Tag Archives: Writer

Writer, you’re an author!

“This is a time to take great care of yourself.”

THERE is nothing quite like hitting the publish button on your own work. It’s an even sweeter experience when you’ve been patient and really done the work on your book, confident that you’ve made it the best it can be with the resources at your disposal. Congratulations, writer… you have transformed yourself into an author! Here are a few considerations your new title brings with it.

The book blues

Many authors draw comparisons between publishing a book and having a baby, no doubt due to the long gestation period and the potential for a difficult birth. There’s also a good chance you’ll encounter something of an anti-climax after publishing a book, particularly after your launch has come and gone, and the initial flurry of sales has died down. This is a time to take great care of yourself. You’ve achieved something major after sending one of your precious brainchildren out into the world. You’re bound to feel vulnerable as your work finds its feet.

Reviews (the good and the bad)

It won’t take too long before you start garnering feedback on your publications, on online book-selling sites across the world, or social media sites like Goodreads. Be prepared for people to love and hate your work in equal measure. Bad reviews hurt, leaving authors feeling misunderstood and disheartened. My best advice on this is to let reviews be. Always encourage readers to write them, but read them very rarely, and never engage in an argument with a reviewer who didn’t like what you wrote. This is an incredibly difficult standard to maintain, and one of the best ways to get through it is to get busy on positive actions around your publications.

Keeping your book (and yourself) buoyant

The great thing about print on demand (POD) publishing services is that you don’t have to sit with thousands of copies of your new book in your office. They can be printed in short runs, allowing independent publishers to plan marketing campaigns that are financially low-risk. Having said that, it’s easy to end up with a few spare new paperbacks on your shelf. Get them out there!

“Share the good news about how you contributed to making the world a better place for writers.”

Direct selling

Readers love meeting authors, especially when there’s a copy of their book for sale. Reserve a weekend, gather up all spare copies of your book, print signs with great review quotes, and hold a stall at your local markets. Ensure you have a special ‘market price’ for your book (such as a discount for buying more than one), and you’ll shift a few copies; but there’s an old marketing saying about never letting a customer go without being able to get in touch with them again!

Connect with readers

Direct selling gives authors an opportunity to begin an ongoing relationship with our readers. There are many ways to do this, such as handing out a business card, or becoming friends on social media. Starting an emailed newsletter allows you to regularly stay in touch with readers and let them know your news about upcoming titles and events you’re participating in. Because avid readers still tend to enjoy the communication offered via email, they’ll often readily agree to giving you their email address. Social media platforms like MailChimp can be used to create free or low-cost email newsletters for independent publishers, but always let respondents know you’re not planning to sell or share their details with any third party.

IMG_1670Shameless self-distribution

Just about any bookshop or bibliographic service in the world will be able to stock or supply your book if it has an ISBN, but independent bookshops and libraries are likely to ask you to arrange for the printing and delivery of your titles directly. Work with them in their way and you’re likely to shift a good number of copies. You’ll also maximise your profits by cutting out the middle man.

Checking out the competition

An increasing number of book trade festivals and competitions are opening the door to independent publishers, who’ve grown from an anachronism into a relevant player in the international publishing industry. Some still have their gates firmly closed to indies and operate on an invitation-only basis, just check their application details and be prepared to travel. Many conferences, conventions and exhibitions are seeking authors to present their work, so think laterally and stay open to invitations.

Marketing madness

Selling stuff takes energy and an iron will. In this era, selling words in any format is in one of the most challenging periods in the history of publishing, as the social media inevitably supplants the mainstream media as the dominant platform for all things newsworthy and literary. Stay agile, take the knock-backs with a light approach and ensure you celebrate your wins. In my first year of independent publishing, I made about one-third of the average income of a mainstream, traditionally published author, with absolutely no assistance from the media or the publishing industries. That left me feeling wiser but also, in my own way, successful. Remember that you define what it successful, not others. Keep to your goals and ignore all the white noise.

Adjust your course

Redesigning a cover, re-launching a title that has not been effective in the marketplace, and re-pricing or rebranding existing work are old publishing industry tricks. Independent publishers can benefit from employing all of them if we find our work doesn’t hit the mark first time around. We can always think again, laterally and creatively!

