Tag Archives: writers

A tale of two book releases

For an author, nothing compares to your own book release—though seeing a friend get published comes awfully close!

This year, I’ve had the privilege of watching two of my peers reach the finish line with their respective literary ventures. The vicarious thrill I feel for them is buoyed by the fact that I played a small part in both of their journeys.

I don’t mention my contribution to pat myself on the back. Both of these gentlemen are tremendously talented, and even without my help, they would have produced a story well worth reading (and buying!). But because writing can be such a solitary pursuit at times, I think it’s important to point out that we all become better writers when we can depend on our peers’ experience, expertise, and, above all, support.

Both of the writers I’m about to introduce are fellow members of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin (AAW). Once I wrote about why writers groups still matter. If nothing else, the following examples should show that even if you could do it all yourself, it sure is nice to have some help along the way!

Always Gray in Winter

Cover for "Always Gray in Winter"I met Mark J. Engels midway through the first draft of his debut novel, Always Gray in Winter. I was immediately impressed by his deep, complex story, well-developed characters, and fierce commitment to doing the featured werecat family justice. It helped that he also possessed a natural knack for stringing sentences together; with the basics mastered, he was well on his way transferring the action-packed plot from his gray matter to computer screen.

Over the past year and more, our friendship deepened, and he peppered me with many questions on everything from the craft of writing to the query process to book marketing. I also had the honor of being one of his beta readers.

Though I don’t profess to know everything about this crazy industry, I did my best to guide him. (If nothing else, my own missteps might have taught him what not to do). In return, I’ve been blessed to have him as a beta reader for my Soul Sleep Cycle novels (publication pending!) and my go-to guy for advice when I started my own business.

Every writer—and every book—has a unique path, and it sure has been a blast to watch Always Gray in Winter blossom from a thick binder tattooed by many-hued highlighters to a bona fide paperback, which released just last week.

Congratulations, Mark!

That Wonderful Mexican Band

Cover of "That Wonderful Mexican Band"I’ve talked about Tom Ramirez before. He’s the one who exposed me to that old (apocryphal?) adage about how everything written before the one-million-word mark is simply finger exercises—inadvertently providing inspiration for the name of my publishing company, One Million Words.

What I haven’t said before—at least not officially—is that Tom is a mentor of mine. Not only did he invite me to join AAW in the first place, but also he has been both a tough critic and a generous cheerleader when I needed it over the years. Encouragement like that is a priceless thing for up-and-coming writers.

Some history: Tom had been working on his memoirs for as long as I have known him (11 years) and well before that too, on and off since the late 1960s. When he finished, it was time for me to return the favor by encouraging him to self-publish That Wonderful Mexican Band.

I also gave him a step-by-step plan for accomplishing this—not only because I had learned a thing or two while publishing The Renegade Chronicles, but because I truly believed his book needed to be published.

That Wonderful Mexican Band was released in January, and even though the pages tell of Tom’s life during the Great Depression, the book will always remind me of our 21st-century friendship.

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Some bad news about my brand

What is the digital equivalent of schizophrenia?

Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.

On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.

Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.

The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.

Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.

Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.

I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.

Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.

The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.

If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”

OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)

Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?

No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.

Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.

Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.

I won’t.

Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.

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Infrequently Asked Questions

Writers spend a lot of time talking to themselves.

Portrait of author David Michael Williams

“Are you ready for the interview, David?” “Yes, David, I am.” | Photo by Jaime Lynn Hunt

We invent conversations between imaginary people, imagine a series of actions, and then transcribe what happens in our mind to the page. The hope, of course, is that one day there will be readers to hear that proverbial tree falling in the woods.

In addition to millions of words of fiction, I have written hundreds of pages while planning and plotting my novels. When I go back and read through those notes, I come off like a crazy person, sharing ideas and options with no one but myself.

And yet I felt even more like a lunatic when composing the author Q&A for my online press kit.

The goal of the Q&A is to provide reporters with an easily digestible document for learning more about me as an author as well as my books. In the exercise, I play both the role of interviewer and interviewee, asking myself questions to which I already know the answers.

In the spirit of embracing the insanity, I’m going to share the dialogue (or is it a monologue?) below. Maybe someday I’ll have partaken in enough interviews to compose a true FAQ, but in the meantime, please enjoy my Infrequently Asked Questions:

What are The Renegade Chronicles about?

