Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Healing of The Core Wound

The following excerpt is from a great article on the CORE WOUND by Lara Sterling. This is written for screenplay writers but it applies to novel writers as well.

"Core wound is a term I learned while I was at Writers Boot Camp. I can’t remember how it was defined there exactly, but if I define it for you right now, the main character’s core wound is the pain the main character is suffering from, which is specifically causing her to act out. The main character flaw -- or misbehavior, as Writers Boot Camp calls it -- is the action/s the main character takes to exhibit this wound. You need your main character to have a proactive flaw, because otherwise you don't have any action. You can’t base a movie around the fact that your mother told you she didn’t love you at five years old, but you can base it around the action that, as soon as you reached adulthood, because of that formative experience, you have decided to act out by never committing in any relationship. 

The same goes for having witnessed your father beating your mother at a young age; now your movie is how you are vengeful toward men as a result. The character flaw of being fearful needs to have been caused by something specific that happened in that main character’s life; but your story is about the journey of them then overcoming that flaw. However, at some point, during the course of your story, your main character must also address the source of their misbehavior, which is encapsulated in the darkest hurt they have inside of them, e.g., their core wound.

The main character's core wound should often be healed right before the final confrontation. Or perhaps it is healed during that confrontation, but the main character cannot triumph over the opponent until it is healed. The core wound is the last one thing that is holding the main character back from being her true self, from shedding off the mistakes of the past ...


Critique Criteria for Writer Groups - If Your Group is Serious About Commercial Publication

by Michael Neff

Below are some categories and criteria for engaging in critique of novel-length fiction. This will help guide your writer's group and make the critique more focused and less arbitrary.

Premise and Plot

  • Does the premise or story concept sound high concept? Original? If so, why? Defend your conclusion. What makes it unique when compared to published novels or nonfiction in the genre? You must effectively argue this case for or against. If against, present examples why it might not be sufficiently original to capture the interest of an agent or publisher.
  • Are you able to discern the primary source of dramatic tension and complication that creates the major plot line(s)? Can you or the writer create a conflict statement for the novel that demonstrates, for example:

  • The Hand of Fatima

    A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.

    Summer's Sisters

    After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.

    The Bartimaeus Trilogy

    As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinni who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.

Part II
  • Is the first major plot point that changes the course of action and begins the second act of this novel clearly defined? Can you state it? Keep in mind that the first major plot point begins the plot line noted above, i.e., the rising action of the story as a whole.
  • Insofar as you know, does the story as presented to you display the mandatory tropes of the genre? If so, how? Be inclusive with your response. Demonstrate knowledge of your genre and its tropes. Does the author do anything to present or frame the tropes in a unique manner?
  • Does the novel possess a setting and/or unique world that works to high-concept the novel, or at least make the story much more interesting and unique? If so, what features of this setting do you find unique or valuable to the story when compared to others? Do specific circumstances or characters evolve from the setting that make it valuable? If so, what or who are they?
  • What novel(s) published in the last few years does this story most closely compare to? Why? This must be supportable with specifics and not general statements. Does it compare favorably? Is it sufficiently unique despite the comparison? If so, why?
  • Why is this story, as presented, one that publishers will buy? To put it more simply, why is this story one that readers will pay to read? Respond to this with clarity and detail.

Narrative, Scenes and Style
How does the story read? Each one of the following bullet points must be addressed.
  • Is the prose itself completely free of errors and ambiguity? Does the writer say more with less or is she/he wordy? Are the verbs sufficiently active or too much variation of "to be"? Also, is the writer good at description? Not sure? Ask them to provide examples of description of objects, events and people.
  • Is the reader oriented spatially or do characters feel disembodied? If this narrative were film, would it make sense?
  • Is the narrative sufficiently engaging? If yes, what makes it engaging? If no, what should be done to make it engaging? Be specific.
  • Does the narrative include, as a whole, the three primary levels of conflict, i.e., internal, social, and plot related? If so, list them one at a time, and their context. If not, what should be done to include them?
 Part II
  • Are the scenes set properly? Do they have a defined beginning, middle and end? Do we get a clear concept of who/what/where, etc?
  • Does the prose itself evidence mastery of the form given the demands of the genre? If so, how? If not, why? What can be done to improve it?
  • Does the narrative present situations, issues, circumstances, characters or plots that seem too predictable or stale from overuse? Or would you term the narrative more unpredictable and original, insofar as possible given the demands of the genre? 
  • If more than one point of view, does the writer juggle the multiple POVs with skill? If so, how? If not, why not? Ask for more narrative samples as necessary.


The main thing here is to focus on the manner in which the characters reveal themselves in the course of the narrative, via dialogue and action.
  • Do they feel real or simply two dimensional?
  • Do we observe them at their best or worst in the course of performing an action?
  • Is the author using show-don't-tell techniques to portray them or simply delivering exposition?
  • Do you feel any sympathy or empathy towards them?
  • Is there anything unique about them or do they feel overly stereotypical?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Three Things I Know Now that I’m an Expert

by Karen Shoemaker

The novel I sometimes thought would never see the light of day is now one year past its release date and that makes me an expert on all things you could ever possibly want to know about a successful publishing career.

Okay, maybe not an expert, and maybe not on all things you could ever want to know. But I can come up a couple of things I think writers should know about publishing that could help them as they march toward literary stardom.

1. Start building you platform within two days after birth. If you haven’t developed a significant network and become a known authority on a topic connected to your book by the time you’re out of elementary school you might as well forget it.  Just kidding. Actually everything I could say (and more) about platforms has already been said well by Brooke Warner and a number of others all over the web. What I think is even more important than your platform is you. You need to be a good person who is good to other people. I know, it sounds cheesy to say that, but really, it’s true. People who run reading series, write reviews and blogs, recommend you and your work to others, invite you to speak at conferences (or accept your pleading to let you in) are first and foremost people. Don’t be an asshole toward them, help them help you, and if you can help them in return, all the better. Write reviews for other authors, recommend other writers to be a part of a reading series, run a reading series and invite them yourself. As a writer, you’re a member of a literary community; be a good literary citizen by actively supporting the community, not just yourself.

