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What Wild Success Looks Like

"The Ninth Circle" by my friend  Doug Thielscher

"The Ninth Circle" by my friend Doug Thielscher

I ask this question – What does wild success look like? – of every writer I coach and every writer who comes into my AuthorAccelerator program, because I think it’s a critically important thing for us all to understand. If you’re going to spend at least a year pouring your heart and soul into something, you should have a clear idea of why you are doing it, and a clear idea of what you are aiming to achieve.

In the last year, I have probably read more 250 answers to this question, and I recently realized that almost everyone gives some permutation of the exact same two answers. No matter WHY they are drawn to writing a book, their vision of success usually includes some version of the following:

1. Wild success means being plucked from obscurity. This may take the form of being on Oprah, selling rights to a Hollywood movie studio, winning a Pulitzer Prize or getting on the New York Times bestseller list. Whatever the exact vision, it has to do with being recognized as being worthy. It’s not just ME standing here saying, “I can write! I have something important to say! I am good at this!” It’s some clear authority who has singled me out and said, “She can write! She has something important to say! She is good at this!”  Big, big difference, and it’s the thing we all want. To be validated. To be made legitimate. To have the inner vision of who we are, writer-wise, match who the vision of who the world believes we are.

2. Wild success means getting to keep writing. This often takes the form of people wanting to do well enough to quit their day job. Sometimes people cite getting a three-book deal, or a big advance, but the root desire is the same: you get to keep doing the thing you love and you don’t have to do all the other hard stuff you have been doing all your life. You get a free pass.

I bring up this up because the vast majority of us are never going to get the things we dream about. We’re just not. And I think it’s critical to look at this truth from time to time, because what writers often experience once they finish or publish their first book is despair and heartbreak.

I hate to break that news to you, but it’s just the way it is.

A teeny tiny fraction of writers get plucked from obscurity in a way that is life changing. Yes, you may land a great agent, secure a solid book deal, and score a review on the cover of the Sunday Times, but odds are still really, really good that you are not going to become Elizabeth Gilbert or J.K. Rowling.

That means that you still have to explain to people what your book is about and what you do and why it matters. You still have to fight for readers and money and airtime. You still have to think about what you are going to write next and find the time to write it amidst all the other hard things you have to do. You still probably have to keep your day job.

And as for getting to keep writing? To be invited back to do it again? And paid for the privilege? A very few number of writers win that prize. It usually has to do directly with how many books you sell, and most books don’t sell enough to warrant the writer getting ongoing support.

This is all in my head right now because I had a lot of writers this week feeling a lot of despair. These are writers who are just starting to take themselves seriously, as well as writers who have worked really hard to finish and don’t seem to be getting anywhere with agents or publishers or readers.

And it hurts to have to face that truth. It hurts a lot. Because it’s so easy to think that if you don’t win wild success, you have lost.

I heard a quote this week on the radio during a discussion about the NFL.  The guests were talking about what a successful football season is. Is it ONLY winning the SuperBowl? Do we believe that there is literally ONE team that is successful and 57 others that lose? The conclusion was that this kind of thinking is, of course, absurd. There a many, many ways to have a successful sports season – including being good sports, doing better than last year, building towards future success, being moral leaders to the legion of young people watching, breaking records, making money, and enjoying playing the sport.

The same is true with writers. It’s not just the people who win big and win publicly who succeed.

I think it would help all of us to reframe our notions about what it means to succeed.

  • Actually finishing, for example. Actually doing it and not just talking about it. THAT is a huge success and for many people, that is enough.
  • Learning the craft. Really understanding how books are made, how readers are hooked, what magic creates emotion on the page. It feels good to master something that other people don’t know how to do, to become good at it.
  •  Touching a reader. I know from experience that touching just one reader in a truly deep and impactful way can be enormously satisfying. Yes, of course, we would all like to touch thousands, perhaps even millions, but one is good. One is a good start.
  •  Not taking no for an answer. Not letting someone else dictate what you are going to do with your time and your talent. This can mean, in some cases, deciding to go ahead and publish your book yourself when everyone else says no. Is that as good as being plucked from obscurity? Of course not. But it’s also sometimes the difference between reality and fantasy. We live in a time where we don’t HAVE to wait for an agent to choose us or a traditional publisher to invest in us. We can bring our own books into the world. And perhaps sometimes that makes good sense.

I did an interview a few weeks ago with a writer who stopped waiting for an agent and self published her book. It made good sense for her.

Today at 9 am PST I’ll be doing a live Q&A with another such writer, who refused to take no for an answer and is making good things happen for herself. We’re going to talk about how you do that, and what it feels like and what the risks and rewards are. (If you want to join us or get the recording, sign up HERE.)

What I love about these stories is that the writers didn’t roll over and play dead just because they didn’t get the big juicy book deal. They re-calibrated their ideas about what wild success can really mean and looked at it a little more realistically.  They took control of their writing destiny. They looked despair in the face and said, “No thank you.”