On the surface, The Renegade Chronicles is about a civil war in the magical, medieval world of Altaerra. The most powerful peace treaty in history is on the verge of collapse, and a certain band of rebels has made it their mission to learn who is really pulling the Alliance of Nations’ strings—and why.

The series is firmly entrenched in the sword-and-sorcery fantasy genre, though there are elements of mystery, suspense, and even comedy. While the world of Altaerra is populated with mythical creatures like elves and ogres, the series focuses primarily on humans caught up in political intrigue and matters of life and death.

In a nutshell, The Renegade Chronicles is about war, unexpected alliances, magical swords, unholy crusaders, redemption, and hope.

Whom are The Renegade Chronicles about?

The series features a wide array of characters, including thieves, knights, pirates, wizards, and assassins. Everyone has his or her own agenda, and most people believe they fight for “the side of right.” But a major theme woven throughout the series is that the truth tends to fall somewhere between black and white.

The main characters are the Renegades, a ragtag band of rebels brought together by a twist of fate, including Klye, a former thief and self-proclaimed leader; Ragellan, a disgraced Knight of Superius, and his protégé Horcalus; Othello, a taciturn forester; Plake, a former rancher who thinks with his fists; Scout, an explorer who knows the island better than most; the pirate king Pistol and his loyal first mate, Crooker; Arthur, a young runaway; and Lilac, a mysterious woman with an enchanted blade.

You can learn more about them here: david-michael-williams.com/renegade-chronicles/meet-the-renegades/.

Who is your favorite character?

That’s like asking me who my favorite child is!

I suppose I have many favorites. Klye Tristan, the Renegade Leader, is probably the easiest for me to write; I’ve known him the longest. Characters like Scout and Noel are gems because they provide comedic relief. I have a lot of respect for Horcalus and Stannel Bismarc, both men of principle. And as obnoxious as Plake can be, he’s undeniably a catalyst when it comes to the plot. Zusha is a lot of fun, too, because of her unique perspective.

What is the setting for The Renegade Chronicles?

The story takes place in the fantastical world of Altaerra, which is home to many different peoples, including humans, dwarves, elves, ogres and a few other traditional fantasy races. And there are a few species that are unique to Altaerra alone, such as the dreaded midge.

Readers of The Renegade Chronicles will traverse the breadth of the island of Capricon, which is populated primarily by humans and defended by the Knights of Superius. The island is home to temples, castles, foreboding mountains, abandoned settlements, and no shortage of secrets.

You can see the map of Capricon here: david-michael-williams.com/renegade-chronicles/capricon/.

Who will enjoy The Renegade Chronicles?

Fans of fantasy fiction who like fast-paced, action-packed plots, a robust cast of characters, and plenty of plot twists will appreciate The Renegade Chronicles. The focus is on the individual adventurers, most of them humans, and while the series borrows from established fantasy tropes, folks who have never read fantasy books before should be able to grasp and enjoy these stories.

The Renegade Chronicles would be a good stepping stone for teens who grew up on Harry Potter and are looking for a series that features more mature characters. They’re ready for something with a little more grit—but not something as brutal as George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Having said that, I also believe adults of all ages can appreciate these adventures.

What makes The Renegade Chronicles unique?

I’ll be the first to admit that the series is something of a throwback to the sword-and-sorcery stories I grew up with. It’s not as arch and grueling as Tolkien, and it’s certainly more lighthearted than the gritty urban fantasy that has gained popularity in recent years.

I published The Renegade Chronicles for people, like me, who want a healthy balance of high-stakes danger and good, old-fashioned fun.

What are The Renegade Chronicles “rated”?

If this were a movie, I’d say a hard PG or a soft PG-13. There is mild language and a few sexual innuendos. There’s also violence, and characters do die occasionally. But blood and gore are not the focus.

Where can someone buy The Renegade Chronicles?

All three paperbacks are available at Amazon.com. The e-book editions—including a three-in-one collection with a bonus appendix detailing the people, places and particularities of Altaerra—are exclusively available at the Kindle Store.

You can find a series of direct links here: david-michael-williams.com/renegade-chronicles.

How long did it take you to write the books?

The first book, Rebels and Fools, took the longest. I wrote the first draft while attending college and rewrote the entire manuscript my senior year. Volumes 2 and 3 took a year apiece to write (two drafts each).

When I came back to the manuscripts in late 2015, I dedicated a month to each one, refining them and making substantial edits.

What do the titles mean?

Don’t get me started on how difficult it is to come up with compelling novel titles!