2. Social media posts do not a literary oeuvre make.  Social media in general is a Vampire that will Bleed You Dry if you let it and the blood it is draining from you is your creative energy, the very energy you need to be a writer. The barrage of advice about what you need to do before, during and after your book’s publication date always includes the directive to take up tweeting, facebooking, pinning, gramming and blogging on a regular, witty, well-researched basis. I spent far more time than I care to admit creating accounts on various platforms, setting/forgetting/resetting passwords, designing themed pages, staring thoughtfully at stats, and composing pithy bits of wit and wisdom for the various sites. If you do an internet search of my name now, a year later, maybe maybe you’ll find me on Facebook where you’ll learn incredibly important things, such as: 

a) I like chocolate; 
b) I’m thinking about letting my hair grow out to its natural gray; 
c) I have a new grandbaby (okay, that one is important); 
d) links to show that my novel actually has had some success beyond being loved by my family and closest friends (yay!). 

What you would probably find if you find me at all is evidence of lots and lots of what I think of as “pretend writing.”  If you could superimpose a time line on what else I typed into my computer for the three months before and three months after my novel’s release date you wouldn’t find any evidence of any literary endeavor. What. So. Ever. Am I embarrassed about that? A little, but mostly I’m just glad I pulled up in time. I’m writing again, in part because each morning when I sit down at my computer I set a timer and when the time goes off, off goes the “pretend writing enabler” (i.e. social media). My friend Trish Lear turned me onto a time management technique called the Pomodoro Technique and it has changed my life, but it doesn’t work for everyone I know so it’s not a miracle of any sorts. What I do know is you have to find something that works for you and do it. Keep working. Eyes on the prize, babies. Keep them there.        

3. Don’t spend so much time worrying about how the book is doing, or what you’re supposed to be doing, or what you should have done better that you forget to have fun. I write serious fiction, by that I mean my novels and stories have serious themes: life, pandemics, war, God and the absence thereof. It’s no wonder I sometimes have trouble getting myself to start work each day. More than once I have written myself sick because I’ve created a sick sick sick character. Sometimes I set the timer not so much to get myself to start working, but to stop - to remind myself to get up and walk away from the computer, to look outdoors, smell the coffee, call a friend. Anything to help me remember I am alive in my own reality. After staring into the abyss of a scene involving godless violence, it helps to remember, as the immortal bard Walt Whitman wrote, “I am large. I contain multitudes.” I need to remember to let the multitudes out to play on a regular basis.Oops, there goes the timer. 

Remember: time goes faster than you think it should, so don’t waste it: Live. Write. Be.

Karen Gettert Shoemaker is the author of the novel The Meaning of Names, published by Red Hen Press in 2014, and the short story collection Night Sounds and Other Stories, published by Dufour Editions, 2002.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

RESTORING THE TROLL TROPE - Concepts and Solutions Regarding the Use of Tropes in New Fantasy Fiction

Using the Rowling "Harry Potter" approach, you create a sympathetic underdog and render highly imaginative events with masterful narrative while also introducing more characters who are unique and endearing to the reader. Meanwhile, as mysteries writhe beneath the surface and the reader is absolutely gripped, you introduce the trope (e.g., a roving killer troll) in a circumstance that can't help but create immediate concern.

      - Michael Neff

Which tropes must you employ in fantasy fiction vs. those you must reconsider, and perhaps discard or alter? What techniques might an unknown writer use to avoid overdone-to-a-char tropes and create a competitive fantasy fiction novel that trumps the slush pile? ... A writer who shall not be named was recently asked in a forum to identify what she believed to be overused fantasy tropes (YA or adult). As follows:

Golden-haired princesses, elves that are beautiful and magical and powerful and the most powerful race, grumpy dwarves that live underground, talking dragons, magical swords, white steeds, unicorns, vampires in general, looming castles, wizards with staffs (seriously why can't they have some other enchanted object?), female characters that are thin (particularly protagonists), the prince is always the most desired choice for a boyfriend, Caucasian protagonists and races, other races that resemble humans (Elves, dwarves, orcs are all roughly humanoid), female characters able to talk with animals, some magical object of power that will save the world, helpful hermits that always turn up at the right time, green eyes ...

A major problem for you, the modern day fantasy or young adult fantasy writer, consists of the struggle to identify which tropes are acceptable right now in the genre, which tropes should be modified or "refitted" and returned to the battle, and which should be avoided as if they were mines set to explode you into rejection letter hell.

As a writer workshop leader, I stress high concept stories (insofar as humanly or inhumanly possible) and the ability to view your work or the work of others with the eyes of a professional in the business--in other words, would you put your career on the line for that novel in an editorial meeting surrounded by senior editors, your bosses and the always bitching marketing department who demand great marketing hooks? Let's see one example of the contrast that becomes apparent at such time the brain of a hypothetical neophyte fantasy writer is compared with that of a veteran literary agent.

Through the eyes of the writer penning a story about a prophesied dragon-riding princess known as "The Chosen One" who wields a flaming sword of power while on her way, together with her favorite faerie, Glynfee, to visit the Wizard Crumgar at Hell's Keep and enlist his aid in finding a team of elves and dwarves to help her defeat evil and thus fulfill the prophecy:

I've seen dragons and prophecies, wizards and such, and I love Tolkien and Ann and Robert and all the movies with these creatures in them ... they're everywhere, others love them, and this tells me such things are what people will always wish to read about.

In other words, the fact of reading and seeing overused tropes done so many times by great authors, or in films, or in the Halloween costume store, leads to the assumption that because they are ubiquitous or prevalent they are somehow immortal, never to be overlooked or overdone.

A novel-dooming assumption if there ever was one.

Can you imagine the hundreds, perhaps thousands of manuscripts like the one above that don't stand a chance? Or do they? Let's see the same manuscript or story concept through the eyes of a veteran fantasy agent:

Oh my God, another dragon-riding princess out to fulfill a prophecy ... And let's see, some elves and faeries, of course, what else? A flaming sword? Argh! I'm getting two hundred of these a week. Can't anyone write anything that sounds original? I'm suffering an existential crisis ...

The literary agent, on the look for high concept stories, something unique she can sell a publisher, is going mad after reading query letters about novels that all begin to sound the same. Can you sympathize with her? Isn't she more likely to focus on a story that doesn't sound like all the rest? Isn't she/he? Isn't THAT the story you should be writing, aspiring fantasy author? Shouldn't you try to stand out from that Montana-sized slush mob from archetypal flaming-sword hell?

