December and now January is in the books. I'm calling a mulligan on January. We should have at least one freebie month tucked under our belt so that we can get a feel for every New Year- Who's with me?
January was tough. I've complained about it enough, and most of you know why. So, what did December and January teach me about writing and all the things I've talked about in this new year of - do more?
Lesson 1: Blogs. Blogs are a pain in the neck. I'm not a natural blogger. It takes me a while to come up with what I want to say. I know a lot of the time in the past this blog has probably come off as something I typed by the seat of my pants, and I probably did. However, I've made more of an effort to be more thoughtful about posts and better organized.
I knew Monday I was in trouble because my idea for this post wasn't coming together, and I had no backup plan. This was not the first time this month that happened. So, I learned a valuable lesson. Yes, plan out ideas for posts, but be more flexible and don't announce your thoughts ahead of time. Why? Because when they fall through you won't look like such a donkey's rear end.
Lesson 2: Limited Liability Companies (LLC's) and why you need them. From the previous job I held, I already knew doing an LLC was going to be important. Now, I understand a few of you are on the fence about this but hear me out. Each state has very different laws governing liabilities and even taxes, and in fact sometimes DBA forms (doing business as). I moved from Texas, which had no state income tax, to Michigan which taxes you on everything (literally).
In Texas, it would've cost me 20 dollars to submit a DBA form, and I would've been able to form my company Korbyn Blake Books, with little else. I wouldn't have been protected from a lawsuit either. Am I concerned about a trial? No, but it's a good idea to have that protection and not need it than to need it and not have it. Later, having an LLC (or not) could mean the difference between me getting my finances raked over the coals versus the companies on silly matters like merchandising. Do I feel like I could write things that could warrant their own merchandising? No, but if I take the steps now to protect myself, I won't regret it later, and frankly given Michigan's laws, and what a lawsuit happy world we live in its cheaper for me to just get it out of the way. Also, Because of some state laws, it's a requirement to have DBA paperwork which tied to the LLC forms. If I hadn't taken this step I would not have been able to put items up on Amazon because my state requires these types of paperwork in order to open a business account, and your business account must be in order before you can finish out your Amazon forms.
Long story short, if you aren't sure you need to do this check with your states (or countries) laws before you make a decision, and of course speak with an accountant or CPA.
Lesson 3: Writing/Editing
I was fortunate at the beginning of January to be asked to write a review for a new author who had started in a group I was still a member of down in Texas. Based on the file I received, the cover looked great, and I was excited to dig into the text. Two paragraphs in and my excitement waned. Ultimately, I had to message the writer, and apologize because I would not be able to write a fair review of the book. Why, because I couldn't finish more than five pages. I was respectful, and honest when I texted. I explained my point (the text was rife with tense problems, pov shifts, and was frankly a hot mess).
Because of my conversation with this writer, he removed the book from Amazon where it had already gone up for sale. That made me feel horrible because I know how much effort that writer put into his work. But I also know it wasn't ready.
Two days later I received a message from the author thanking me for my candor. He asked me to review the first chapter again. I agreed, but with one caveat. If I did the review, I wanted to do so as a critique and be able to suggest line by line edits. I asked for this because I realized that this author had never been to a writers group. His only feedback had been from people he knew, and free online writing software. He received an edit done by a "pro" who rarely gave him feedback. I've been in that position. It's horrible for a writer and doesn't help us grow.
I'm mentioning this as a lesson because as authors (especially newer ones) it's hard for us to know what quality feedback is. I've done posts on this before, things like show don't tell, and how frustrating it can be to get no feedback at all. Or not knowing what resources will help us improve our writing.
If you're a new author please, please, join a writing group. Look for a group of people who all share your same goal. If you want to publish, don't join a group of older people who are writing their memoir for fun. You're not going to get the critique you need to improve. Look for professionals, even if they aren't necessarily in your genre. Look for people who will rip your work to shreds, and then suggest how you could've made it better. Look for people who will give you examples.
But above all, don't be afraid to return the favor, even if you aren't sure what you should say. Be honest, and be a reader, above all else we're readers first. If you know you do something a lot, mention it to whoever your reading for so they can look for it too. My biggest pet peeve as a reader was the overuse of the word and. I started there, and now it's passive voice. I realized I talk and write in passive voice, who does that?
My point is, put yourself and your work out there. But in doing so, don't rush to throw it up on Amazon before you've had several people you consider professionals read over it first. If I've learned nothing else it's that no matter how many times you edit something, it can always be better, and someone will always catch something everyone else has missed. Does that mean you have to dig at your piece until there isn't anything left? No, but if you have more than a few small issues throughout the entire text of your work, it's just not ready yet.
As always, thank you for reading. If you have any questions, I'd love to hear them, and I hope you write on!
Initially, it was my intention this week to post a blog about the feedback I received on marketing, but specifically about platform creation. In doing research, and talking to people, my original thoughts quickly went out the window as I realized there was a more significant issue I needed to tackle.
There, I typed it. (Did anyone else feel like the elephant in the room just became visible? I did.)