Believe me, I’m the first to raise my hand and say I want to be plucked from obscurity and handed a three-book deal with a crack traditional publishing team that would mean I never have to do anything ever again except write whatever comes into my head.

The yearning for that never ends…. unless you realize how rarely that Big Win happens. And unless you realize that the Big Win is not really why any of us are writing.

As Madeline L’Engle said, “What matters is the book itself.  If it is as good a book as you can write at this moment in time, that is what counts.  Success is pleasant; of course you want it; but it isn’t what makes you write.”

We all know L’Engle as the author of the classic, A Wrinkle in Time. But before she wrote that book, she was a frustrated housewife trying to be a writer and wracking up rejection after rejection.

On her fortieth birthday, upon receiving one more rejection, she wrote this:  “I uncovered the typewriter.  In my journal I recorded this moment of decision, for that’s what it was.  I had to write.  I had no choice in the matter.  It was not up to me to say I would stop, because I could not.  It didn’t matter how small or inadequate my talent.  If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.”

If you are feeling any sort of despair around your work today (or this week or this year), take a step back from that agony and take a deep breath and try answering that question – What would wild success look like? – in a way that is a little less grandiose.

And think about why you are writing.

Do you have to go on writing, no matter what the world offers you in terms of success??

Good, then do it, and do it with joy.

If you don’t have to go on writing? Also good. Now you know, and you have time for other interesting pursuits.

 

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Love at the Last Minute

rhondahayescurtis_loveatthelastminute_ebook_final.jpg


I had the great pleasure of working with Rhonda Hayes Curtis on her memoir, Love at the Last Minute, which she has just self published. When she first came to me, I knew that this was a story that could take the world by storm and soon learned that Rhonda was the kind of person who would settle for nothing less. She was one of the most determined writers I'd ever met -- willing to throw our giant chunks of pages to tell the best possible story, willing to go back again and again to get things right, and UN-willing, in the end, to take NO for an answer.

Despite a valiant effort, Rhonda's book was not picked up by a literary agent. I have to admit that I was truly baffled by this reality -- which is proof that there are simply no guarantees in publishing! But Rhonda refused to let other people's rejection stop her from her dream. She learned everything she needed to know about self publishing, hired some good advisors, and brought her book to life herself. She is having a big book launch celebration on Valentine's Day. 

I predict that this book is going to sell like wildfire -- and that all the agents that turned her down will be kicking themselves. It's like a Nicholas Sparks novel but it's REAL!

I asked Rhonda to answer some questions about her book-writing journey so we could learn about determination, rejection, and how sometimes the path to publishing takes twists we never imagined.

 Here is the book blurb:

Rhonda Hayes promised to give her thirty-five-year-old dying daughter, Sherry, anything she wanted. When Sherry requested that her mother sign up for a dating site, Rhonda was panic-struck. What would people think? Only nine months earlier, Rhonda’s devoted husband, Greg, had died from cancer. Keeping her promise, Rhonda acquiesced to Sherry’s wish. Together they completed a dating profile; moments before hitting SUBMIT, Rhonda added these words: "My daughter has terminal cancer and she is my life right now. Why would I be on a dating site? She is encouraging me to move on with my life and what a treat it would be if you had the opportunity to meet her. She is an angel." Weeks later, Rhonda was immersed in two worlds: the exhilaration of falling in love and the despair of watching her daughter die. Love at the Last Minute is a memoir about finding courage, acceptance, and love. It’s also about how opening up to God’s plan can truly bring miracles into your life


You can read the opening chapter excerpt on Rhonda's website by clicking HERE.

And just to help you keep the people straight:

  • Greg was Rhonda's former husband.
  • Sherry was Rhonda and Greg's daughter.
  • Larry is Rhonda's current husband -- the one she met online in the last days of Sherry's life.
  • Chris is Sherry's widower.
  • And this is Rhonda:


Rhonda Curtis-Small.jpg



________

Q: Can you talk about what led you to want to write a book about your experiences?
You’d written an article that got a lot of attention – perhaps start all the way back there with the impulse to write that piece and how it led to the book?

 
I never dreamed or aspired to be a writer. In 2005, I began journaling during a difficult time in my marriage. I was trying to make sense out of my life.  It was September 2006, in my darkest hour, that I wrote: “Dear God, Please help me.” Looking back, I believe that’s when the first seed was planted. When I was called to write. That’s when things began to change in my life.
 
The article evolved organically.
 
In 2010, I wrote a short essay, “Life”
 
Around the same time, Larry sent eHarmony an email thanking and telling them about how we met. It was through this contact, that eHarmony asked me to do an interview with CNN
 
Then, Guideposts magazine contacted me, asking if I would share my story.
 
This article was selected as one of The Top Ten Most Inspirational Stories of the Year.
 
 
Q: At what point in the process did it occur to you that you wanted to write for a wider audience than yourself and your family?
 
It was June 15, 2009. The first thing I wrote in my journal that morning was:
 
“Well now I have the crazy idea of writing a book. I may be losing my mind, but I think it’s worth a shot.  The lessons I’ve learned along my journey are very different than most people will have to endure.”
 