All three titles hint at the duality of the characters. For example, Rebels and Fools—does that mean the enemies of the rebels are the fools, or are the rebels themselves fools? The same goes for Heroes and Liars and Martyrs and Monsters. The ambiguity is intentional and, in fact, integral.

Why do fantasy series always seem to be trilogies?

That’s an arcane secret…kind of like why every potion requires “eye of newt.” In all seriousness, I don’t think I set out to write three books specifically. I always knew where Volume 1 would end, and after I finished Volume 2, I realized it would take only one more installment to complete the main story arc.

But it’s altogether possible additional volumes could be published somewhere down the road. The Renegades have many adventures ahead of them.

Why did you decide to publish all three at once?

We live in an age of instant gratification. I know I hate waiting for a writer to finish the next installment in a series. Since I already had written all three novels, it didn’t make sense to stagger the releases of Volumes 2 and 3. If someone enjoyed Rebels and Fools, I didn’t want anything getting in the way of their buying Heroes and Liars and Martyrs and Monsters immediately.

It’s a similar philosophy to Netflix series in which an entire season is released all at once. People like to “binge watch,” so why not “binge read”? The Renegade Chronicles is like House of Cards—only with magical swords.

Why did you decide to publish The Renegade Chronicles yourself?

I wrote three complete manuscripts before searching for an agent to represent the series or a publisher to buy it. And, frankly, no one was interested. To be fair, the first book was bloated—175,000 words is too long for an unknown author’s first book—and all three books needed copious edits. The decade in between finishing the third book and revisiting the series provided me with the skills and the objectivity to go back and fix the manuscripts.

The bottom line is I had faith in the stories and the writing, and I wanted others to be able to enjoy them. Creating my own independent publishing company, One Million Words, was a means to that end.

Why did you name your publishing company One Million Words?

A good friend of mine once told me that anything an author writes before one million words are just “finger exercises.” It’s a derivative of a familiar adage that proclaims a writer must put in a ton of practice before he or she will be any good. After he told me that, I did a word count and was pleased to report back that I had, in fact, already written one million words of fiction.

There are also roughly one million words in the English language. Plus I thought “One Million Words” had a nice ring to it. I had been using that phrase for my blog and social media accounts for years, so when it came time to create my own imprint, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate name.

Where did you find inspiration for this series?

I’ve been a fan of fantasy since before I even knew what fantasy was. Books, movies, television, video games—I always gravitated toward medieval settings and magical adventures. I wholeheartedly fell in love with the DragonLance books when I was in high school, and I was a big fan of the Final Fantasy video game series before that. I wanted to create a rich world of my own, a mystical playground for the characters that popped into my head.

Who are your favorite authors?

Some of my favorite fantasy authors are Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, not only because of their contributions to the DragonLance saga, but also for the Death Gate Cycle; R.A. Salvatore, primarily for his DemonWars series; Neil Gaiman; George R.R. Martin; and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien, the grandfather of the fantasy genre.

Beyond fantasy, I’m a big fan of William Faulkner, and one of my favorite novels of all time is Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

What was the biggest challenge in publishing The Renegade Chronicles?

When you are preparing to publish three novels in two formats (print and digital), there are a lot of moving parts. On top of that, I held myself to a very aggressive timeline. When things are running that tight, even a minor setback can impact a lot of other tasks.

To tell the truth, I think my greatest challenge still lies ahead: marketing the series and reaching new customers.

Will there be any future books in The Renegade Chronicles?

I’d love to write more stories about Klye Tristan and the gang. I have plenty of additional plots already mapped out, so jumping back into Altaerra wouldn’t be difficult. I’ve written a complete draft of a novel starring a young wizardess who will eventually cross paths with the characters from The Renegade Chronicles. The epilogue of Martyrs and Monsters hints at that storyline.

By and large, sales of the first three volumes will determine whether I can afford to return to this world.

What is your next project?

I’m stepping away from Altaerra for at least a little while. I’m in the middle of writing a science fiction series called The Soul Sleep Cycle. While my agent looks for a buyer for the first two books in that series (If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep), I’ll be working on the third novel, If Dreams Can Die.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Oh, I have lots of advice—mostly lessons I’ve learned along the way. I include writing tips on my website, david-michael-williams.com.

What I will say is I’m glad print-on-demand publishing was not available when I was in my early twenties. Self-publishing almost makes it too easy to put one’s work out there, and I’ve seen plenty of examples of dabblers and amateurs publishing before they are ready.