But how to do it? Besides simply avoiding the mention and use of faeries, witches, flaming swords, and so forth, let's explore and consider other ways. You might high-concept a fantasy novel by creating a unique setting for the novel. A writer we know recently created a special tree hundreds of miles in diameter called The Brood Haven and populated it with various cultures and creatures, and explained it in such a way that it came alive and fascinated all who heard it. One of our writers at Author Salon has created a unique and complex fantasy version of Manhattan, but one alive with personality in a world that somewhat mirrors our own. Settings such as these will help convince agents and editors to take the novel seriously.

Another way is to invent a culture in a fantasy world different from other trope cultures, many of which typically mimic medieval or Tolkien-esque cultures. But how? Look for a culture extant on this planet (or from the past) that is unique ... search New Guinea, South America, Africa, the South Seas, even American cults, or perhaps just Thailand, and brainstorm a new and unique culture for your world, but unharness the imagination. Be aggressive with it. Between unusual cultures and settings, you create a hooky little pouch within which to insert those tropes the genre demands and which never grow old enough to go away: the battle of good vs evil, the game of romance, the need for a hero, conflicts between allies, among others.

Or let's pretend you simply MUST have a troll in your story, maybe even a killer troll. Okay, fine, we'll leave it out of the query letter or pitch simply because it might be a FLUSH WORD (i.e., agent hears or reads word and in her mind a hand reaches out and pushes the flush button).

Using the Rowling "Harry Potter" approach, you create a sympathetic underdog and render highly imaginative events with masterful narrative while also introducing more characters who are unique and endearing to the reader. Meanwhile, as mysteries writhe beneath the surface and the reader is absolutely gripped, you introduce the trope (e.g., a roving killer troll) in a circumstance that can't help but create immediate concern (as opposed to an early exposition comment about "the Trolls of Hell's Keep"), and attempt, insofar as possible, to make an aspect of the killer troll a bit different from other troll tropes. And while you're at it, introduce the monster without reference to it being a troll, calling it something else (the "Bolly Wumpus" or whatever), and only later, a character might say, "In another time, they called them trolls. But these aren't really trolls, not like our parents knew them ..." etc.

In effect, you counterbalanced the overused trope by giving it a new twist, introducing it with a new set of clothes or background, or by containing it within a special setting or circumstance. Keep in mind that none of the aforementioned is possible without imagination. It's your best friend. Push it to the utmost and it will help you stand out from the flame-sword slush mob and get a contract.

And as a bonus, your agent and editor will love you.

btw, anyone invent a steampunk Troll yet? No? ... Yes?

- Michael Neff

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Problem With Writer Groups? Where do We Start?

       by Michael Neff 

For many years I've realized the futility of obtaining useful and project-evolving advice from the average writer group. In consideration of this epiphany, I recommend limiting any given writer group to critique of prose narrative, and seeking response in defined categories (e.g., clarity, imagery, dialogue, originality, pacing). If the group members as a whole are reasonably intelligent, non-axe grinding, non-narcissistic, non-mentally ill people who happen to be avid readers of both old and new writers in your specific genre, they should in theory be able to provide some measure of decent feedback to you regarding your narrative, especially if you focus on commonalities obtained privately by email, or otherwise outside the influence of the group--because as most people know, the "groupthink" factor can arise in this type of setting to render even commonalities questionable.

But even under the best of circumstances above, a serious writer must, at some point, achieve childhood's end and seek advice from a professional. Why? Because the professional can provide nuanced advice on proper narrative composition, openings, novel hooks, etc. that are beyond the reach of writer groups. Substantially better advice comes from successful acquisition editors or literary agents who have been in the business for many years. Their ability, honed by experience in the ms submission trenches and by immersing themselves in their chosen genres, outweighs the advice of even a published author who can only speak from his or her own frame of reference. 

In a recent Algonkian workshop, for example, an invited author recommended to one of the attendees that she start her novel in a car. Unknown to the author, this was terrible advice. Yes, terrible. Each year, thousands of new writers start their novels in cars. It's a running joke with agents, and I can't think of a better way to get an instant rejection than by starting a novel in a car. Even more ridiculous circumstances are created by money hungry colleges that match academic-trained literary authors as instructors with student genre writers. A good example of this is the Stanford Online Certificate Program ($7000+). Not only will the writers get highly questionable advice, but they will pay through the nose for the privilege (while also receiving online "critique" from a group of non-professional writers, many of whom are not in their genre). 

From "Why Critique Groups MUST DIE":
Also, editing is best done on a keyboard, or with a red pen. Not out loud in a social group, where peer pressure and weird dynamics can screw up a draft in two seconds flat.

Below is a screenshot of a great interview between Hallie Ephron and Lorraine Bodger on the shortcomings of writer groups and how to possibly improve them. This is highly recommended reading.


Hallie is right. You need to consult professionals. Consider. Would you try to build a livable and quite stylish home on your own without an architect and a professional home builder simply because you had the ability to hammer a few boards together with nails? Of course not. You would acquire the expertise and skills before you began. And yet, new writers approach the creation of a thing equally or more complex, such as the writing of a competitive commercial novel, in the belief they can do so because they have a story idea, can type words on a page, and have read a few magazines about writing. They consult with other new writers as ignorant as themselves and proceed to build a house called a novel, but one that will not risk their lives because fortunately for them, it is all on paper. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Top Ten Best Writers Conferences and Checklist

Typical Conference Panel of Dubious Worth
Below, we've assembled what some feel are a few of the best writers conferences going. Please keep in mind your goals as a writer. Where do you want to be in five years? And consider asking yourself these questions also: 
  • Do I know how to properly pitch a project?
  • Will I settle for self-publishing or no?
  • Do I know precisely what genre I'm writing in, and is the genre found on the shelf, searchable as a category on Amazon? 
  • Do I know my genre comparables and how to best choose them? 
  • Have I immersed in my chosen genre well enough to know how it has evolved over the past ten years?
  • Will this writers conference be a networking opportunity that puts me in touch with business professionals who also provide advice on my work?
  • Will this writers conference be honest with me in terms of reaction and feedback?
  • Will I learn things at this conference I can't learn in a writer magazine?

(Disclaimer: this list was compiled by an attendee at an Algonkian event)

1. AWP Conference
The AWP Conference is one of the biggest and most popular conferences in the writing world. By BEA standards, it's small, but more than 12,000 writers and readers attend annually, with up to 650 exhibitors and a large book fair. Tip: don't buy any books until Sunday because by then the frustrated indie booksellers will practically be throwing them at you. Keep in mind this is mostly for literary writers/authors. If money is tight, genre writers should steer clear.