Ironically, it was three days before I sent Larry the first communication. Little did I realize at that time, that my book was going to be a love story. I thought it was only going to be about the lessons that Greg, Sherry, and I learned along the journey.
 
Q: How did thinking about publication change your intention and your outlook on the writing process?
 
My intentions are always good in whatever I do in life. Writing, or not.
 
As far as the writing process, when I first began, I tried to make it perfect. That didn’t work. My writing was dreadful. Then, I wrote with no filter at all. I wrote about everything in great detail. That was cathartic. Then with the help of great editors, self-study, and the tenacity to revise, again and again, I eventually found a balance. I wrote the book I wanted to read. Writing has helped me in so many ways. Hopefully, my writing will helps others.
 

Q: What are some of the things you did to learn how to write your memoir? What worked well? What didn’t work so well?
 

First of all, I sat down and wrote. I wrote 10-12 hours a day. It was easy to transport myself back to the past, good and bad. I relived everything. Diligent about accuracy, I was grateful that I had journaled, kept calendars, and the writings of Greg and Sherry. All the text messages, eHarmony communications, emails, etc. were easy to document.  I was lost in my work. Larry would bring me food. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about it. It sounds like I was obsessed. I don’t know, I suppose I was. But I was doing what made me happy.
 
I read lots of books. Mostly books about writing and other memoirs. I connected with other writers. When I attended my first writing conference (SCWC), I knew I was in the right place. The energy was amazing.
 
The hardest thing for me was that I needed help. It was frustrating to wait weeks, mostly months, for an editor to be available. And then wait that much longer for their feedback. By then, I had already revised and moved on. I’m a hard worker.
 
The least helpful thing was “read and critique” groups. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the social contact and some of the writers offered good advice. But sharing five pages a week, felt like I was trudging through quicksand. Especially, when someone was writing science fiction or poetry. I needed more. If I was rich, I’d hire a full-time editor.
 
The most helpful thing I did was work with you, Jennie. And I’m not just saying that because you’re my interviewer. I thrive on feedback and you always responded when you said you would. You never let me down. You are amazing! [Note from Jennie: Thank you, Rhonda! That is so sweet!]
 
Q: Was it emotionally difficult to return in your work to emotionally difficult topics?
 
Not really. There were so many good things to write about. It was actually fun bringing Greg and Sherry back to life. Especially, Sherry, because there was no dark side to tell.
 
Although, I have to say, I spent almost a year writing about my childhood. A whole new writing voice emerged. It was fun for a while. But as I started reliving and writing about the painful parts of my youth, I wondered if I had made a mistake. Maybe, I should’ve just left it buried. At one point, I regretted going there emotionally, but now I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Writing has answered so many questions. Writing has healed me.  It was great therapy. That’s why I encourage everyone to write.
 
Q: Did you have any pushback in your family about what you were doing? How did you approach that?
 
No. My daughter, Charlotte, and everyone else in my family have fully supported me in my writing efforts. Before Greg died, I had his permission to share that part of our lives. Of course, I had Sherry’s permission. I offered to let Chris read it, but he declined. I didn’t need anyone else’s approval.
 
Q: Were you surprised by how much effort it took to complete your book? How much time, effort, editing?
 
Yes. When I first began writing, right after Sherry’s funeral, I didn’t have any idea or expectations of how long it would take me.  By year five, it became very frustrating. My manuscript still wasn’t where I thought it should be. Good, but not perfect. After my last revision in year six, I was finally ready to let it go. It’s still not perfect, but no writer is that good. I glad it’s done.
 
Q: At what point in the writing process did you start to build your author platform? How has that been going?
 
That’s a funny question. I never think about building a platform. I think about building genuine relationships, even if it’s only one short conversation at a party.  I love to hear other people’s stories. The first few months after I began writing, Larry came home one day with a stack of books. Books I had no interest in­­–––books on how to find an agent, how to build you author platform, and how to write a query letter.  I didn’t concern myself with any of that. It happens naturally with me. I have no problem connecting with people.

Note from Jennie: Rhonda has done so many clever things to connect with her readers, including starting workshops with Larry in online dating for over-50 adults, teaching a course in writing your own story at Escondido Adult School, and honing her speaking skills at Toastmasters. See note about her book launch party, below.
 
Q: You tried to get an agent and it didn’t happen for you. Can you talk about how that process felt?
 
I’m really glad I took the time and energy to write a thorough book proposal and query letter. The education and experience was worth every minute. I picked thirty-three agents that I wanted to pitch. The first rejection (an exclusive) was hard to swallow. I sent out eleven more queries when a BIG agent became very interested, but he was torn. He shared my manuscript with his colleagues. They gave me great advice. Revise. So I quit pitching. I hired another editor and spent another eighteen months revising. 
 
Q: When did you decide to go ahead and self publish and how did you decide how to move forward?
 
After the revision, I hired another editor for the final line edits. I sent it back to BIG agent and he declined. I suppose, I don’t take rejection very well. I didn’t think it was worth the time to continue pitching to the rest of the agents on my list. People wanted to read my story. I kept getting signs from the Universe that it was time to let it go. Now, I’m so glad I glad I decided to self-publish.
 