I fear that I would have been among them; if I had published The Renegade Chronicles before 2016, they would have been an inferior product. My advice to young writers is to wait until you’re prepared to treat your fiction as a business before considering self-publishing.

What are your long-term goals?

First and foremost, I want to continue to publish my novels, whether through a traditional publishing house or through One Million Words. I have a lot of ideas, so here’s to hoping I find readers who appreciate my stories and will support my dream of getting paid to do what I love.

In addition to novels, I’d love to write for a video game or a graphic novel. My wife says I should produce a pun-a-day calendar. At this point, I’m keeping everything on the table.

Any other questions for the author? Shoot them my way in the comments section!

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A different class of writing

Spending time with young people can make you feel old, but it can also make you feel young, too.

I had the pleasure of talking with students at Waupun High School yesterday. My mission: to share my educational background, professional writing experiences, writing advice, and tips for getting published with the fledgling writers—in 45 minutes or less.

waupun-warriors

Despite my best efforts, I might have uttered “when I was your age” at least once.

In all seriousness, it was a very casual environment, and even though I did most of the talking, I couldn’t help but be a little inspired as we went around the circle, and the students told of their current projects and future ambitions.

Because I’ve been up to my (pointed) ears in editing a certain fantasy trilogy, I hope you’ll forgive me for taking a shortcut here by repurposing my notes from yesterday’s spiel—quasi-transcripts, if you will.

Hopefully, you’ll find a nugget or two of wisdom regardless of where you are on the path to authorhood.

My story

I started writing in earnest in high school. My fantasy tales bore a resemblance to the books I was reading at the time: DragonLance, Forgotten Realms…you know, books with dragons on the covers. Mostly, I engaged in world-building exercises and episodic storylines, though there was at least one false start to a novel

By senior year, I knew I wanted to be a novelist. At UW-Fond du Lac, I signed up for an independent study writing course. It turned out to be a one-on-one with a professor, where I delivered a chapter for her to critique each week. This was one of the most valuable college courses I ever took, and I learned an awful lot about the basics of storytelling, the importance of word choice—and how to meet deadlines.

In those two years, I wrote two-thirds of what would come to be Volume 1 of The Renegade Chronicles. When I transferred to UW-Milwaukee, I completed the first draft and then rewrote the entire manuscript from scratch senior year since my writing style—not to mention skill level—had dramatically changed since freshman year.

I submitted chapters of my book for various writing workshops, and peer review also proved incredibly valuable. (Though in one class, I had to convince the professor that genre fiction had merit before we were allowed to present fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc.)

Meanwhile, I took as many literature and linguistics classes as I could. Beyond English courses, I signed up for philosophy, psychology and a ton of history courses. An all-too-common adage dictates one should write what one knows. Ergo, the more you know, the more you can write about.

I somewhat regret I didn’t take any journalism, marketing, or radio/TV/film classes. At the time, I wanted only to write fiction, so none of those related disciplines appealed to me. Then again, I picked up many of those skills later in life.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, I taught for a year in China, where I had my favorite job title to date: foreign expert. While overseas, I wrote a sequel. I also tried to publish a short story I had written in college (to no avail) and researched agents to represent my fantasy novels.

When I returned to the U.S., I got cracking on Volume 3—while racking up rejections for Volumes 1 and 2.

I was fortunate to find an entry-level position at a newspaper. As a news clerk, I mostly was responsible for formatting lists, such as marriage licenses and school lunch menus. (Have you ever questioned the proper spelling of “tri-tater”?) I typed up letters to the editor, too.

But I also got to do some proofreading and wrote an article here and there. In less than I year, I was promoted to entertainment writer and editor. I picked up a slew of skills in the newsroom—writing and proofing using AP style, headline writing, lead writing, pagination/layout, the basics of photo editing.

Most importantly, I learned the virtues of brevity.

After a few years, I went to the “dark side”—public relations and marketing. At UW-Oshkosh, I wrote press releases, coordinated interviews with faculty and staff, wrote articles for the online news publication and the alumni magazine, became a wiz at Word Press and other content management systems, taught myself project management, and supervised student interns.

I learned even more when I became an account executive at BrownBoots Interactive, including more website skills, search engine optimization (which injects a lot of science into the art of writing), writing for TV and radio commercials, managing multi-channel marketing campaigns, estimating on projects, blogging, and much more.

