I’m A Best-Selling Author

Why do writers put their works out there in cyber-space for free? Why do they give away something they’ve worked so hard over?

First, of course, they have something to say and if no one reads what they wrote, then why bother writing?

But some do so because they believe, or have been told, that if they put some of their work out there for free then they’ll eventually sell something. It’s a decent marketing ploy that works for some writers, though the numbers game means that most free reads will never lead to sales because there are websites and blogs with no purpose in life other than to direct readers to free or almost-free reads. Those websites and blogs have huge followings of people who will never pay for something again. No sales on the horizon for those writers.

So why do it?  The answer lies with Amazon.  Amazon used to have two lists of best-sellers. One list was of paid best-sellers and the other was of free best-sellers.  They’ve since gotten smart and deleted the free list, but it’s still there if you know where to look. And when you look, you’ll discover that Amazon’s software doesn’t differentiate between books that sell for $5.99 and those that sell for $0.00.  As a result, free books are listed as sales.

Which is why I’m a best-selling author.  I gave away enough short stories that The Eye of The Universe shot almost to the top of their charts for a brief period of time. I don’t feel like a best-selling author and I don’t have the income to show for it.  But I can legitimately claim to be one, and I will, laughing all the time.

THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL

I learned this tip while still a teenager.  I studied ballet from one of the country’s (perhaps the world’s) best technicians.  She was so good that professional dancers of all kinds who were in Chicago for a gig took whatever classes she could fit them into for the duration of their stay.  They weren’t good enough to be in the advanced classes, so they always ended up in the intermediate classes, the ones I was in.

We students couldn’t help noticing that, almost without exception, they were really bad dancers, much worse than us, and we weren’t even advanced students.  They were so bad that eventually we asked our teacher how they could call themselves professionals when they were terrible.  We expected her to shake her head and say that it was ndeed hard to understand.  Wrong!!!  Instead, she verbally tore into us until we were cowering and chastened and wished we’d never said anything.

They could call themselves professionals, she said, because that’s just what they were.  Professionals.  And we weren’t.  They might not have much inborn talent but they used what talent they had in such a way as to create something that people who worked hard for their money would willingly spend some of it to enjoy whatever those professionals had to offer.  And, between peformances, they worked on their craft and honed it.  Whether they were in the mood or not.  Whether they felt good or not.  Whether they were busy with other things or not.  Because that’s what professionals do.

She cowed us so thoroughly that I never forgot her words.

When I decided to become a professional writer, I knew I had some small amount of talent but it was her words that gave me the courage to quit my day job and go for it.  Because, thanks to that lecture, I knew that inborn ability is only one component of a successful creative career.  And not the most important one.

I knew that if I took what talent I had and worked at writing as hard as I’d work at any job or profession, I could make it as a writer.  And so can you.

WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?

A while back, in one of my first posts, I mentioned hearing a bird in the forest near our wilderness resort.  A bird we could never locate and always wondered about.  After the resort was sold and we’d moved closer to town and were preparing to build a house, we went to a home show looking for ideas.

As we entered, we  heard that bird.  We looked at each other and, moving as one person, almost ran to the booth that we believed had a bird in a cage.  Perhaps they sold bird cages.  Or had a garden theme.  We didn’t know, we just knew we were about to finally… finally… find out what kind of bird made that sound.

It wasn’t a bird.  It was a cougar.  It was tame and in a cage where it couldn’t harm anyone.  But the feeling I got upon realizing that a cougar had been nearby when I walked in the forest was something I’ll never forget.

I breathed a prayer of thanks to the two large dogs who always accompanied me when I took walks in the woods.  I never asked them to come, they just did, ambling under the trees.  And keeping me safe even when I didn’t know I needed protecting.

So now comes the point of this post.  That experience… the emotion I felt when I learned I’d possibly been stalked by a cougar… became my novella Wanted:  Sharpshooter.

As I wrote, the feelings just gushed out.  Even though I’d not been afraid during all those years of walking in the forest, I knew what that kind of fear would have been like because of the sheer terror that went along my spine for a brief moment when i saw that tame cougar in the home show.

But Wanted:  Sharpshooter isn’t my only book based on experience.  I find that everything I write is based on something that has happened.   And I also find that there is no limit to the experiences that fuel my imagination and in some manner become the stories I write.

So what inspires you?  Where does the inspiration for your stories come from?  Experience?  Pure imagination?  Something you read or hear about in the media?  A dream that is so vivid you must get it written down?

Let me know.  I’m curious.

ARCHETYPE OR STEREOTYPE?

Earlier today a writer mentioned a problem coming up with good characters.  His main concern was to not create characters that are stereotypes.  I can understand his concern.  As a writer, I’ve been warned over and over again of the terrible things that will befall my manuscript if I should breathe life into a character that… horror of horrors!… is a stereotype.  Archetypes, on the other hand, are wonderful and to be admired because they illuminate characteristics common to Everyman.  Archetypes, not stereotypes.  That’s the rule.

