SiWC Workshops – Sharing What I Learned pt 2

The second part will deal with the exciting world of lion taming, and the business of writing. Minus the lion taming. It’s something I wanted to know more about, so I took not one, but three workshops. First up…

Elena Aitken, USA Today best-selling writer and author of over 30!!!! books

Self Publishing – Elena Aitken.

(Elena Aitken is a USA Today Bestselling Author of more than thirty romance and women’s fiction novels. Living a stone’s throw from the Rocky Mountains with her teenager twins and their two cats, Elena escapes into the mountains whenever life allows. She can often be found with her toes in the lake and a glass of wine in her hand, dreaming up her next book and working on her own happily ever after.)

There is a TON to learn about self-pubbing. Like a Fat-Albert ton. Luckily, I had the incredible and super friendly Elena Aitkens who tried to tell us a bit about the process.

She has a ton of information on her site. Please check it out. Elenaaitken.com. But I’ll do a quick overview.

  • Covers are important. Digital decisions are made quickly. Great covers get attention.
  • Use an editor. You’ll not spot your mistakes. It’s worth the money. (God knows this is true for me).
  • Formatting MUST be professional.
  • Set up your publishing like a business. Separate accounts. Know ISBN, taxes, royalties.
  • Connect with readers. Website vital. A newsletter allows for direct connections. FB, Twitter, etc not as reliable. Programs like mailchimp.com can help with the newsletter.
  • Always reply to comments, feedback or shares. We all want to feel special, valued, so make sure your readers feel special and valued.
  • Picking the right keywords on your selling site (like Amazon) is vital. Look up your genre, see what’s selling the best, see what words they use.
  • Know your goals. Make a plan. Connect your brand to that plan. Stick to the plan.
  • There is a lot more on her website, so please check it out. She knows what she’s talking about!

Steena Holmes. NY Times and USA Today best-selling author

Branding: Steena Holmes : In the age of information overload, how do you stand out?

From the massively successful and brilliant, Steena Holmes, who did two workshops on branding, hereand here. I learned that my brand focus has to be on my readers… not on sales. Not on marketing.

Be aware that you are branding yourself now. Are you doing it right?

Me, I’m not. Not even close. Like a drunk swinging at a bouncer who’s already taken 3 steps back.

Her brand, though, is phenomenal. Her website is perfect. It’s definitely worth checking out

What I learned:

  • Create a brand that connects with readers.
  • You brand yourself on all social media, even if you aren’t aware of it.
  • But one thing she said that really struck me, though was, “You are not your reader.”
  • That means, for example, that you might not bug another writer cuz you know how hard it is to find time to write and don’t want to bother them. But a lot of readers LOVE the personal connection they can get with a writer.
  • Your followers, your fans, your fellow writers, want to connect to you. You might think they’d hate to read about your struggles or your cats or how you did your research, but you are not your reader. Find out what they want and provide that for them.
  • Your brand is your promise. If you’re not writing political stuff, don’t blog about political stuff. If you’re writing romance books, don’t blog about gory horror novels.
  • Use newsletters to connect directly with people.
  • Newsletters are story-telling. Not just info or news. Get past your own hangups. Don’t think like a writer, think like a reader.
  • Don’t just write about writing but about life. Write about life in a way that creates or connects to your brand.
  • Brand your newsletter. Like me – Joe Cummings. Writer. Blogger. Stepdad. Historian. Geek.
  • Make links easy to access.
  • Make the signup for your newsletter as simple as possible. On your website, blog, emails.
  • Keep a regular schedule with your newsletter.
  • Keep it simple.
  • If you’re published, promote new books coming as well as your current book. If not published, promote progress and the experience.
  • Never add people to a newsletter without their permission.
  • Read other newsletters and see what works. Be genre specific.

Honestly, both these women were amazing resources. I hope they come back next year.

Links below.

Elena Aitken’s self-publishing links. Absolutely great stuff.

Steena Holmes Branding With Intent. She has a 5 step program that’s easy-peasy to follow and her website really is a must-see.

The First Rewrite

Joe’s Post #179

Last Wednesday, at 9:44 pm, I finished my first rewrite of my novel, Yager’s War. Or my second draft of it, depending on your point of view.