That’s right, the guy who couldn’t care less about journalism, public relations, and marketing in college grew to appreciate them and, if I do say so myself, excel at them.

But my dream has always been to be a novelist…

About 10 years ago, I joined Allied Authors of Wisconsin. Because I couldn’t get an agent to bite on The Renegade Chronicles, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and wrote a sci-fi novel that got very good feedback from my beta readers. An agent, who is also a member of AAW, elected to represent If Souls Can Sleep.

And because I didn’t learn my lessons with The Renegade Chronicles, I wrote a sequel before selling the first one.

My wife and I wrote a children’s chapter book to test the waters with self-publishing. (More on that here and here.) But between a full-time career and family obligations, I always felt as though my fiction got short shrift.

Earlier this year, I decided I to take a chance and put my fiction on the front burner. I transitioned to a new role at the agency to allow for larger pockets of time for writing and editing fiction. I created a business plan and am committed self-publishing The Renegade Chronicles in 2016.

My long-term goal—my dream—hasn’t changed remains the same: I want to make a living writing fiction.

Writing advice

There’s no shortage of writing advice out there (and sometimes tips contradict). But here is some advice my mentors gave me “back in the day”:

  • Margaret Weis: “Treat your writing like a job. Write on a schedule.”
  • R.A. Salvatore: “If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t, you’re a writer.”

I’ll add a few of my own observations to the mix:

  • Embrace a variety of life experiences—everything is fodder for your writing.
  • Learn as much as you can about the industry and gain related skills. Even traditionally published authors have to be business-minded marketing experts.
  • Write as many different kind of things as you can because you might be surprised at what you’re good at…and what you might enjoy.
  • Don’t turn your nose up at any writing gig—even if it’s the company newsletter—because everyone has to start somewhere.
  • Get feedback from others (e.g., writers groups, online forums) but realize that not all critiques are created equal. Not everyone is your target audience, and ultimately, it’s your story.
  • Always write what you love and do whatever you can to hold onto that passion.
  • Most importantly, don’t give up.

Tips for getting published

A lot has changed since I was in high school. Back then, you were supposed to write and publish short stories (which I sucked at), and you couldn’t hope to publish a novel without an agent. Also, self-publishing was for losers, and vanity presses that preyed on amateur writers made it expensive, too.

Today, self-publishing is both respectable and profitable. Print-on-demand means publishing a book is relatively inexpensive, though there are outside costs like proofreading and cover design. The biggest challenge is getting noticed above the noise.

As someone who is still on the path to publication, I don’t have any surefire secrets for becoming a bestseller. I do, however, have a couple of tips:

1. Don’t publish before you’re ready. After more than a decade between drafts, I’m now hacking apart The Renegade Chronicles, and they’ll be much better for it. And do your homework to avoid wasting your time…or getting sued.

2. Don’t be afraid to take chances. By the time you’re ready to publish a novel or a comic book or your memoirs, a lot is going to have changed. It’s never been a better time to be a writer, but it’s also the Wild West of publishing right now. If you want to get noticed, you have to experiment.

If you follow the crowd, you’ll always be behind.

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5 ways to support the writer in your life

Do you know someone who is committed to the craft of writing? Congratulations!

Maybe this writer is a relative, in which case you have destiny to thank. Or maybe you’ve befriended someone who has been bewitched by the notion that stacking words one atop another to build a story can be fun and profitable.

Either way, if you’ve spent any amount of time around a writer, you’ve probably already learned a few things about this admittedly strange species:

She might have told you how she came up with the idea for her story and why it’s awesome.

He probably dished on the details about his creative habits or writing schedule or preferred typeface.

Perhaps she shared her protagonist’s astrological sign.

(On second thought, maybe condolences are in order.)

Here’s the thing about writers. We spend a lot of time alone, populating a private world with imaginary friends—er, people—and thinking about topics reserved solely for storytellers and serial killers (e.g., how much midazolam would it take to knock out an average adult male?).

Eventually, we need to come up for air and share some of our “head happenings” with the wider world…or, at least, with our most-trusted loved ones. (That’s you.) And that means his success as a writer depends, at least in part, on you.

So whether they are still in the planning phase, frantically pounding out the first draft, or up to their elbows in edits, here are a handful of ways you can support any writers who cross your path:

1. Encourage them

In addition to a killer concept and mad composition skillz (i.e., the two sides to every story), thick skina strong spine, and enough patience to fill a Buddhist monastery, a writer needs encouragement to survive.