Q: What has been the biggest surprise of the process so far?
 
The biggest surprise is that men seem to love my story as much as women.
 
Q: You have 200 people coming to your book launch party on Valentine’s Day. Are you nervous? Excited?
 

The number has grown. We’re up to 250 now. I’m excited and very grateful for new and old friends who want to come out and support me. What makes me nervous is that I won’t be able to spend the time I’d like to with each person. Some I haven’t seen in years.
 
Q: What is next in terms of marketing?
 
I don’t concern myself with that too much.  Larry is amazing in that department and he will help me. Ultimately, I think if my story is supposed to reach thousands, do I dare say millions, God is already taking care of that business. I’ve been asked to speak at numerous book clubs. I’m excited about that. I could talk about the writing process and my story all day long.
 
Q: What advice would you give to people who are burning to tell a story from their own lives?
 
Do it. Tell the truth. Writing matters. It can be life changing.


You can read the first chapter of Love at the Last Minute on Rhonda's homepage.

Larry and Rhonda

Larry and Rhonda

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Newsletter Announcement + What's Hybrid Publishing All About, Anyway?

In the above video, I am announcing a slight change in my newsletter format. Fridays won’t change at all – on Fridays, I will continue to offer insight, inspiration and lessons about writing, publishing and the writing life.

The change is that I am adding a short post each Tuesday, starting next Tuesday. I have so many things coming up – free webinars and programs and courses and cool alliances with amazing people – and I didn’t want to bog Fridays down with all the news and announcements. So Tuesdays will be where I highlight all those events and opportunities. Feel free to ignore Tuesdays if you don’t feel like any of that applies to you right now.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

What's Hybrid Publishing All About Anyway?

Hybrid publishing is a new way of publishing that has developed in the gap between traditional publishing and independent or self publishing. I have had three clients take this path recently, and it wasn't so long ago that I had never heard of it! The time seemed right to do a post on it.

This post has two parts: Part 1 is a summary about what hybrid publishing is all about (a huge thanks to Jade Eby, my assistant, for her research and work on this piece.) Part 2 is a Q&A with Author Accelerator member John Robin, who has a book in the pipeline with hybrid publisher Inkshares. This interview gives great insight into why an author might choose this path, and what they will encounter once they’re on it.

Part 1:

 Hybrid Publishing is a term used to describe an alternative way to publish.

  • Traditional Publishing is done through a publishing house like Random House, Penguin or Simon & Schuster, and in conjunction with a literary agent. Authors get an advance up front and are paid a percentage of sales as a royalty. The publisher produces the book and participates in the marketing, but authors are also expected to contribute to the marketing of their books.   
  • Self-Publishing is where you, the author, take on all the financial risk and all the roles typically performed by the publisher. You, in effect, become the publisher, and as a result, you reap all the profits.
  • Hybrid Publishing is thought of as being “in-between” these two extremes. Some people refer to it as having more flexibility than traditional publishers but more support and guidance than self-publishing. There are several different types of hybrid publishing. Below, we’ll take a look at the most common.

 

Agent-Assisted Publishing

Some agents have started offering services to help publish books from their clients that may not have sold to a traditional house or that may benefit from a non-traditional publishing approach. In the past, the agent’s job was very distinct from the publisher’s job, so this new approach is blurring the lines a bit. An agent obviously knows a lot about the publishing industry as a whole, but doesn't typically have the production or marketing capabilities of a publisher. As they add these capabilities, this will be an interesting development to watch. Example: Trident Digital Media and Publishing

Partnership Publishing

A partnership publishing model means the author pays to publish under the publisher’s imprint. While the authors receive a high percentage of royalties, they also take on most of the financial risk that is associated with publishing. The publishing company will offer benefits that most self-publishing ventures can’t, such as print distribution, bigger and better marketing efforts, and the ability to submit the books to traditional and popular review outlets such as Kirkus, Romantic Times, Booklist, Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. Examples: She Writes Press, Ingram Publisher Services

Reader Powered Publishing

Recently, there’s been a new model in the hybrid publishing space -- one where authors get some of the traditional support of a publisher, but where they do not pay as much upfront. There are even several versions of this model:

  • Model #1. This is where the readers become the ones to decide which books get published and which don’t. The publishing company may absorb the cost of publishing the book and offer slightly lower royalties. Examples: Kindle Scout, Swoon Romance
  •  Model #2. These companies crowdfund your book by asking readers to pay a certain amount for the book within a certain period of time. If the book reaches its “goal” they will use those funds to publish your book. If the goal isn’t met, none of readers end up paying anything and your book doesn’t get published. Think Kickstarter for books. Examples: Inkshares, Unbound.  NOTE: This is not the same thing as using crowdfunding platforms to raise funds to publish yourself. PubSlush, Publishizer, Indiegogo and Patreon are examples of this path, but they are only the intermediaries that help you raise the funds. They do not help you publish.