2. Algonkian New York Pitch Conference
An event held four times a year in the publishing capital of the U.S. for upmarket, literary, and all genre novel-length fiction except for mainstream romance. Features include extensive pre-event novel foundation assignments; attendees allocated to small-group editorial/pitch workshops; one-on-ones with commercial acquisition editors in an environment without timer buzzers or background noise; and each writer's workshop leader present during all pitch sessions for support and project clarifications as needed. Workshop faculty include successful agent-authors and former acquisition editors at major houses. Programming also includes first-page "hook analysis" and the famous/infamous post-pitch drinking fest on early Saturday evening (all secrets revealed--attendance not mandatory).

3. Santa Barbara Writers Conference
The Santa Barbara Writers Conference focuses on writers honing their craft and networking with other authors. Informative, yes, but for commercial genre writers, networking with publishers and/or good agents is a better idea. But it’s held during the summer in Santa Barbara, and that is a plus due to the terribly beautiful paradise of SB where the moon rises in the east.

4. San Francisco Writers Conference
Of all the conferences that make you feel like your are part of a grand but futile horde, the San Francisco Writers Conference is an event that should not be missed. From the opening gala to over 60 sessions with presenters, as well as 3 minute-timer pitch sessions. If a big conference with lots of agents and panels is what you want, it doesn't get much better (or crazier) than the SFWC. The location on Nob Hill in SF is stunning, and don't miss the parties!
5. Agents and Editors Conference/ Writers League of Texas
This conference is a great place to network with industry professionals and other writers, while learning "everything" about publishing. Expect the usual panels, lectures, one-on-one meetings with editors, and opportunities for authors to pitch books to agents. Pretty much the usual fare, similar to SFWC. If in Austin, a bonus, of course.
6. Yale Writers Conference
This conference in New Haven, Connecticut has two sessions; session I is an intensive nine-day long conference for those who wish to explore craft. Session II is for writers who are focusing on a more specific genre. If you’re looking for an intimate workshop, this is a conference that might well impact your writing career. If you can stick it out for such a long time, and afford it, you deserve a medal.
7. Writers Digest Conference
This is a conference for networking and learning about the publishing industry, and you get to buy a martini for Chuck Sambuchino! You have arrived. Seriously though, a good event for newbies looking to lay a foundation.
8. Chicago Writers Conference
This is a conference that shows writers how to get published through conferences, workshops and different literary events ... We're not sure what this means. Best to investigate.
9. Women Writers Conference
This is the longest running literary festival of women in the nation and has over 1,000 attendees per year. At this conference you can get advice on how to improve your manuscript, speak with editors, and connect with other female writers. 


Sales Down the Crapper! Yet Another Reason to Reconsider Self-Publishing

OMG! Sales are Going to Hell!!!
Amazon is screwing its Kindle customers with a sudden change in pricing that allows customers to pay an all-you-can read sum of ten bucks per month for the privilege of reading tens of thousands of self-published and commercially published books. As a result, monthly revenues to the ever-swelling mob of the self-published have decreased dramatically.

From an article at the NYT:
Holly Ward, who writes romances under the name H.M. Ward, has much the same complaint about Kindle Unlimited. After two months in the program, she said, her income dropped 75 percent. “I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further,” she said on a Kindle discussion board. She immediately left the program. Kindle Unlimited is not mandatory, but writers fear that if they do not participate, their books will not be promoted.

Ms. Ward, 37, started self-publishing in 2011 with “Demon Kissed,” a paranormal tale for teenagers, and quickly became one of Amazon’s breakout successes, selling more than six million books, according to her website. She said in an interview that she does not understand what her partner Amazon is thinking.

"Your rabid romance reader who was buying $100 worth of books a week and funneling $5,200 into Amazon per year is now generating less than $120 a year,” she said. “The revenue is just lost. That doesn’t work well for Amazon or the writers.”

Continue reading the main story

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Defining Success: How Three Authors Made Their Publishing Dreams Come True

By Paula Margulies

Success often means different things to different people, and that is certainly true for most authors. While the majority of authors would probably agree that being able to complete a book is an accomplishment in itself, many define success as more than just the act of writing.

For some, success is achieved through obtaining a contract from a major publishing house. Others want to build their own writing empires by going the self-publishing route. For many authors, success means landing a book deal after being self-published. Others wish to achieve a certain status on the bestseller lists, while others desire to develop a solid core of readers. Some aspire to become established in a particular genre, while others write only for themselves or their family members

There is no right or wrong when it comes to an individual author’s goals. And the definition of success will be different depending on what authors believe is most important to their personal plans for themselves.

The following authors are clients who have been successful in their publishing efforts. They come from different backgrounds and write in different genres. And although their individual goals differ, each of them has managed to achieve the level of success they envisioned. Here’s how they did it:

Corey Lynn Fayman
Author of the San Diego-based Rolly Fingers mystery series, Black Beach Shuffle, Border Field Blues, and the soon-to-be-released Slab City Rockers. www.coreylynnfayman.com

A powerful new voice on the crime-fiction scene (ForeWord Reviews), Corey Lynn Fayman is the creator of Rolly Waters, the San Diego, California-based guitar-playing detective first featured in the San Diego Book Awards nominated mystery Black's Beach Shuffle. Encouraged by this early success, he set about writing a second Rolly Waters Mystery, Border Field Blues, winner of the Genre Award at the 2013 Hollywood Book Festival, and has inked a deal for his third novel with Severn House Publishers. Corey hails from San Diego, where he's worked as a keyboard player for local bands, a sound designer for the world-famous Old Globe Theatre, and an interactive designer for organizations both corporate and sundry. He also teaches at various colleges and universities.

What specific goals do you have for yourself as an author and how have you achieved those goals?

My initial goal was just to find out if I could write a mystery novel, one based on the idea of a guitar-playing detective that had been rolling around in my head for a while. About halfway through the process I realized that one book wouldn’t be enough if I wanted to do justice to the character, as well as find finding my authentic voice as a writer. I committed myself to writing two more books in the series, not matter how long it took, no looking back. The second book, Border Field Blues, took much longer to write, but I learned so much in the process. It taught me how to write, and prepared me for the challenges of completing the third book on a much tighter deadline. My other goal in writing three books was to give the series a chance to be picked up in the marketplace. Getting a contract with a well-known and respected publisher like Severn House gave me a great shot of confidence. People like Rolly Waters. I’m on the right track.