Conceive another brainchild

As I have written on many occasions in Write, Regardless! no publisher ever releases just one book. One of the best ways to stave off post-publishing blues is to be already well on the way to completing another manuscript by the time they hit. Now that you know the process of independent publishing, achieving your second-born will be all the easier for you.

Recap

WRITE REGARDLESSPublishing your first book, and ensuring it is a high-quality product that delivers for readers, is an incredible achievement. One of the best things you can do when you achieve it is to share the good news about how you contributed to making the world a better place for writers. Write, Regardless! is my way of inspiring wordsmiths to keep putting work out there despite the odds that traditional publishing poses. If I have inspired you, please find me and return the favour!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, resuscitate your manuscript!

“It’s time to get tough on yourself and put your plot through its paces.”

I’VE often been approached by writers struggling to keep a writing project moving, full of angst and desperate for a solution. Incredible as it might seem, this is invariably the point writers decide to show their work to a publisher, hoping that some clue will be found in the manuscript that will render it instantly better. All writers reach a point when negative thoughts come pouring in, telling us we must have been crazy embarking on writing something nobody wants to read. Often we feel the opposite, determined that our work is perfectly formed and needs no adjustment. When either of these extremes happens to you, it’s not time to submit your work or give up… it’s time to diagnose your manuscript.

Who is the hero?

Every effective story (fiction and non-fiction) needs a protagonist, someone to lead the action, to barrack for and relate to. This might sound blatantly obvious, but one of the main blocks to manuscript health is lack of a hero. Heroes don’t need to be ‘good’ (they can be anti-heroes) and they don’t need to be particularly heroic, they only need to be obvious. What would Gone With the Wind be without Scarlett O’Hara? Imagine any of Bill Bryson’s travel tomes without the author himself in the driving seat! Identifying your story’s hero is the most important first step in getting a manuscript match fit.

Heroes with a twist

Sometimes, stories have multiple heroes, such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which, like all ‘buddy films’, has a pair of protagonists driving the action.

Plots with more than one protagonist often have one hero take an outer (physical) journey, while one takes an inner (emotional) journey.

WHERE TO FROM HERE? One of the finest movie examples of a surprise ending.
TWO HEROES Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise.

A great example of this is Thelma and Louise in which Thelma (played by Susan Sarandon) physically drives the car and has strongly-plotted reasons for taking the route she decides on; whereas Louise (Geena Davis) is driven to an emotional transition in the passenger seat.

Protagonist teams (such as that in The Big Chill) ideally need to face the same conflicts (not strictly at the same time or in the same manner) in order to keep readers focussed on the plot.

Writers creating multiple-personality protagonists should consider either letting the audience in on the secret (as in Superman) or work the duality into an unfolding or complete surprise (as in The Talented Mr Ripley).

Protagonists in different time zones (like Julie and Julia) can intersect, but giving them complete story arcs of their own will create a more satisfactory experience for audiences.

Who is the villain?

All stories also need antagonists, those characters who get in the protagonist’s way, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking every villain must be ‘bad’. Two of literature’s greatest antagonists are Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, who qualify as antagonists because they obstruct protagonists (Christie’s murderers) through expert sleuthing. Take Christie’s detectives out of her novels and her protagonists would get away with murder, which is what happens in Patricia Highsmith’s series of Tom Ripley novels, with plots tempered by Ripley’s inner battle with himself as protagonist and antagonist. In fiction and non-fiction work, readers will smell a rat if the hero in pitted against a one-dimensional villain. A great test for a well-rounded antagonist is to ask yourself if your villain sees themselves as the hero of your story. Antagonists are simply protagonists on the opposing team. Both need to be equally three-dimensional.

“If you have opposing forces in play, your plot will have natural conflict.”

Is there a battle?

Once you’ve identified your heroes and villains, you need to put them in the same arena and let them at one another relatively early in your manuscript. If you have opposing forces in play, your plot will have natural conflict, whereas if you keep them apart, readers will quickly lose interest. Many first drafts take too long to get to the point of battle. Even non-fiction works need to reach a point of conflict to engage the reader. Check if your manuscript has a turning point around one-fifth into the word length, strong enough to create an ongoing battle between protagonist and antagonist.

Is there a winner?