Team Powered Publishing

This is where an author submits a book to the publishing company and upon their acceptance, chooses their publishing team of professionals. That means an author will select their cover designer, their editor, proofreader, marketing manager, and formatter. The team works together to produce a quality book to release. The catch? No one is paid and no one pays in until the book is released. Then, as the royalties come in, they are divided up in pre-determined percentages to each of the team members.

The theory behind this type of publishing is that it allows an author to publish without investing a dime of their own money and with the support and benefits those at a traditional publishing house usually receive. This type of publishing also ensures that every team member is invested in the success of a book. They are not getting paid for the work upfront so they must work hard to ensure that royalties come in. This keeps everyone accountable and competitive. The downside is that even if hard work is put into a book, there is a chance that it might never make money. Example: Booktrope

Traditional Publishers Offering Hybrid Deals

Some traditional publishing companies are making deals with authors that are out of the “norm.” For example, a publisher may make a deal with Jane Author that she pays X amount upfront to help with marketing costs. Not many traditional publishers talk about these kinds of deals so there is not much known about what types of agreements or standards to look for.

Now that we have a sense of what hybrid publishing is all about, let's hear from an author who is in the midst of doing it.

 

 Interview with Author John Robin

John Robin is an Author Accelerator member who is writing an epic fantasy called Blood Dawn that currently stands at 760 pages. He is planning to publish with Inkshares if he gets enough votes.

Jennie: This is a test, John: can you give us a one-sentence description of your novel?

John: A weaver discovers that her gift is a gateway to magic and the key to restoring light to a fallen empire, but in order to do so she must leave behind all that she was and face a future where comfort and safety are uncertain.

Jennie: Nice job! Would you like to say a few words about how you have used Author Accelerator to develop your book?

John: With Author Accelerator, I’ve written a set amount of pages every week, knowing that I can submit them to an editor for review and feedback aimed at helping me stay on track. The brilliant thing about the Author Accelerator method is it works for outliners or discovery writers – I’m a bit of a hybrid of the two. The editor’s goal is to ensure forward narrative drive, which is necessary no matter what method you use, and that’s allowed me to write my draft with confidence every week. It’s also allowed me to set a predictable goal for completion, and a sense that there is an end to the novel-writing process, rather than the guesswork of drafting alone and waiting for feedback until after I’ve invested a lot in various story choices. Author Accelerator has kept me open as I carefully balance the tug of war of editorial revision with new drafting. Simply put, it’s accelerated me in a process that otherwise might have no real feeling of an end.

Jennie: I love that! Thank you for that. Okay, now let’s get down to hybrid publishing questions: When you were doing research on your publishing options, what drew you to hybrid publishing in general and to Inkshares in particular?

John: I read about hybrid publishing in a Writer’s Digest article, in particular, a model called partnership publishing. In this model, traditional publishing services partner with authors, meaning that authors can pay for editing, design, and distribution on par with what they would receive through traditional publishing.

However, these services are expensive – tens of thousands of dollars. In doing my research, I found Inkshares, which uses a crowdfunding model similar to Kickstarter, to raise these funds. What drew me to their company was their basic philosophy: writers write, readers decide, Inkshares publishes. Instead of allowing in-house editors or agents to decide which books get published, Inkshares determines if there is enough reader interest by allowing reader’s to “vote” on prospective books through placing pre-orders. Books which reach their pre-order goal will go to publication.

Jennie: What do you believe is the advantage of publishing with a hybrid publisher versus self-publishing or traditional publishing? What was the defining point for you?

John: Unlike traditional or self-publishing, Inkshares allows authors to connect to readers for their book well before it’s published, even during drafting. Their goal is to create an interactive community where readers can get excited about books right from initial idea, all the way to final, published title. Being with Inkshares has allowed me to build a platform around Blood Dawn and build a fan base unlike if I toiled away on my book and kept quiet about it.

What’s also great about Inkshares’s model: should Blood Dawn reach its funding goal and go to publication, that will mean I already have 1000 copies sold and several hundred relationships with readers. And this is all before the book even goes to production. After it reaches its funding goal, I will have the time the book is under production to continue pre-selling copies. This seamless interface between author and reader is, for me, what makes Inkshares such an excellent place for an author to get started.

Jennie: What is the process like when you publish through Inkshares?

John: When a project reaches its funding goal, it goes to production. At this point, Inkshares connects the author with the editing, design, and marketing teams. Inkshares values the titles it puts out, much like a traditional publisher, wanting not only to build a high-quality catalog, but to also release bestsellers. Inkshares also connects successful books with reviewers, including the NYT, USA Today, and the Washington Post. Inkshares also has relationships with numerous independent bookstores and distributes through Ingram, with titles ending up in Indigo and Barnes & Noble.

Jennie: What do you think about the fact that if your book does not reach the “goal” set by Inkshares, your project will not be published (at least not through their company)? Do you think this is a downside to their business model? To hybrid publishing?

John: I think even if a project fails, there is still a great opportunity for success.