What's the next step for you as an author?

Getting to know the business better, and figuring out how I can become more active in advancing my writing career without becoming an empty shill. There are so many ways to promote your work these days, from traditional book tours to blogs to social media to book trailers. You can’t do them all. You need to settle on the ones that work best for you. I’m partway there, but it’s still something I’m working on, finding my promotional voice, so to speak, now that I’ve developed my writing voice.

What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out?

Learn to read your own work with a jaded and objective eye. Don’t fall in love with the stuff you thought was brilliant and important when you first put it to paper. Let your characters lead. Let them help you discover the story. Your book may not turn out to be what you originally had in mind, but it will end up being a better book. I remember feeling surprised when I had Rolly Waters run from the crime scene in the opening chapter of Black’s Beach Shuffle. I didn’t know why he did it, except that it felt right at the time. It ended up being a great way to introduce a key fault in his character (poor impulse control), as well as setting up later plot points.

On the business side, try everything and find out what works for you. Go to conferences, develop a blog, enter contests, and join writing groups (online and in person). Anything that keeps you moving forward is valuable. Learning what you don’t like to do is valuable too.

Pamela Fagan Hutchins
Nonfiction author of several how-to books, including What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?, and creator of the romantic mystery series, Saving Grace, Leaving Annalise, and Finding Harmony, and the first spin-off, Going for Kona. www.pamelahutchins.com

Often compared to Janet Evanovich for fiction or Erma Bombeck for nonfiction, award-winning author Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes romantic mysteries and hilarious nonfiction, and moonlights as a workplace investigator and employment attorney. She is passionate about great writing and smart authorpreneurship, and her books have hit the best-seller lists multiple times.

What specific goals do you have for yourself as an author and how have you achieved those goals?

The most important goals for me are to write and publish the books of my heart as best as I can create them, and to make writing novels my full-time occupation. To write the books of my heart, I had to eschew the traditional publishing path (although I had published one nonfiction book traditionally, before), where each agent wanted me to rewrite my novels differently to appeal potentially to their editor contact. I wasn’t on board for that, not at this time of change and opportunity in the publishing industry. I decided to publish them independently. To make my indie novels the best they could be, I modeled my process after traditional publishing and ensured that my books received multiple levels of topnotch interactive editing attention. It was expensive, but paid for itself immediately. While no author is the best judge of the quality of her own books, I hope that the contest wins, amazing sales, and the thousands of reviews are a positive indicator of the results of this process.

As to the full-time novelist goal, that has become a reality after three short years of publishing, but ten long years of writing. To meet this goal, besides writing books that would appeal to readers, I had to develop my own brand, cover my own expenses, and create my own income stream. I modeled my writing career after successful hybrid authors like J.A. Konrath. Konrath stresses that an indie writer needs to produce quality volume at an attractive price. To this end, I publish one full-length novel every six months. While working on my brand and visibility, I studied the paths of some successful erotica and YA indie novelists and their first-in-series-permafree strategy. While the thought of giving away my best-selling book scared me, I decided to try it, and it worked. I supported it with aggressive, ongoing online advertising, and my writer income became sufficient to give up my day job as an attorney. You can read all the ins and outs of this journey and process in What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?, an updated version of which will be released in February 2015.

What's the next step for you as an author?

Write, write, write! I have my next seven novels lined up in a row to write, and I’m really looking forward to it. I brainstorm collaboratively with my husband, too, so that’s a lot of fun. After the impact of my 2013 60-cities-in-60-days book tour across 17,000 miles and the 2014 America-the-Beautiful tour over 11,000 miles of North Western states, I’m also hoping to schedule a book tour trip up the west coast of the US and Canada to Alaska one summer soon, and a bicycling-across-America book tour one spring in the not too distant future as well.

What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out?

I coach a lot of published and unpublished writers, on writing, on publishing, and on promotion. By and large, I see them in too much of a hurry to get through the writing part to get to the publishing part only to eschew the promotion part. Put in the work, and the time, up front. It takes hundreds of thousands of words to develop voice, and millions to develop your storytelling ability. I wish I’d seen different for any writer, but I haven’t. This goes double if you’re going to publish independently, without the extensive editorial support of big publishing. Slow down and write a book that won’t net you scathing reviews. The Internet is forever, my friends, and a name once sullied with a reader is hard to overcome. (And even if you write a super book, you are really the only one who can “sell” it, no matter how it’s published, so be prepared to get your hands dirty with promotion.)

C. L. Hoang
Author of the historical Vietnam War novel, Once upon a Mulberry Field www.mulberryfieldsforever.com

C. L. Hoang was born and raised in South Vietnam and came to the United States in the 1970s. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and earns his living as an electronic engineer, with eleven patents to his name to date. His debut novel, Once upon a Mulberry Field, a love story set at the height of the Vietnam War, has won multiple awards, including a Gold Medal (Historical Literature Fiction) in the 2014 Global Ebook Awards, a Grand Prize (Fiction) in the 2014 LuckyCinda Book Contest, an Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest 22nd Annual Self-Published Book Awards (2014), and a nomination as a Finalist (Historical Fiction) in the 2014 National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

What specific goals do you have for yourself as an author and how have you achieved those goals?

My goal in writing Once upon a Mulberry Field was to share different perspectives and stories from various people, both Vietnamese and American, whose lives had been affected by the Vietnam War. Thus, many of those stories may prove of interest to such diverse audiences as American veterans who served in Vietnam during the war, their families and friends, Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in America after the war, as well as the baby boomers who came of age during the tumultuous sixties. The general themes of love, loss, and redemption may appeal to a female audience, and there may also be interest from history buffs or younger folks curious about that chapter in history.

To try and reach all those different audiences, I offered to give a talk about my book at as many venues as I could get access to: book club, library, church group, rotary club, spa resort, writer’s group etc. It was nerve-racking at first since I’m not a born public speaker, but it did get easier with time and practice. The ultimate reward that makes it all worthwhile is the direct, personal connection with my audiences.

Book awards, both regional and national, also serve to validate and highlight the quality of a book, especially when it comes to self-published works. In my case, they helped to open some doors for me that might otherwise have been off limits.

What's the next step for you as an author?

