. (Help me get to 100! Go sign up at ShonnaSlayton.com.)

Videos

I write for YA, and not necessarily the adults who read YA, but the actual teens. If I want to catch their attention I need video. So far, my author blog has been aimed at fellow homeschool parents/ teachers because they are my current tribe. When I announced to my friends about my book deal—they were all adults! Granted, most are parents, and their kids are or will be my target market. Eventually, I’ll need to transition to my actual teen audience. I think video is the way to go. Here’s my first:

 
http://youtu.be/6es3hRXjCjo

Social Media

In the past few months I’ve joined Pinterest (Love it! I avoided it because I was afraid I’d get hooked, and I have.) For better or worse, I’ve made the decision to stick with a Facebook profile instead of creating a page. And, I’ve got an author photo in place of my statue-girl avatar!

The Other Marketing Plans

Other marketing plans will take shape as the months go by. I’ll be staying flexible and keeping my calender open. I believe my publisher has plans for a blog tour and some giveaways and there are some other things I’d like to try to engage with my audience.

How about you? What is your best tip for marketing? Planning for marketing? Or even setting up a routine for marketing?

Shonna’s Book Deal!

Shonna’s Cinderella's DressYA novel, CINDERELLA’S DRESS, is scheduled for publication June 3, 2014 with Entangled TEEN.

 

confetti cannon——–*confetti* *confetti* *confetti* *confetti* *confetti*

 

Entangled Publishing is a relatively new publishing company but they are taking the book world by storm. They love getting books into the hands of readers and they like to have a good time while doing so :). They are going to publish both a print and a digital version of my book. And they make me feel like I’m in a bit of a fairy tale myself, right now.

If you’ve been a long-time reader at RFW you know a bit about the backstory on this book. Because, yes, if I ever alluded to a novel’s journey, it was most likely about Cinderella’s Dress. Blood. Sweat. Tears.

I am grateful for the encouragement this blog gave me to persevere. I’m especially grateful for Kitty and Stephanie who introduced me to NaNoWriMo. At first I thought they were crazy to try to write 50,000 words in one month. Then I learned there were a WHOLE BUNCH of crazy people out there trying to write 50,000 words in a month. Then I became a crazy person myself. Thank you NaNoWriMo!

So, I know. Blah, blah, blah. Give us the numbers. You writers are so pushy. Here you go:

First Draft: November 2008 during NaNoWriMo.
Started Querying: August 2010—querying agents/revising/querying/revising…you get the idea
Total queries: 28 (this seems low to me; I think it was more, but since I stopped querying a year ago I’ve misplaced the master list. I’ll update if I find it. It sure felt like I was sending it to everyone and their dog.)
Total partials: 3
Total fulls: 3
Revise & Resubmits: 1
Total offers of rep: 0 (Yes, I am still unagented)
TOTAL PUBLISHING CONTRACTS: 1

Entangled Publishing path:
Learned
about their teen line at SCBWI-AZ conference Oct 2012
Submitted Oct 20, 2012
Got past the interns (Bless you interns!) and was put into their new “submitable” manuscript tracking software March 2013 (Where you are guaranteed a response within 30 days–yay/nay/need more time)
Request for more time April 2013
Offer extended June 2013 (Secret family celebration with ice-cream cake courtesy of supportive husband!)
Contract signed November 2013
Years from first draft to published novel: if all goes well, 5.5

Literary racehorse, I am not.

I don’t know if these stats will encourage you or depress you! It reminds me of when I was single and my girlfriends and I would insist we didn’t need a lot of men, we each needed only one good man! Well, my book needed one good publisher, and it has one now.

In conclusion, and in the spirit of all the pep talks I’ve written for this blog: Slow and steady wins the race. Or, for you sci-fi folks: Never give up. Never surrender.

Blog notes: Kitty and I keep going back and forth about keeping this blog running. We both have our own websites now and Stephanie is still busy with school. If you want to stay in-the-know with this book, you can follow my twitter feed https://twitter.com/ShonnaSlayton or sign up for my newsletter on my blog: shonnaslayton.com

The Efficiency of Routines

Last year my kids and I read a book called Cheaper by the Dozen which records the real-life antics of the Gilbreth family in the early 1900s. Their father was a motion study/efficiency expert and often conducted efficiency experiments with his twelve kids. He started down this road when he was a bricklayer and developed ways to make bricklaying faster and easier. From buttoning a shirt bottom to top, to bribing the kids to learn to type using his methods, to getting their tonsils taken out, he was always looking for the best, most efficient way to do something.

This is how I view writing routines. I try to pay attention to how I am writing/editing and decide if there are better ways to go about it. Then I can create my own writing profile set to optimal writing. Or, at least, that’s the theory!