During the funding process, I will gain numerous fans and prospective readers who have followed the project and subscribed to my newsletter – fans who will be eager to follow Blood Dawn’s progress while I decide what my next steps will be. Whether I choose to self-publish or submit Blood Dawn to agents and try to publish it traditionally, I will already have a very active platform and fan base for the book, making success in both those cases much more likely.

Jennie: Do you feel better knowing that Inkshares will take care of things like copy editing, cover design, and distribution or do you wish you could retain control over some of those aspects of the publishing process?

John: One thing that steered me away from the idea of self-publishing was the overwhelming odds of producing something substandard. The other angle was reach: I could self-publish a book with excellent editing and design, only to be stuck with a book that I have to do all the legwork to get into bookstores.

For this reason, I would gladly give up full control if it means I can focus on writing and connecting to my audience, while a company rooted in the tried and tested editing, design, and marketing know-how of the traditional industry does the backend work. This feature is what drew me to Inkshares and why I feel I’m in good hands with them.

Jennie: Your book, Blood Dawn, is currently in the Inkshares funding process, which means you’re taking pre-orders. Can you tell us what marketing efforts you’ve taken to get people excited and interested in your book?

John: What’s worked well for me has been the process of reaching out to other Inkshares authors with an offer to help promote their books. In doing this, we’ve slowly formed an author co-promotion community that now has grown to about 500 members (and moved onto a Goodreads discussion group). I’ve connected with numerous Inkshares authors and helped them, expecting nothing back in return, and found that not only have several authors stepped up to help improve my project (i.e. one author made me a better cover, one helped me make a trailer, another made me a dragon emblem), they’ve sent several readers my way as well. I’m now at 316 pre-orders, and counting, and am finding that having a higher pre-order count is drawing in random catalogue browsers too. In fact, about 3 out of 4 pre-orders now are from people I don’t know.

Jennie: What has been the most challenging part of the Inkshares process, thus far?

The most difficult part has been finding a way to get beyond my personal network and start reaching general readers. Because Inkshares is a new and unfamiliar publishing model, I’ve had to learn to develop not just a Blood Dawn pitch, but an Inkshares pitch as well. I’ve brought in terminology like, “Traditional publishing meets Kickstarter.”

I’ve found that sending people to my Inkshares page has had little effect if I’m telling them to check out my book, because they think I’m trying to pre-sell a book that’s not published yet. Whereas, if I tell them that my book will be published by a stellar publishing company, but only if I can get readers to back it through pre-ordering a copy, I often have them asking where they can find it and, about a day or two later, I see that they’ve bought a copy (or three, or seven).

Jennie: What has been your favorite part of the process so far?

John: I’ve loved connecting to readers. Inkshares notifies me of every pre-order, giving me the option to email my backers. I take the time to email everyone, thanking them and inviting them to sign up for my newsletter (where I offer the first 13 chapters of Blood Dawn to subscribers only), as well as telling them where they can connect with me. Many of these readers have emailed back telling me how excited they are about Blood Dawn. I’ve had more than 60 readers sign up for my newsletter, and I’m receiving random fan email. One of my favorite, humbling moments was when a published Inkshares author emailed me one morning saying he’d read my opening chapter out loud and recorded it for me. Listening to someone read my opening chapter – just knowing they’d been fascinated enough to make the effort – really meant a lot to me.

Jennie: What advice would you give to authors who are just learning about the different alternatives in the publishing industry?

John: There are many opportunities out there for you. Inkshares is a great starting place, because regardless of whether or not you reach your funding goal, you have the opportunity to get feedback on your work from readers and other writers, and you get a chance to practice book promotion and build an audience.

I think it’s a mistake to believe you can build an audience out of a vacuum. While it’s true that some books get hyped up by publishers before release and an author with no platform whatsoever can become big just from the publisher’s efforts, I think it’s a mistake to rely on this. It’s smart to expect that no one is going to know who you are or have any reason to believe they should be interested in your work. Your job is going to be to determine: how you can connect with them? How can you build your readership? How can you brand yourself? And you don’t have to wait until you’ve signed a book deal to figure that out.

Whether you self-publish or seek a traditional route, I’m a strong advocate for Inkshares because it’s a great place to get some exposure and start building a name for yourself.

Jennie: Where can people find/support you and your novel, Blood Dawn?

John: http://www.inkshares.com/projects/blood-dawn

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What Resolve Looks Like in a Writer

                                                                              Emma's writing space at a hotel in Sweden

                                                                              Emma's writing space at a hotel in Sweden

If there is one thing that every successful writer shares, it’s resolve. You could also call it commitment or determination or perseverance, but sometimes you just need to call it resolve, because there is often a kind of doggedness to it – a totally refusal to give up no matter what.

 I have the great good fortune of working every day with writers who have resolve, and they constantly inspire me. Everyone I work with is equally awesome in their own unique way, but today, I wanted to share three recent stories that illustrate what resolve looks like in a writer. These stories feature three women who are each overcoming a roadblock that would beat down most of the rest of us.  

The first story is about writing despite having no home base.