Self-awareness tends to be this elusive thing that people either aren't talking about or talk about in such a way that it's still not helpful.
I've listened to a few talks now done by various motivational speakers, entrepreneurs; you name it, I've probably YouTubed it. What did I learn? Honestly, not much. So why is this a topic that's earned its own blog post?
Because even though I haven't quite figured out this whole self-awareness schtick, I think it's pretty darn important. Why?
Many people believe that one of the keys to marketing is selling yourself just as much as your product. That statement is even more valid and critical for authors (so I'm told). I'm not good at selling myself. Any of you who've talked to me extensively here can attest to that.
But there was a time, in a not so distant past that I was. People often asked for me, for my advice, and would double check the suggestion of our veterinarian with me to make sure it was sound. That was a head trip and a half.
So, how does that translate into marketing? Getting the best me out there that I can to help drive sales. It's about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. I've touched briefly on that when I talked about goals vs. lists. But, it's about knowing who you are and who you want to be and reconciling the two.
So for me how does that translate to marketing? In part, it comes from making myself release work. Not my novels, but the many shorts that I have written that are now languishing on hard drives.
Releasing teaser content will help get my voice out there, all while assisting me in honing skills that will translate to my novels. But ultimately, there is no safety net. The best marketing an author can do is to release work. Each novel's release can help drive sales on previous work and get the word out even more for your readership.
I don't have this self-awareness thing in the bag yet, but hopefully, I have enough of a headstart with it to understand basics to get myself into a better marketing position because of it.
Up for next weeks blog: A talk with Forum member @Link the Writer on making the most out of your forum time, building support, and his writing journey.
Last week I wrote a post about how I'm trying to think of my writing as a business instead of a hobby. One task in making that happen is to build an author's platform. If you're like me, and I feel like many of you are... this is a daunting thing.
Every lecture I've attended on the subject of writing talks about building your audience, or platform. So much so, that I began dreading how to brainstorm this elusive thing almost as much as a query letter. I mean, even as you're reading this you're probably thinking some of the things I did like, I don't have a novel ready, how can I do this? Or, how am I going to get my stuff out there, what's all this mumbo jumbo about mailing lists?
I know the prospect at first is immensely daunting. Especially for someone (like me) who isn't very good at branding, or frankly selling themselves. So, here is what I'm doing to try to build a platform, even though I'm not going to be releasing a product until June.
You're probably wondering why I'm bothering with it now right? I mean June is months away. That's the thing. Now is the time to start doing all of this marketing stuff, generating buzz, getting yourself a readership. Why? Because if I don't have people chomping at the bit for something I've written now, why would they want to buy anything then?
Yes, it all does come down to that.
Much like I did for forcing myself to see my writing; differently, I'll be applying the same technique to building my readership base. That means another list (yay don't we just love lists?!?... No really, they're working for me so don't knock it until you've tried it.)
I know I'm super insistent here on the list thing, but there is a reason.
How many of you have started the year thinking, It's a new year, time to set some goals for myself? Yeah, we all do it, most of the time they involve that ugly, dirty word, you know the one, gym. Yeah, goals don't happen. There full of good intentions, we don't need any stinking good intentions.
2018 is the year we do, not the year we don't follow through. Lists, lists are things you do. If for no other reason than to see that satisfying little cross off (or check mark-which ever floats your boat).
So, here's the list:
1. Write one blog post every Weds*
(I purposely posted today's late because I didn't want to knock a post down off the main page someone else had already done. I know not a good start. As soon as my website goes live, I'll be posting there, and that won't be an issue.)
2. Talk to fellow forum members about how they've approached building a base. Key questions: If they've had luck with guest author blogs or doing interviews with other authors.
(This is the subject of next weeks post in case you're wondering how those discussions went.)
3. Be more active on social media such as Facebook, Twitter
(This is a toughie for me, I'm a watcher, not a sharer.)
4. Post videos.
(People seem to enjoy the information in smaller bites especially when it comes in the form of video. Also, a toughie because I hate having my photo taken much less video... eek!)
5. Make shorts available as PDF's once my site goes live.
6. Include apps which will help generate a mailing list via the site.
(For release info, short stories, and other goodies)
7. Start putting together a team
(If you've heard me talk before about street teams I mean those, as well as a group of people knowledgeable in different aspects of the business. For this post, someone who has marketing experience which I can bounce ideas off of.)
I'm stopping my list there. Seven is a good start, and many of these items will have to be repeated to get my platform going.
*It's important as an author to maintain, and strengthen relationships you've built with other writers. Why? Because some of the best feedback, tips, heck even just life advice you can possibly get comes from everyone else around you. For me, that means writer's groups, and this forum.
I can't tell you how instrumental this forum has been to my growth, and my writing journey. Thank you to all of you who've supported me, talked me down, and just generally put up with me when I felt lousy and wasn't sure this was something I can do. You have no idea how greatful I am to this community, but I will probably repeat that until you're all sick of reading it.