After Once upon a Mulberry Field was published on Valentine’s Day of 2014, the rest of the year was devoted to promoting the book to its intended audiences. That was a full-time effort that left little room for anything else, which made me realize just how much I missed my quiet writing time. So hopefully 2015 will be a year of rejuvenation for me, if you will, as I will try to scale back on my book marketing duties and reserve some time to write again. There are still many stories floating around in my head demanding to be told, and I would love to capture them for a second book that I hope won’t take six years to write!

What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out?

Believe in your story with all your heart, and tell it in the absolute best way you can. Write, edit (with professional help), rewrite—until you start spinning around in circles! Then go out there and promote the daylight out of it, all the while remaining realistic about your marketing goals. Seize on any public speaking opportunity to share your story, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel (for it gets easier with practice). After all, who else can tell it better than you can, right? Enter book contests to get an idea how you stack up against the competition. Besides boosting your confidence, a book award can distinguish your work from the rest of the field and win you some good will—even potential new readers. Some contests also provide helpful commentaries from the judges. But most of all, stop and savor every small accomplishment along the way, and no matter what happens, never lose that sense of fulfillment already achieved just by finishing your book. Happy writing and best wishes with your publishing efforts!
Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at paula@paulamargulies.com, or visit her at www.paulamargulies.com, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

Friday, November 7, 2014

How to Query a Book Publicist

When I first started offering publicity services for authors (many years ago), the winter months were often a slow time for me workwise. Now, with so many authors self-publishing, I receive more queries in the fall and winter than at any other time of year.

To help authors get the best response with their queries, I’ve listed some general tips on the best way to approach a publicist.

Do a little self-analysis first.

Before you decide to contact a publicist, take a few moments to consider whether your book and your own personal platform are ready for the kind of promotional work that a publicist will do for you.

Has your book been professionally edited? Has the cover been professionally designed? Do you have a website and social media sites? Have you thought about who your readers are and where you can best reach them? What kind of platform do you have? If you don’t have a platform, are you in the process of creating one?

Know what you’re looking for in the way of promotion and what you can afford.

If you have a platform and a book that has been professionally edited and is ready for distribution, your next step is to think about what kind of publicity you’re interested in pursuing. Some authors want to take their books on tour, others want media exposure, and some prefer online marketing. There is no right or wrong way for any author to promote, but those willing to do the most work to expose their books to their target audiences will make the most headway. If your budget is tight, that’s fine – know how much you’d like to spend, and then think about what you’d like to do within that budget framework.

Query only when your work is ready.

Even though I state on my website that I only work with authors whose books have been professionally edited, I still receive copies of books with typos, incorrect grammar, and significant writing flaws. The same goes for book covers – many of the samples sent to me have covers that have not been professionally designed. Please be sure your book is ready for publication before you send it to me for review.

Put your best foot forward.

The email message you send or the telephone call you make to a publicist is often the first indication of what it will be like to work with you. I receive many email messages where the author requests info about pricing or types of promotion, but offers no information about his book or the type promotion he’s interested in.

Oftentimes, these email messages demand information with no introduction. Messages like: “Hi Paula, Can you send me your prices on publicity?” are not likely to receive a positive response. If you truly want my help, then help me know more by telling me a little about what kind of books you write, what kind of background you have as an author, and what you’re looking for in the way of promotion.

Don’t send queries via Twitter and Facebook.

I’m surprised at how many authors will ask questions via social media, especially Twitter, about services and fees. Since we're only allowed 140 characters in a Twitter response, it’s difficult to answer questions in any kind of detail this way. If you’re serious about querying a publicist about publicity work, and/or if you have questions about the process, it’s probably best to email that person directly (you can reach me at paula@paulamargulies.com).

What I like to see in a query:

1. The title and a brief description of the book.
2. A brief summary of your background and experience as it relates to the book’s contents.
3. A brief statement of what you’re looking for in the way of publicity.
4. A sentence indicating whether the book will be traditionally or self-published and expected publication date.
5. If self-published, a sentence indicating whether the book has been professionally edited and designed/formatted and who has done that work for you.
6. For a book that is already published, a link to its Amazon page, website, or other retail site, so I can easily access that info.
7. Your full name and contact information, including email address and telephone number in case I would like to reach you by phone.

And here’s what not to include in your query:

1. Don’t attach a full manuscript. I may not represent the type of book you’ve written and even if I do, I generally don’t print out books sent to me by email.
2. Don’t tell me how much your friends and family loved the book or that others have deemed it a potential bestseller.
3. Don’t include pages of testimonials or blurbs from others about the book. A simple description or brief list of who has offered to blurb the book will suffice.
4. Don’t try to negotiate some type of commission structure for payment; most publicists charge a monthly retainer or an hourly rate for their services and do not work on commission. It’s best to wait until the publicist agrees to take you on before discussing payment options.

The majority of book publicists have websites with information about the types of services they provide, and specific advice as to what they’d like you to include when you send a query. It’s best to check the website first and follow the individual publicist’s requirements as you put your query together.

Finally, be patient with us if we don’t get back to you right away – sometimes we’re on deadline for current clients, traveling, or busy with other issues, so it can take a few days to respond.

As always, if you have any questions about what I’ve listed here, or about the query process in general, feel free to contact me at paula@paulamargulies.com. Happy querying!

Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at paula@paulamargulies.com, or visit her at www.paulamargulies.com, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What Your First Conversation with a Publicist Might Look Like

For those who've never spoken with a publicist and wonder what the initial conversation might be like, I've compiled the list below of the items we typically discuss when authors contact me about their books (note: these will vary depending on the type of book and the individual needs of the author). I always ask for a copy of the book to read first, so we usually won’t have this conversation until after I’ve finished reading.

1) Editing and Cover Art
I'm a stickler for books that have been professionally edited, and even though I specify that on my website, I'm often sent books that contain typos and grammatical mistakes or suffer from general writing problems. These are often easy fixes in the hands of professional editors, but many authors choose to skip this step in the publishing process. More often than not, authors will swear that their books have been edited (by multiple people, as one author recently claimed). But in most cases, authors assume that having a few beta readers (i.e., friends and relatives) review the book is enough to fix any editing errors the book might contain. Sadly, these are books I usually have to turn down, mainly because I cannot send them to reviewers, booksellers, bloggers, news editors, or reporters - the grammatical or typographical errors would not get past these folks, whose business is correct writing.

Similarly, the cover art is so crucial to selling indie books these days, that I will usually urge the client to consider a re-do if the cover seems overly homespun or inappropriate for its audience. If either the cover or the editing seems lacking, I'll discuss options for getting those issues taken care of before moving forward with publicity for the book.