Emma is a woman who is never in the same place more than a few weeks at a time. She travels around the world from place to place on an incredible adventure that has to do with the America’s Cup sailing races, and the Olympic sailing team’s preparation for Rio. She has a deadline with me every two weeks, and she is almost never in the same place twice. She Skype’s in from New Zealand, San Francisco, Portugal, Bermuda, England -- a different country, and oftentimes a different continent, every few weeks.

 She takes her laptop and her books and her “story board” with her, setting up shop in the corners of the Airbnb houses she rents in each place. 

Up top is a picture of her workspace in a hotel in Sweden. Below are pictures of her workspaces in a rented house in San Francisco and another in Rio de Janiero. For a recent move to Bermuda, she had to ship the entire contents of a house by container. Within days of her arrival, she sent this photo of her writing spot – confirmation that nothing is going to stop her forward progress.

Emma is two chapters away from finishing her manuscript. In a year where she has logged more miles than I will probably log in my entire life, she has written a book. It’s very inspiring.

And for a sneak peek into what inspires HER, here are some pictures of the children Emma is writing about at a school in Uganda where she has launched a scholarship program to help orphans complete secondary school.

 

                              Writing space in Rio di Janiero

                              Writing space in Rio di Janiero

Mark House, a dormitory at the KAASO school, which Emma helped to fund

Mark House, a dormitory at the KAASO school, which Emma helped to fund

                 Henry, when he met Emma at age 12. He's graduating from high school in December 

                 Henry, when he met Emma at age 12. He's graduating from high school in December 

                               Writing space in Bermuda

                               Writing space in Bermuda

                        Writing Space in San Francisco

                        Writing Space in San Francisco


The second story is about writing despite being desperately ill.

Shannon is a mother of two little kids who was diagnosed with a cancer on her lip that required the removal of the entire lip, which required many plastic surgeries, among other procedures. I was so blown away that she kept writing through this ordeal, and asked her some questions about that experience.

Q: You were on track to get to the finish line of your book. You had a complete rough draft and were just about to tackle a revision when something unexpected and horrible disrupted your life. What were your initial thoughts about your book? Did you even THINK about your book when all the trauma hit?

A: I did think about the book and the deadline we had set up for my final manuscript read. I think about that deadline whenever a disruption happens in our life – like my husband has to travel out of town for work or one of the kids get sick. I am a person who works better under the gun but there is a certain amount of stress that comes with that. My big job is being a mom so I fight for my hours to write and disruptions can be tough. When this big and unexpected trauma happened in my life, I was a little more than half way through my final manuscript re-write. I didn’t think about the book immediately but once the dust settled and I realized I had a long recovery in my future, the book was on my mind.

There was a great story I was told in acting school about a famous French actor who wailed and fell to the floor when he received news of his mother’s death. Even while he was doing this there was a part of his brain thinking I must remember this reaction when I play a scene of grief. It’s a little bit sicko but I think actors do that and I find myself doing that as a novice writer too. The book is in the back of my mind at all times- events in life sort of jog my memory about moments in the book and make things more specific. 

Q: What made you decide to keep working on the revision rather than just...stop. There are so many hours in the day. Why spend hours on this when you have other pressing concerns?

 A: I’ve made a discovery that when I write over a period of successive days -- say I string three or four days together -- regardless of whether I think the writing is good or whether you give me good feed back, my mood is lifted. My schedule as a mom basically allows for one hour while the kids are at school and one hour after they are asleep. If I stick to this two hour a day regiment I feel happier. My situation right now is depressing and I do need time to focus on getting better but I also know that staying creative will be a big component in keeping my mood up. Again I learned this as an actress, especially when I was starting out and trying to find work. I made a deal with myself to do two things a day to further my career. For example, back then I might have worked on a scene for acting class and then sent out a few headshots to casting agents. I found that doing these two things made me happier and I felt more in control of a completely uncontrollable situation.

 So I’ve taken on an “I’ll be dammed if I stop now” attitude because I know the writing will make me happier and also because I’ve come so far with the book that I’ll be dammed if anything will stop me now.

Q: You said you reached a kind of flow in your work. Can you describe what that felt like?

A: Not to be a total kiss ass (ha ha) but I think the flow came from you giving me copious notes in my chapter drafts and pinpointing what the book was about, always bringing me back to the real reason I was writing the piece in the first place. Once I understood that clearly, it all fell into place. It was very easy to see the big picture and carrying on the point from chapter to chapter became like a puzzle where all the pieces would fall easily into place. A lot of the chapters required huge rewrites but even through that kind of hard work, it never felt like I was muscling it. Nothing has felt blocked so far. As for the end result, who knows? Only my husband has read the finished chapters so far and he tends to be a little bit biased in my favor. 

Q: How was that different from what you were experiencing in your own life? Was it aligned in any way? A counterpoint? A rescue valve? I guess I'm trying to get at the relationship between... what? Chaos and pain and creativity? Or chaos and pain and the power of narrative? 