I have a problem with that rule.  Maybe it’s me.  I generally don’t like rules and maybe I’m not like other writers.  But I suspect I’m pretty much like almost everyone else.

I am, however, honest enough to question whether there is a difference between a stereotype and an archetype.  I’m fairly certain they are one and the same thing.

Think about it.  Both stereotypes and archetypes personify stock characters… people we know in real life and recognize in a story after just a brief description.  The only difference is in the words used and that’s a personal choice for every writer.  Some readers like some words better than others and when they don’t like the words used, they may decide the character being described is a stereotype and, therefore, a negative.

Want to know what I think?  I think you shouldn’t worry about it.  Just tell the story.  If your characters turn out to be familiar, recognizable people, good for you.  And if someone tells you that a particular character is a stereotype, reply that, no indeed, that character is an archetype.  You will be telling the truth.  Because, in the end, they are the same.

THRUST

I read somewhere, can’t remember where, that the way to tell a story is to hit the ground running and don’t stop until you reach the end.  That’s a pretty good definition of thrust.

Even though my stories aren’t fast-paced thrill rides, I always try to do precisely that… hit the ground running and not stop until I reach the end… because it prevents my characters from becoming boring and my readers from skipping parts of my story because they aren’t relevant.

As you might guess, my stories do tend to go straight from beginning to end with no side trips and they have fewer characters than many stories have because extraneous characters take away from the story. Nor do I often include a lot of icing or window dressing.  I know many readers love the extras that come with fiction and, yes, sometimes I give in and provide a lot of background.  (Hint:  Wanted Sharpshooter is one such story.)  But generally, I try not to stray.

Think about it.  If you are chasing the end as hard as you can, you pass up all those tempting side trails without even seeing them.  And you end up telling the story you set out to tell.   All without boring the reader.

This isn’t for everyone.  Some of us do our best writing by using a meandering method that takes us to unexpected places… places that are both wonderful and glorious and that we didn’t know existed until we took that side trip.  For the rest of us… we writers who don’t stumble into Nirvana… hitting the ground running and not stopping until you reach the end is a good way to give your readers the story you want them to have.

On to the next American romance novel with a gothic feel

On to my next novel and back to what I often enjoy, writing a story with a touch of the supernatural.  This time it’s something in a lake that’s been there for a long, long time.  Since before white people came to the north woods.  So the question will be, are the spirits friendly or not?  I’m leaning towards friendly but the thrust of the book requires that the spirits not be too nice.  So I’m trying to decide exactly what the spirits will be like.  Any suggestions?

WORKING WRITER TIP… THE EASY WAY TO ORGANIZE

Autumn has arrived in the north country.  It’s not the peak of the colors, that’ll come in three weeks or so.  But there’s enough color in the landscape to know summer is ending.  And the nights are sometimes downright cold, even freezing. 

You’d think all this praise for autumn would mean it’s my favorite season.  Nope.  Not true.  That’s reserved for winter.  Yes, winter, that white time of year when the temperature can and does drop below zero by thirty, even forty degrees.  Even more surprising, it’s my favorite season in spite of the fact that I’m allergic to cold.  (Yes, really, I break out in hives.)

Why so much praise for autumn, and why is my favorite season the only one in which I spend much of my time inside? It’s my favorite because I spend so much time inside.  Because life slows down then.  Because there are fewer social obligations. 

It’s my favorite because I can write in the winter.  And write.  And write.  And write some more.

So the question becomes… what to write during all those wonderful, quiet winter hours?  That’s where autumn comes in.  Because it’s the time of year when all things come to fruition, thus clearing the way for whatever comes next. 

Every autumn I take stock of the accomplishments of the past year and plan ahead to the next one.  It’s when I make course corrections or change course entirely.  When I decide what about my writing is working and what isn’t.  So that when winter and all those hours of useful silence arrive, I’ll be ready.

This is something every writer should do once a year.  Not necessarily in the autumn but sometime.  Most people instinctively know this.  The problem is, many simply don’t do it.

Do it.  Make the time.  Because it’s the easiest way I know to organize your mind, your work and your writing.  Once a year go wherever you go or do whatever you do when you need to think.   Don’t bring any pieces of paper, or lists because there should be nothing between you and your thoughts.  You’ll be amazed how things will fall into place and your career path will become clear. 

Then put the seat of your pants on the seat of your chair and see how much you can achieve.

WORKING WRITER TIP… THE MENTAL ASPECT OF WRITING

Some time ago, I purchased a book on writing fiction.  Not my first such purchase by any means, but the blurb for this book intrigued me because it promised to teach me how to write fiction.  So I sent for the book and when it arrived I read it cover to cover.

There wasn’t much about the craft of fiction writing in the book.  Less than half, maybe only a third.  The rest of the book was about meditation.