2) Platform
I like to find out as much as I can about potential clients, so if the client's book is ready for publication, we’ll usually discuss platform first, including education, work experience, publications, awards, teaching experience, celebrity status, or anything else that can help me know how to best position the author and his book to the media, reviewers, booksellers, readers, etc. We’ll also discuss personal branding strategies and any other marketing efforts that an author has made that might be relevant to the selling of the book.

3) Genre/Audience
I also like to discuss genre, if relevant, and possible target audiences for the book, including different types of readers, tangential or secondary audiences, and content or themes that might be newsworthy or resonate with different groups.

4) Outreach/Appearances
We’ll discuss what areas are possible options for promoting the book, including book launches, outreach to bloggers and blog tours, personal appearances (bookstores/libraries/professional venues, etc.), conference appearances, university and corporate speaking engagements, general media, and targeted media, including written articles, social media, web and blog sites, etc.

5) Social Media
I like to go over the various social media outlets out there and discuss which might be best for authors to target so that they have a social media presence to tap into once the book is released. For those who are new to social media, I usually recommend working on building a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads as soon as possible, and also suggest that they consider developing relationships with readers via regular blog posts on their websites and blogs.

6) Beta Readers/Giveaways
It’s important to think about generating reviews both before a book launches and immediately afterward, so I’ll usually recommend reaching out to beta readers and using the giveaway features offered on sites like Goodreads and those who host blog tours.

7) Contests and Reviews
Entering contests and submitting the book to review sites is an important part of publicity, because winning awards and receiving reviews are good reasons to issue press releases once a book is launched. There is also some initial PR to consider, such as creating a general press release to be used for media and blogger queries, and getting that release up on the newswires. I’ll usually discuss how this might affect the book’s release date, along with the timing for certain PR activities (including pre-release activities, such as getting the press release written, getting a Q&A sheet formatted, gathering book cover and author photos, etc.).

8) Publicity Budget
I usually discuss my fees and what the potential client has in mind for a budget, along with items like initial deposits, how invoicing works, the duration of the publicity campaign, and what to expect for the amount of work the client is interested in having me do for his book.

9) Other Items to Include in Budget
I usually suggest that in addition to all the options listed above, authors should also be sure to budget for the following:
- cover design
- professional editing
- formatting (mobi/ebook files and pdf/print files)
- uploading to distribution sites like Amazon, Createspace, Smashwords, Draft to Digital, etc. (for those not familiar with the process or those who prefer to have someone else do it)
- printed copies of the book (for giveaways, contests, reviewers, book signings, appearances, etc.)
- promotional giveaway tools (bookmarks, posters, etc. – Vista Print is an inexpensive way to go for these items)
- postage (for mailing print copies to reviewers, giveaway recipients, contests, etc.)
- travel (if appearances are part of the author’s promotional plans)

11) Schedule
I also recommend deciding on a publicity budget and then prioritizing what the client would like me to do. If he wants a book tour, I’ll suggest making a list of dates, times, cities, etc., so I know where/when to focus those efforts. Also, I’ll ask clients to list any times when they will not be available for interviews, travel, and/or email communication.

12) Photos, Bio, and Book Cover Art
When we’re ready to get started, I’ll ask for jpgs of the author’s headshot (hopefully shot by a professional photographer) and the book front cover art, along with any biographical info the author can provide. Also, if he has any other descriptive text he can share (back cover copy with book description, blurbs, etc.), those are helpful for me to have on file..
Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at paula@paulamargulies.com, or visit her at www.paulamargulies.com, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Michael Neff Loses it At Algonkian Novel Workshop

Yes, that's him. Michael Neff. And where is he? In the AEI Films and Books office in LA? Yes, that's it. He was holding a workshop there, attempting to talk a few genre writers into analyzing screenplays before rewriting their novels. So why does he look crazed? He's rejecting a bad manuscript, or maybe a bad film pitch. That's what he's doing. A pitch too far, and now, he's lost it. He tried to be patient, but it didn't work. The writer was a narcissist, a flipping ego maniac, thus escorting Neff to the brink, to the point where he actually resembled the Cage man himself.

Look at him! What is he saying?

"I'm sorry, Alva, it's just too late. Too late to add a plot line with a cliffhanger. It's all TOO LATE!!!"

To which the now terrified writer replies: "I'm sorry, Mr. Neff, I'll search passionately for a plot, and premise first, yes ... a premise that will sell, and--"


Author Salon Reviews of Craft on Algonkian

Announcing that Algonkian is adopting Michael Neff's craft advice observations and reviews included at Author Salon for all Algonkian writer events and workshops. A summary of a sampling of advanced craft articles are found here.

Sample from a review article as follows:

      Lessons and Readings Necessary To The Creation of a Competitive Commercial Manuscript

   By Michael Neff

Let's get right to the point on this issue. Yes, we know that CATCHER IN THE RYE and HUCKLEBERRY FINN could never have been the famous novels they were without the engaging first person voice of their protagonists. And yes, first person seems to be in vogue with paranormal YA and some fantasy here and there, however, third person point of view is the best way to relate a dynamic work of fiction, hands down. Unless the first person voice is so remarkable, unique and/or compelling that the novel could not exist without it, third person is strongly advised.

For purposes of this study, we define four levels of third person point of view (3POV) as follows:

  • Author-POV
  • 3POV Distant
  • 3POV Close
  • 3POV First-Close
The Author-POV or APOV, refers to the author, the detached or "omniscient narrator" who steps in now and then to set the scene or make artful commentary at the right time (just *please* don't address the reader directly because that is so irritating and breaks the reader's immersion into the fictional dream).  3POV Distant or 3POV-D occurs at such time the narrative focuses on a specific character and we watch her or his actions as if we are the camera actively filming this character. 3POV Close or 3POV-C takes us into the character's head and camera viewpoint shifts to the character, i.e., we see or experience, for the most part, only what the character is viewing or experiencing. 3POV First-Close or 3POV-FC dives deeper into the character's head and effectively mimics first person POV, but naturally without the usual limits of first person POV because the author can cut from the 3POV-FC and pull all the way back to APOV.
More at Author Salon Reviews of Craft on Algonkian

Saturday, June 7, 2014

As the Publishing Industry Changes, So Does the Way We Promote Books

As a PR professional who’s been working in the book publicity business for a number of years, I’ve watched the industry go through some major changes. And as the industry has changed, so has the way we market books.