Some Variables for Routines:

 Methods (for getting words down):

  • write same time every day
  • write whenever I can fit it in
  • word goals
  • NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo
  • word sprints
  • deadlines (self-imposed or for conferences or contests)
  • keep word count score on the calendar for accountability
  • follow an outline

Location:

  • home: (comfy chair, bed, office, behind a locked door?)
  • coffee shop
  • library
  • beach (that’s for you Kitty!)

Timing:

  • mornings
  • during breaks in the day
  • nights
  • weekends
  • retreats
  • Thursdays and Saturdays

I’m sure you can discover more movable pieces to your writing routines. Pay attention and see if you can increase your own efficiency.

Start at the End and Work Backwards

This month we are talking about taking control of our writing careers. This week, it’s about the Big Picture VS the Details.

For me, this means the old saying: plan your work and work your plan.

THE BIG PICTURE: Plan Your Work

What is your end goal?

Career? Hobby?

Do you write as a creative outlet, but not necessarily to make it your day job? Do you need to make money? Is your biggest desire to add your own work to the body of literature that you love so much?

Start here. Dream big. (The way you used to when you were young and nothing had beaten you down yet!) Write down your big dream, then above it, write an even bigger dream because your first dream was probably too small. We’re talking BIG PICUTRE, by-the-end-of-my-life type dreams.

THE DETAILS: Work Your Plan

Work backwards from your BIG PICTURE. Let me catch up to you in the middle of the backwards plan:

FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK
Celebrate! And now comes all the marketing and other authorly duties. Once you’ve signed the contract and have a publishing date, figure out your marketing plans working backwards from that date. Get it all on your calendar so it doesn’t sneak up on you.

AGENTED
Start creating your list now so when it’s time to submit you’ll be ready. Remember at this stage you will need huge doses of patience. Avoid anyone’s blog that talks about how quickly it happened for them. It’ll just make you grumpy.

This process is slow enough, so don’t do anything to make it slower. Make sure you query in batches. (Because likely you started querying before you finished polishing. If your first round comes up with no requests at all, go back to polishing.)

And say “no” to exclusives. If you do agree to an exclusive, for a Revise & Resubmit for example, set an end date. Even if the agent says these things are hard to determine, set an end date at which time you can decide whether or not to continue with the exclusive agreement. Time has a way of slipping by when there is no deadline, so put in a stop-gap and then you won’t stress out wondering what is happening.

WHERE’S THE MONEY?
Now that you’ve got some experience under your belt, you have options if you want to hustle. From the easiest: affiliate links from your website all the way to teaching classes (on and offline) self-publishing ebooks, offering critiquing and editing services. Even after publications, authors need to get additional income streams to pay the bills.

POLISHED MANUSCRIPT(S)

The majority of your time will likely be spent here. More time than you think, because our manuscripts read differently in OUR heads (which know the story and how it’s supposed to read!) than what is actually on the page that other people read.

This is where critique partners can be so helpful. Try to find people who can go several rounds with you and who aren’t afraid of hurting your feelings. (Although it is nice to have someone who just loves everything you do! It’s just not helpful in making the story better.)

FIRST DRAFT
You must finish. You must finish. You must finish.

EDUCATION
You’ve got to learn how to become a writer. Being an artist doesn’t mean the work naturally comes out of you all perfect. There are techniques. Genre conventions. Accepted business practices. Learn them as you go. Never stop learning.

DESIRE
This is where it starts. You keep this desire burning and it will help carry you up through the other steps. Do all you can to encourage yourself because things will get hard and you’ll want to quit many times over. And we all know what a writer who never quits is called: published.

Options and Opportunity Cost

Once you decide you want to become a novelist, you have to look at your options through the eyes of a writer.

Not just the option to traditionally publish or self publish, but how you are going to spend your days, your weeks, your years in pursuit of this goal.

Options.

We have lots of them.

Do I write or do I research? Do I write or do I watch TV? Do I write or do I __________.

Any activity we choose over writing will leave behind the opportunity cost of NOT writing.

How big that cost is to you depends upon how serious you are about publishing. If you aren’t that serious, the opportunity cost will be small. It would be no big deal if you blew off your writing time in favor of something else.

But if you are serious about furthering your career, you have to keep in mind the opportunity cost of getting distracted by other pursuits when you should be writing. Your time is finite. You are either writing or you are not. The cost of not writing is high if your plan is to be successfully published.

That time you take to _________ is no longer just about _________, it’s about NOT writing. Not finishing the first draft. Not slugging through the edits. Not taking one more step toward your dream.

Now, I know we can’t possibly spend all our time writing. Pouring out all that creativity without doing something to fill those creative buckets back up will be a quick way to short-circuit your career.

But, I’d guess if an aspiring writer has any problem, it’s not spending enough time writing! It’s so much easier to read a book about writing, or read blogs, or chat with our critique partners about how hard this business is!

Or is it just me?!?