So, what’s it like to do a rewrite?

Best I compare it to cake, cuz, I’m hungry and I’ve been thinking about cake a lot.

If my book were a cake, this is how I imagined it before I wrote a single word.

When you start out to write a novel, it’s because you have some amazing idea or story or character you MUST write about.

Like a wedding cake, at this point, the story is perfect beyond perfect (because you’ve not written a single word and just have something in your mind.)

You can imagine the sweeping character arcs, the brilliantly described settings, the epic emotions everyone will feel and, of course, the perfect way the plot all comes together.

Then you do your first draft. My first draft had the title, The WW2 Dutch Novel. Like calling something, The Cake. And, if I continue the metaphor, imagine making a cake when you’ve only seen one made by a master. The ingredients are listed, but not the amounts. The cooking time is only hinted at. And, as for the icing, there’s merely a note saying that you need some.

But if you take seminars, go to conferences like the Surrey Writers or attend workshops, you can get the idea you might need 2 eggs instead of one and maybe use some sugar at some point.

So, off you charge to make your cake, all excited cuz, you know, you like to make cakes.

This is what a first draft cake looks like. And it tastes like it looks.

Here is the result. And, guess what, it doesn’t even taste that good.

For some writers, this is as far as it gets. To fix that first draft mess requires a lot of work. Even Stephen King says he looks at what he’s done, sighs, puts it in his drawer and looks at it at a later date.

It’s not like I didn’t try to make a good cake, I simply had to see what worked and what didn’t. And hey, it kinda looks like a cake, right? Kinda a different color than I imagined, and I think I used salt instead of sugar, but now it’s time to fix it.

Can you fix it?

No. Not really. I mean you could put it in a blender, but really, you have to start over. So, in cake creation, like in writing, you start from scratch, again. You work hard to make it look better, taste better, smell better. You also realize that achieving that perfect perfection may be a little harder than you originally imagined.

The first reworking of the cake. See, it looks like a cake, smells like a cake, even tastes like a cake, but is it what you imagined?

The result is the next stage. The stage that I just finished. It looks ok. It even tastes kind of cakey, but you know you can do better. You just know it.

But you have the basics of what your cake will become. You’ve learned a bit about how to make it, how to add some interesting details and it is beginning to take shape.

Now, comes the next step. Refinement.

This is where you take a look at all your parts, all your ingredients, all your techniques and ask the simple question. Can’t I just go buy a cake instead?

Well, you can, but the question you really need to ask is How can I make this better? Then better than that? Then, even better still.

That whole process will take a lot more time, but when people bite into your cake, don’t you want them saying, OMFG is that ever good, I couldn’t stop eating it, this is the best cake I’ve ever tasted.

Now it’s time to work on those final details. The right mix of ingredients.

So, too, does it go with my novel. Now I need to work on making it the absolute best it can be before I send it off, because, as my published writer friend Sean Slater said to me, Joe, you only get one chance at a first impression.

Next week, a quick update on this progress. I think I’ll make a system because I’m all about systems.

Now for some cake.

 

Success @ Surrey International Writers’ Conference

real-life-schoolOddly enough, I am more comfortable talking about my failures. I mean, hey, failures make for better stories, while successes, well, who wants to read about a hero who just succeeds? But sometimes we writers forget to celebrate our wins. So, please, indulge me…

With all my pitching done, that left Saturday to actually learn something, maybe even have some fun. And there was one workshop I didn’t want to miss. SiWC Idol.

It’s where authors submit their first page for the amazing Jack Whyte to read, then a panel of agents raise their hand the moment they would reject it. The goal was to have the entire page read, the agents not stopping the reading at all, but eager to find out what happens next.

simon-cowelSure, one year it was bad, with agents going all Simon Cowell on everyone, and even some of the good stuff was getting slaughtered in the name of making people laugh. I suspect a lot of people complained and rightly so. It’s hard to have your stuff read out. It takes courage to submit that one page, and for those agents to savage the writing and writer, well, it was just wrong.

But it never happened again, and so I was pretty excited to submit my 1 page. I thought it was decent enough, perhaps even good, so I thought, hey, roll the dice. One of the agents I had pitched to would be there and if I managed to get read, and she liked it, it might cement that idea that my book has a real chance.