How to meditate. When to meditate.  How often to meditate.  And what should happen inside my mind during and after meditation.  I followed the instructions carefully, though with skepticism.  I’ve always believed in the power of taking a few minutes sometime during the day and just dong nothing.  Relaxing.  Napping.  Sipping tea.  Anything.   But meditation?  Come on now!  But I tried it.

 I soon learned that I simply cannot close my eyes and think about nothing.  No matter how hard I try, no matter how many mantras I repeat, no matter how many fluffy, pink clouds I visualize.  I can’t do it.  I just can’t. 

But I got what the author of that book was trying to tell me.  That writing begins in the mind.  In the thoughts of the writer.  If those thoughts are muddy and confused and skittering every which way without focus or center or purpose, then the end result will also be muddy, confused and lacking focus, center or purpose. 

It’s a sad fact that sometimes the harder we writers try to write, if we try too hard, then instead of focusing better on what we’re doing, we actually lose focus and our writing suffers.

When this happens, take a break. 

If you can meditate, do so.  If you’re like me, get up out of the chair, leave the room, get as far away from writing as possible and do whatever relaxes you, be it gardening, painting, shopping or whatever.  And don’t return to that chair until every single mental cobweb is gone and your mind is sharp and focused and you know… you don’t just think, you know … what you want to tell your readers.

Doing this isn’t being lazy.  It’s not unprofessional.  It’s a professional answer to a common problem, and you will end up spending fewer hours writing than you would have spent if you forced yourself to do something when your mind wasn’t there.

WORKING WRITER TIP… STORYBOARDING WITHOUT THE BOARD

Ever watch ‘House‘ on TV with Hugh Laurie playing the part of a brilliant diagnostician?  We do.  My husband watches the clock during the show.  Approximately 48 minutes into the show, he’ll announce that it’s epiphany time so House will shortly diagnose this week’s mysterious disease.  It happens just as he predicts.  Every time.  Because House is plotted on a storyboard.

What’s a storyboard?  Picture a calendar without numbers. That’s a storyboard.  (What follows is what you’d do if you were using an actual, physical storyboard.  We’re not using the board here so don’t actually do anything, just read so you’ll know how a storyboard works.  It’s kind of neat.  Then I’ll show you how to storyboard without the board and you might want to try that.)

Change the calander… the storyboard…  to fit the length of the story you are writing.  A short story should have only one line on it so block out the rest.  A really long novel, over 50,000 words, requires that you add extra lines to the bottom so it’ll look like a month with six or eight weeks in it.  And a calendar of six-day weeks works best.  When finished, you’ll have a storyboard that’s perfect for the story you will tell.

In the first box, write ‘beginning’ and in the last box write ‘conclusion.’  In the boxes at the ends of each line, (the ones that would be Saturday on a calendar) write ‘significant event’.  Then scribble in what happens in those scenes, the significant events being whatever changes the direction of the story.  A couple of boxes before the ‘conclusion’ box, write ‘climax.’ and scribble  in what happens in those scenes.  Then fill in the rest of the empty boxes, the ones leading up to the boxes that would be Saturday on a calendar.   And that’s how storyboards work.  They schedule the actions of a story and that schedule avoids long, boring stretches and puts the climax where it belongs,near the end. 

This works wonderfully for TV programs with allotted times and for books with required word counts.  But not every story is best told in precisely measured increments.  With e-publishing, word counts are irrelevant.  A story can have however many words are needed to tell the story. But you don’t want it to become boring, so the concept of storyboarding is still valid. So the question is, how do you use the good parts of storyboarding without having to also deal with those parts that aren’t useful to your story?

  The answer is to use a computer, that neat writing instrument that allows you to insert stuff wherever you choose.  So… open your computer, start a new file and write ‘beginning’ on the first line (beneath the title of the story).  On the line beneath that, write ‘climax’ and below that another line labeled ‘conclusion.’ 

Between the beginning and the climax, insert as many significant events as needed and label each one ‘significant event’, making  sure they build towards the conclusion.  It’s a good idea to use a different color ink when you do this, or italics or some type that’s easily noticeable.  Because the next thing you’re going to do is insert more scenes and you don’t want your significant events to get lost.

So now it’s time to insert whatever scenes lead up to each significant event, keeping in mind that the last significant event must lead immediately to the climax and that will lead immediately to the conclusion so don’t put any scenes between the last significant event and the conclusion.

Done?  Good.  Now look over your outline.  Are there more than five scenes leading up to any significant event?  If so, eliminate some or shift them to another part of the story because that’ll be too many scenes and will bore your reader and is what storyboarding, with their limited number of boxes, is designed to avoid.

If you do these things, you will have storyboarded a story that will not bore your readers and that will build to a satisfying climax and conclusion, and you’ll have done it without using a board and without the restrictions of time or word count requirements