As a kid, I never really had a dream or even one particular thing that I really wanted to do. I can remember being eight, or ten and thinking it would be really cool to write. Not just write, but write stories that people really wanted to read. Being that young, and growing up where I did, that was never something that I thought could be a possibility. Sure we were always taught that we could do or be whatever we wanted, but I've always been more of a realist, and couldn't see a way to making that happen.
I've talked a good deal here about self-doubt, struggling to get through the writing, and a whole host of other problems that have plagued me. I do this because I know I'm not alone here and because I know how many of you have the same doubts, thoughts, problems. It's really great knowing that we aren't alone. But I hope talking about setting myself up as a writer will help someone just as much as you've helped me get through all those other emotions.
Writing is hard. This is not a new statement, but I think it's harder for some of us because we go into it looking at it as if it were some mythical beast we've got to slay. Or a quest that we're trying to reach the end of. Writing for me is hard because I make it that way. It doesn't have to be. I don't have to worry that nobody is going to like what I've done. And getting to that place in my own head where I realize that I'm the one making it what it is has been the longest part of my journey to date.
In 2011, I was back in college taking courses I hated. I had to have an elective, so I took a creative writing class. That class changed my life. It didn't teach me to be a better writer, or how to market myself, but it did light that long-dormant spark the eight-year-old version of myself had. It would be cool to write, but even cooler if I wrote stuff people wanted to read.
Now, here I am. It's 2018. I've pushed myself to try to learn this craft, and continue to do so. But more than that, I've got a drive that I never had before. A need to do something because I want to, and the determination to see it through. But how do you take that and turn it into something you can do every day?
Much like in 2011, it took a talk done by an indy author for me to see that writing every day to support yourself is possible. Don't get me wrong, I knew other people did it, I just couldn't fathom it, or see how it could be done. Thanks to that talk, I realized that again I was over complicating things. (Yes, I saw the pattern there too and am working hard on that.)
Being able to do something like writing isn't a mystical problem to solve. Yes, some people are really successful at it, and others are not. Does that mean they are better writers than you? No. Does it mean they even think of themselves as successful? No. I learned that in order for this whole writing thing to work for me I had to do two things.
1. Decide what being successful at it might mean to me.
In my case, I would consider it successful if it were something that I could do solely by itself, and that doing so would ensure that I could continue to do it. What does that long thing mean? I had to put a price on what I would need per month to be able to write full time. For me, that means making $2200.00 per month net income. It wouldn't matter what job I was doing, that's the number that I need to make in order to pay all of my bills, and put some money aside for retirement.
2. Start treating my writing like a business and less like a hobby.
To do this, I drafted a business plan. As many of you know, I've started freelancing. Most of my gigs have come from freelancing skills I learned at my old job, like being a PA, advertising, content creation for sites or blogs, but some have been from bookwork as well. My freelancing is part of my business plan. I give myself so many hours a week for freelancing, and then the rest of my time and energy goes into writing fiction.
This has helped alleviate some of my stress about writing to support myself, or "be successful". I've also started treating my fiction as a business as well. I've posted a little blurb in my Progress Journal on more of that if you're curious about a production schedule.
So, I plan to be more active with regard to these efforts through the rest of the year, and on this forum as well. I hope some of this post will be helpful, or at least inspire someone else here to start thinking of their writing in other ways. 2018 is the year to stop saying I'm going to- and to start doing.
I never thought I would find closure in the form of an obituary.
I spent years mourning the slow, painful death of my marriage. Sometimes I felt like a failure because I knew it needed to end, that I needed it to, and sometimes I felt like a piece of me was broken and missing. Numb. This was my norm for nearly eight years. You can't imagine how horrible it is dealing with someone who won't let you go but doesn't care about you. This is the main reason I decided to leave my home state. I needed distance, and I needed it badly.
On the 25th, I received a call from my Mom. What I thought was going to be the usual Christmas stuff turned into, have you heard from him? I hadn't and was glad for it. Until I found out about some social media posts that were vaguely stating that he was gone. That fact quickly turned into a spiral of worry, dread, anger, and more worry. I tried contacting his family, no one would answer, or return calls. I called the police, hospitals, nobody had any information on where he was, or what if anything happened.
Finally, I received a call from a funeral home in Texas. He was there, and the only reason they were calling me was that his mother had been informed she couldn't have his remains because they found out he's still legally married. Now I'm left picking up the pieces of the life of a man who broke me, and mine. Trying to make sure that his last wishes are met in a way that he would want. Trying to deal with his live-in "common law" girlfriend, who doesn't seem to understand you aren't considered a common-law couple in Texas if you're married to someone else.
I'm sad that he took his life, that he felt he had no other way, and I feel horrible knowing and feeling a little giddy that I'm free. Finally free, and that at the end of this, it's done. So I sat there, mentally listing what would need to be taken care of. I did what I could to make things right, I sent him home to his mother, and contacted everyone that I could think of who knew him outside of Texas.
Sitting there, doing these things, going through these motions, the one thing I couldn't do was write his obituary.
Separate names with a comma.