However, if my writing failed, if I’d convinced myself it was better than it really was, then the reverse would be true. She’d leave thinking, my goodness he was handsome and charming and had a good idea for a book, but couldn’t write to save his life (and my book would die an ugly death in the slush pile.)

So, a lot at stake.

And all of it depended on a good bit of luck as well. See, there are about 200 people who show up for this event, and it takes 5-10 min to go through the first page and give feedback, so that’s about 20 or so pages that can be read.

I crossed my fingers.

The first ones that were pulled out and read, were hit and miss. A few good ones, but mostly they needed work. However, the agents were very respectful and even helpful, offering some greats suggestions on how to make it better.

Then Jack Whyte pulled out a submission from my writer’s group. And when he read it, he read the chapter title. It started off with a date and a place, instead of just saying chapter 1.

But the agents hated that, and before we’d gone not far past the chapter title, they’d rejected it!

On the title of a chapter!

Now I went into a panic.

That’s exactly how MY submission started.

If jack Whyte read my chapter titles, then I would be done. All my hopes of making a good impression dashed.

I shut my eyes, and now wished for my submission not to be taken.

More submissions were read. Time began to run out until only 10 minutes remained. Some total asshat submitted 2 and both of them got read. How unfair for the rest of the people. There was only 1 submission allowed. Only 1.

But that left only a few minutes for those last submissions.

And then Jack Whyte began to read mine.

He didn’t read the title.

Thank God.

He read the opening sentence. Then the opening paragraph. Then the rest. With him reading it, with his incredible voice and Shakespearean delivery, he made it sound amazing. Not a single agent stopped him from reading.

And when he was done, they were all so very nice and complementary, especially the agent I’d pitched to who said she knew who the author was and got me to stand up. Then she gave me a thumbs up.

Everyone seemed to love it and it was the best moment that I’d ever had at SiWC. That moment of validation. That feeling that maybe I have a chance at publication. That thumbs up.

But that’s the conference for you.

Ups and downs.

But this time.

On this day.

Totally up.

*****

And here’s Jack Whyte reading from his novel to give you an idea of how well he can speak!

 

 

Surrey Writer’s Conference Act 1

Joe’s Post #56

jloLots of interesting stuff in the news today. Hooters is getting sued over not hiring someone for their HAIR COLOR! J Lo has body issues. And a blond, blued eyed little girl is found with the Roma (gypsies) … wait, hold on, that’s a great story idea right there.

But I don’t have time to look into those epic, world-changing events. I have to get ready for the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. Technically, it starts tomorrow and I’m madly getting organized so I know who’s looking for what, what classes they are teaching, and which ones I want to attend. As well, I’m reading all the agent’s and editor’s blogs in hopes of understanding this very strange species of humankind.

Lots of work. Being so 20th century, I’ve printed out everything and with a bright yellow highlighter in my hand, I’m busy marking up all things vital to my success. Who the key-note speakers are, where the bathrooms are located, who’s in charge of the coffee. I’ve also worked really hard on my elevator pitch, my query and whatever the hell they call the in-between thing.

It’s all coming together but there’s still a ton to do. I want to arrive there so prepared they will actually give me an award for being so well prepared. All they’ll do is look at me and go, hey, holy hell, look at that guy, he is some prepared (here’s a cookie).

Now I won’t be going tomorrow, as it’s master classes and I need to spend the time finishing up my novel. In the good news department, I’m basically done with the rewrite, at least until I take a last look at those first 10 pages. There’s still a really good chance I’ll tinker with it even if someone requests a manuscript to be sent to them (very unlikely, it’s usually 10-30 pages, but still …)

So, expect a few posts from me as I embark on this new adventure. Here’s my pitch. It’s a quest story. Timid Canadian who talks way too quickly attempts to sell his epic novel to agents who have seen pretty much everything before. Will he have another legendary meltdown while describing his story? Will he forget to zip up after going to the bathroom? Will his innate shyness force him into a fetal position underneath one of the lunch tables?

Stay tuned.

And wish me luck.

fiction-writer

More to come.