You’ve spent months writing your manuscript, and you’ve taken the conflict to a certain point, but you can’t seem to land your story. This is an extremely common plotting debacle, borne of not knowing if you’re writing a tragedy or a comedy. Have no fear, there’s a really easy fix: you only need to decide who wins, and it can only be hero or villain who claims the victory. Classic plot structure dictates that if the hero is better off at the end of the story than they were at the beginning, you’ve written a comedy. If the villain wins, it’s a tragedy.

BLACK COMEDY Jeanie Drynan as Betty Heslop in Muriel's Wedding.
BLACK COMEDY Jeanie Drynan as Betty Heslop in Muriel’s Wedding.

Ever since William Shakespeare invented the black comedy by combining the opposing forces of Greek tragedy and comedy, there has been humour in the saddest tales (think the gravedigger scene in Hamlet), and tears in the joy (think Muriel’s Wedding in which Muriel’s mother kills herself).  Readers are waiting, just pick a winner! Your hard-won resolution will flow as soon as you do.

So your manuscript has legs?

If you have a hero, a villain, you’ve pitted them against one another and decided who wins, good news: your fiction or non-fiction manuscript will live. Before sending it to a publisher, there are a few more elements to look at.

Who is speaking?

First draft manuscripts often suffer from multiple viewpoints and perspectives, or ‘voices’. Check that you’ve been consistent in your narration – there are several options for this which can be used exclusively or in combination. Narrative needs to be consistent in order to make an engaging experience for readers/viewers.

Where are we in time?

A very common confusing element for readers is time. If stories swing between time periods, or have subplots that take us away from the main action, writers easily let readers/viewers down by not giving clear reminders about where we are and who is who. Sometimes all it takes is a short recap of characters and storylines to keep readers in the loop of our unfolding stories, especially after you’ve taken your audience to another place for a chapter or two.

Equality calling

While re-plotting a manuscript, it’s wise to run a few tried and true plot tests. One of the best is the Bechdel Test, which will show you instantly if there is gender bias in your writing, and should make all writers aware of the need to create three-dimensional female characters. The ‘Smurfette Principle’ serves a similar purpose, and the ‘Russo Test’ is a watchdog for written representations of LGBTI.

Engagement

Plenty of never-seen, unrealised, un-engaging writing languishes when writers seek to avoid connecting with audiences. Some of us do this out of a desire to be ‘literary’ instead of ‘popular’, but I suggest writers come to terms with entertainment taking many forms, everything from distraction to enlightenment. At this stage of your writing, be as objective as you can and analyse your manuscript for sheer entertainment value. Will people want to keep reading? I believe your gut will tell you where your work is getting slow and boring.

The memoir muddle

Many emergent writers begin with a memoir project, often at the behest of friends who have encouraged us that ‘there’s a book in you!’. It’s great to be supported by friends and family, who are our first audience, but when the hero of our work is us and the plot is the story of our lives, an extraordinary amount of objectivity is required. The temptation is to write a completely heroic version of ourselves and a totally villainous version of people we perceive have wronged us. An inability to see and record our own negative actions, and the positive actions of others, has brought many a memoir manuscript to a complete halt. If you think this might be the issue you’re having with your memoir, have the guts to record yourself as a ‘warts and all’ hero, and seek the reasons antagonists got in your way. It will give you more material and make for a better read.

Recap

WRITE REGARDLESSYou’ve read your manuscript. Congratulations. Now it’s time to get tough on yourself and put your plot through its paces. Get over all fears that plotting is a formulaic, restrictive process, and check your work has the ingredients of archetypal storytelling, the kind that successful authors have been engaging for centuries.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, read your own work!

“The only way to achieve objectivity about a piece of work is to leave it alone for a while.”

A FEW years ago I asked my social media followers if anyone had complete or partial manuscripts sitting around, perhaps something potentially ’embarrassing’. This question yielded some interesting answers, and many fantastic potential books. One of the reasons I started Write, Regardless! was to assist stymied writers to dust these works off and breathe new life into them. The next step is one of the hardest for independent writers – successfully rewriting your first draft.

Don’t send in your first draft… just DON’T!

The best thing writers can do with our newly-completed manuscripts is put them away. Ensure you have saved your work, backed it up to a memory stick, or at least printed it out, then bury it somewhere. Unfortunately, the negative reputation of the independent publishing industry is formed on the back of writers who complete a first draft of their books one day, then hit the publish button the next. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. The only way to achieve objectivity about a piece of our work is to leave it alone for a while; I’d recommend a few months. Use that time to keep your social media platform buoyant… you’re going to need readers and followers, so start attracting them! Of course if you have a long-buried manuscript already, it’s time to rewrite it.