A: Actually I’m not sure yet if there is any connection between the chaos of what I am experiencing now and the book. In my head they are two different things. And because my book is a memoir from a specific time in my life they are two different time periods. The feelings of pain and despair and loss will definitely be easier to access when I’m in the rewrite. The writing will be a rescue valve and down the line I will have an interesting story to tell. But right now they are separate. I’m still so “in” this that I’m not sure of it’s point. And I guess that’s a huge lesson about narrative -- even though you are in the midst of drama that is interesting and sad and even funny at times, if you don’t have a specific way to tell it, a point of view on it, it won’t be your story. But you taught me that.

Q: How did your goal for your book shift at all during this time, if it did. Did it change? Morph? Deepen? Get focused? 

A: Nothing changed except that I may have gotten even more resolved to get it done. And because I lost a lot of time with appointments I asked you for a month extension! [Note from Jennie: Shannon asked for a second month extension. But her new deadline happens to be Halloween. And guess what? She’s making it this time. I never had any doubt….]

Q What did the people around you think of your spending time on your book in the midst of everything else? Did you ever talk to any of them about it? 

A: My husband is my biggest cheerleader. We met on a show as actors and when I stopped to become a full time mom he knew the loss I would experience creatively. He also knows I am happier with a creative outlet and have been so happy since I discovered I loved to write. He is all encouragement. Sometimes right now he’ll even push me a little too hard and I’ll have to tell him I need to rest.

Even before this happened I’ve had the odd girlfriend who has asked, “Are you still working on that?” It’s usually when I say I can’t go to lunch or something and I have to write. But other than that I’ve been hiding out a bit at the moment so I haven’t talked to many people about my writing lately. 

Q: After the initial bad event, even WORSE things happened to you with the lip that demanded even more time and effort and energy and yet you STILL didn't stop writing. Why not?

A: Part of it is what I said before- that I know being creative lifts my mood. And perhaps it’s also a little vanity and ego. That a part of me feels like being a mom is not enough. And even though I have no idea if anything will ever happen with my writing, it gives me something else -- an extra sense of self. That may not be healthy but it does propel me to write and the writing makes me happy -- so I don’t analyze it too much. I also know that I don’t want to be defined by the bad things that have happened in my life. I don’t want my sense of self to come from that.

Q: Sometimes writers let even small disruptions halt their forward progress. Why do you think that didn't happen to you? What advise can you give other writers facing disruptive events?

A: I think the reason the disruption didn’t hold me back too much was because of my history as an actress. It was so hard to get work that absolutely nothing could get in your way. We just had to work through everything. When there was an opportunity you had to jump -- whether you were sick or had to cut a vacation short, or severely down in the dumps. Everything would have to be dropped and you’d have to be ready for the audition.

 As for advice, I would say to set aside time for short work sessions every day no matter what is going on. Use a timer and commit to writing a half hour twice a day or an hour twice a day. Just write during that time. Just do it. You don’t even have to read your work back. But also realize that writing every single day will probably be impossible even though you shoot for it every day. Everyone is different- but I find the simple “doing” of the writing will work wonders. You can still deal with the disruptive event – the small time away won’t hurt -- but as time passes you’ll look back and be surprised by how much writing you’ve accomplished and that will make you feel fulfilled and add to your happiness. More happiness will aid in recovery of whatever it is you are going through. I hope I don’t sound preachy but that really works for me


The last story is about money and about relationship and about how sometimes the people we loved don’t understand how much our writing means to us, and how we keep writing regardless.

 

This is an email written by a client in response to the post I wrote last week about how so many of my clients come from a place of privilege. 

“Your Friday blog was meaningful for me, connecting is one of my goals. I worry about missing the mark. I did giggle at your statement in regard to coaching “privileged” individuals. Just want to note: I’m not one of them. I wish. I teach 7 days a week (and am happy about it, I love my work), to pay bills and support what my husband calls my “hobby.” He has never really gotten the why of my writing. He tolerates it, but never asks about it. He has read only 1 of the 5 stories I’ve had published. I tell him when an acceptance comes in, and his response is to ask what I am getting paid. When I got a Pushcart nomination last year, he wanted to know what it did for me, money-wise. In 8 years, I’ve earned $100 from my writing. And I thought I’d died and landed in heaven when the check arrived. My husband was not impressed.

He knows I pay for classes, and workshops, and every so often, he makes a remarks how that money should go to our retirement fund. If he knew the true cost of working with you he wouldn’t be happy. I haven’t told him the complete truth. I am piecing the money together from my earnings, and I added more students when I made the decision to work with you. He and I have been together a long time, and the relationship is good. My writing is the one thing he just doesn’t get. If I were paid, he’d have a different attitude. So when you work with me, you will be working with writer firmly stuck in the middle-class, who will be grateful beyond imagination for your expertise.”

I thought this email was incredibly brave and beautiful – and I am certain that this writer is going to find deep satisfaction in her work. I know I am going to find deep satisfaction in serving her.

If you’re having a hard time getting your work done because of money or illness or having no space or some other roadblock, channel these stories and see if you can find the resolve to keep writing forward.

 Writing books is hard work, but you can do it. I witness that truth every day

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