But what's different now? Well, for one thing, authors who self-publish their work must hire professionals, particularly cover designers, editors, and formatting specialists, to help ensure that what they put out is a quality product. Some authors choose to perform these tasks themselves, but doing so is risky. Unless they’re experts in all these arenas (which is rare), the end product may be viewed by readers as low quality, and sales may suffer.

Even our concept of platform has changed. Where in the past, platform was dictated by the size of the audience an author could bring to his work based on celebrity status, experience, or expertise, now it is heavily influenced by the number of books an author has published and the size of his online presence.

Authors are finding that certain genres, including erotica and fantasy, seem to have an easier time finding an audience, while others, like traditional and literary fiction, sometimes struggle. Manipulating pricing is crucial, as authors lower and raise price points to help move online sales rankings, and new methods of packaging books, including bundling and box sets, have become commonplace. Authors are learning that they must continue to write new books in order to be known, and consumer familiarity with technology is opening the door to concepts like interactive books, apps, and online access for readers.

As the industry has changed, so have the channels for distribution. Brick and mortar stores have been replaced by online brokers, making the Internet the primary book sales and event channel. Authors are replacing book signings with blog tours and partnering with other authors online to bundle their work and cross-promote.

Finding readers has become one of the biggest challenges, as the sheer numbers of authors, along with the noise that readers face, makes it difficult for authors to create an audience. Many authors have found themselves relying less on traditional media and more on social media and word-of-mouth promotion, as access to readers becomes more relationship-oriented.

If the industry is changing, does that mean that the way we promote books has changed, as well? Absolutely. As authors create more books, they realize that being able to build their own brand, connect with readers, and get the word out about their work is all-important, and sometimes more difficult, than ever.

And what are publicists doing now for their authors given the industry changes? Well, in my own practice, I’m seeing changes in the services I offer authors. In addition to writing press releases and getting them on the newswires, I’m helping my clients find bloggers who are willing to feature their books in the form of interviews or reviews on their blog sites. I’m doing a lot of work with online media outlets to create buzz and helping with branding and identity by pinpointing what is unique about an author’s work. I’m also helping my clients to reach their target audiences by identifying niche markets and working to create exposure opportunities, including submitting written articles to targeted print and online publications, booking presentations, and setting up appearances at select venues and events.

For some of my clients, especially those who feel that exposure via traditional media is less important, I’m working to help them to reach out to readers via review sites, blog sites, social media, and online reader sites. Even so, I still feel it’s important for authors to connect with their readers in as many ways as possible, and that includes face-to-face meetings at book signings, launch events, private readings, presentations, and other author appearances.

The bottom line is that even though the publishing environment has changed, there are now more promotional options than ever for authors who wish to connect with readers. And the more of these options that authors are willing to explore, the more likely it is that they will be successful in finding an audience for their work.

What are you doing to get the word out about your book?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fool's Gold, . . . or Not

  By CeCe Baker

Questions, questions, questions! What happens when a writer decides to pen what could possibly be his or her break-through novel?  Are previously-written works taken seriously?  What will be the impetus to write another one? Barbara Kingsolver said, “There is no perfect time to write. There’s only now.” Steve Martini said, “If the writer has a masterpiece within, he had better save it on paper. Otherwise, none of us will ever miss it.”

What single act or thing is it that begins our process as writers? My best ideas come to me when I’m near water. And while it can be something so subtle as a relaxing soak in a hot tub or as exotic as sitting behind a waterfall watching the sheen of its water dissolve as it hits the rocks below, still there’s something about moving water that gets my creative juices going.  Knowing what does it for me, I can’t help but wonder what it is for Barbara Kingsolver or Steve Martini.
The one quote that steers me most though is by E. L. Doctorow, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  With best sellers such as “Ragtime,” “Homer & Langley,” and “Billy Bathgate,” E. L. Doctorow’s continuous leaps of faith set an example for all of us to follow.  Every day I write and every day I struggle to see beyond the headlights.  
When I first started writing, I was sure there was a definitive process. Every how-to-write book implies that. Those of us that believed in those how-to-write books kept looking for our process  by skimming through every writing book we could find on the shelves of book stores and libraries. We learned about style and other techniques. We had many fits and false starts on stories we were convinced would be our break-through novel.  I remember one well-known author telling me that in order to find their process all new writers should put themselves among those who ”really write.”  She used adverbs sparingly, but wasn’t afraid to place her emphasis on the word “really.”  This little snippet was some of the best writing advice I ever received. 
You can do this in a number of ways; but, the easiest is to simply read other authors’ works that have already proven their word worth. The first rule of writing is “Read! Read! Read!”  We get that.  We read veraciously and, when we tire of reading, we study the construction and choreography of television programs, movies, and plays and try to translate their formulas for success to the body of our written works. 
We cultivate other writers as friends, go to conferences and carefully select our muses.  A few of mine are Jeannette Walls, Dorothy Allison, Pat Conroy, Terry Kay, and Nora Ephron – but, not necessarily in that order, and that’s certainly not all of them. We dance, drink and play word games that are mostly appreciated by other writers and truly surprise those that are non-writers.  We word-paint scenes that display our souls – perhaps even more intensely than singing, dancing, or using an artist’s brush and palate.
And when we learn nothing more than just the basics of writing, we become the harshest judges in the world of our own talents.  In doing all of these things we are learning what our “process” is.  We also learn that no two writers have the same process.  Buzz words for writers’ processes include words like “planner,” “pantser,” and “percolator.”  As you can tell, they’re pretty self-explanatory.  As for myself, I’ve learned that depending upon the plot or characters in a potential work,  I can be one or a combination of all three of these processes. I do know that I tend to mull over the essence of what I’m going to write longer than most writers.  When I do that, I’ve found that most of the time I’ve spent has been used on deciding whether or not I believe my words will be accepted by the reading world.
James Baldwin said,” Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.”  Every writer has to be doggedly determined to overcome this perceived conspiracy.  And, while we aren’t exactly sure that the odds for others’ realization of the value of our words are greater than those of finding fool’s gold, we are still dedicated enough to realize that our only true answer for this riddle is to put them down on paper. So, with a leap of faith, we do that - fool’s gold or not.   Having done this, there is one thing of which we can be assured.  Along with James Baldwin, other authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Steve Martini and E. L. Doctorow would be proud.