Do the work!

It sounds far too simple, but the best way to rewrite great second and subsequent drafts is to learn the discipline of reading our own writingThis is harder than it sounds, but it’s become an essential tool for all writers in an age when editing and proofreading have lost currency. Even if you are gifted with the perfect writer’s pathway – your manuscript gets picked-up by a mainstream publisher, and you are assigned an editor who lovingly massages your talent – you are going to be better prepared for this luxury if you know your own work better than anyone else. The only way to achieve that is to read your manuscript. Do the work.

“Publishers are not looking for problem writers.”

Manuscripts must be fit!

Even if you are planning to approach traditional publishers with your manuscript, you’ll need to complete several drafts of it before submitting. I cannot say it enough: publishers are not looking for problem writers. They don’t have the time, money, or inclination to find a ‘genius’ and shape their work. Sending a manuscript to a publisher or literary agent is just the same as job interviewing and auditioning – you and your work must be on top form from the very first moment you have the ear of industry professionals. Do the work.

Don’t overdo every rewrite

For me, rewriting is about seeking entertainment and distraction within my own work. I figure that if I cannot move myself through my writing, then I am not offering anything to a reader. When we embark on a first read, many hours of work on our manuscripts lie ahead of us, so it’s best to avoid getting stuck in too much detail. We need to see the big picture of our story arcs, not worry about spelling and grammar at this stage. Insert notes so you remember things that spring to mind, but move swiftly through your read, trusting that next time you’ll make it even better.

Be hard on your plot!

By now you should have a good grasp on what makes a good dramatic story arc. Detailed reads of our work are our chance to see where our plotting is weak. Revisit my article on plotting many times as you reshape yours. My advice would be to correct plot failings as soon as you discover them, because there is no use trying to gloss over a story with, say, no antagonist; or a novel in which there is no conflict; or a work of non-fiction that does not have an effective resolution. Be prepared to admit your first draft is not yet complete, and go back to the drawing board. That level of honesty with your writing will pay dividends down the track.

HARD READ The Reader by Ferdinand Hodler (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)
HARD READ The Reader by Ferdinand Hodler (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)

Writer angst

I have written plenty in Write, Regardless! about practical approaches to writing. It’s time to focus a little on the emotion. If you find yourself distracted, head in the clouds, missing appointments or late for work, chances are most of your mind is happily engaged on your plot. Don’t panic! Your family and friends will notice a change, very often they’ll interpret your daydreaming as a form of selfishness. Confessing to being a writer can trigger familial panic (we’re loose cannons in all rigid economies, we creatives). Reading, rewriting and plotting takes time, quietude and headspace, and when we don’t get these things, if we are doing the work, our brain does something clever… it takes over and does it whenever it gets a chance, such as when we wake, or as we are drifting off to sleep, or doing the dishes, or driving. Surrender to this process. In order to achieve your writing, you’ll need to do plenty of artful dodging with loved ones. Expect the odd angry outburst to surface if you are a writer doing the work. What you’re probably having trouble expressing is your need for headspace.

Rewriting short stories

The art of writing entertaining short stories is something most writers attempt at some stage in our careers. It’s a unique form of expression that relies on being even more adept at plotting, not less. Don’t confuse ‘shorter’ with ‘easier’. Check out my notes on rewriting short stories.

Read the warning signs

The independent publishing marketplace is full of advice and tips on how to achieve success. I’ve been gleaning great ideas within it for years, but one thing I have learned to watch for are signs of back-pedalling. While the rush to the Publish Button has become a tempting shortcut, I have read plenty about self-published writers who design their book covers before embarking on the writing process; who set-up marketing campaigns before fleshing-out their novel’s plot; and quite high-profile self published authors pulling their books off the virtual shelves to rework them. They do everything, it seems, apart from sitting still and actually reading their own work.

Recap

WRITE REGARDLESSThere are many exclamation marks in this article! That means there is an important message you need to listen to: you are the first audience of your output. If you want to be an effective writer, you need to practice the art of reading your own work. All the secrets to improving your manuscript are on the page already, even by their absence. Read, read, and read your own manuscripts. Do the work.

An extract from Write, regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.