Oh sure, we might be able to sustain ourselves for stretches on ego alone, but eventually our confidence fizzles, and refueling is necessary. We need to be told that we aren’t wasting our time. These proverbial pats on the back can take the form of compliments. For instance, if an idea they share sounds cool, tell them. If nothing else, praise their dedication to what so often can feel like a hopeless pursuit.

Face-to-face chats are great, but don’t forget about Facebook and Twitter and wherever else in cyberspace your writer roams. Follow their author accounts. Like and share their posts. Comment on their blogs. If you engage them online, others might also!

(Yes, I actually wrote the word “cyberspace.” Apologies.)

2. Read their stories

Every writer needs readers. This is true even before a book or short story is published. Alpha readers, beta readers, pre-readers—whatever you want to call the role, you are a prime candidate for being the first eyes on a story.

You aren’t obligated to give a thorough appraisal of the piece, and no one should expect you to play the part of proofreader, but some feedback is appropriate. What did you like? What felt a bit off? Praise is always appreciated, and depending on your rapport, constructive criticism can be very helpful too—emphasis on “constructive.”

But never leave a writer hanging. You gotta give ’em something. And if you don’t make it to the end of the novel—or even the end of the first chapter—let the writer know. You can soften the blow by saying something like, “I don’t think I’m your target reader because this part didn’t work for me…”

3. Buy their books

Encouragement can come in a variety of forms, including financial support. In fact, one surefire way to show the writer in your life that you approve of their writing is by sponsoring them. Just ask my wife! (Insert rimshot here.)

Sure, there actually are donation/sponsorship websites like Patreon, but the most forthright way you can support your writer is by buying her book. Even if you still have an early draft on your e-reader from back when you served as a beta reader. And even if you don’t plan to read the thing cover to cover. Owning a copy of your writer’s book proves, definitively, that you give a damn.

It’s not just about the money, either (though that helps). The more sales a book receives on a site like Amazon.com, the better its ranking becomes; the higher the rank, the greater the visibility—and, therefore, the greater the opportunities for additional sales.

4. Review their books

five out of five starsHere’s where support starts to feel an awful lot like work: After you’ve read the book, write a review and post it on Amazon and as many other sites you can find that carry the book.

Actually, this isn’t as onerous as it sounds. No one expects you to write a college-essay style literary criticism piece that compares your writer’s story to Great Expectations. A few sentences will suffice, and if you have more to say, great! Be honest, but if there’s a lot you don’t like, maybe focus on the stuff that shined. Then copy and paste copiously around the web.

Why are book reviews important? People tend not to trust a book until it has 100 or so reviews. Sadly, it’s the quantity of book reviews—more so than the quality of what’s written in them—that prompts customers to put a book in their cart. Ten 5-star reviews just seem less trustworthy than dozens of reviews that average to 3.5 stars. Strange but true.

5. Spread the word

Whether self-published or traditionally published, any writer worth his carpal tunnel will spend time and money on promoting and marketing his book.

But a single writer can cover only so much ground. Even Jesus saw the value of sending His followers far and wide to share the Good News, thus increasing His geographical footprint. I’m not saying you have to quit your job and become a full-time missionary for your writer’s fiction, but if you come across folks who might like the novel, tell them about it.

Or, better yet, lend them a copy of the book.

Bottom line: Successful writers need readers, and as the friend or relative of a writer, you can make a significant impact on whether her attempt to “make it” as an author turns out to be a nightmare or a dream come true.

(Besides, haven’t you always wanted your name to appear on an acknowledgements page?)

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I should be thankful, and…

…I am…in spite of so many obstacles on the path to my destination as “successful writer.”

Two years ago (“I should be thankful, but…”), I griped about the many challenges facing writers in the modern, Wild West-like world of publishing. I took positive, prevailing thoughts and poked holes in optimists’ arguments.

Every silver lining has a storm cloud, right?

So many of my posts over the years have outlined the challenges and frustrations that go hand-in-hand with being an aspiring author, an up-and-comer, a struggler starter, and so forth. From finding time to write to promoting one’s fiction to ultimately getting compensated for one’s work, there are no shortage of injustices to bemoan.

And it didn’t help that 2014 began with some bad news

Today, however, I endeavor to do the opposite of 2012’s exercise. Rather than harp on the struggle, I will embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving by acknowledging the advantageous and affirming aspects of being a fiction writer in 2014 (and beyond):

1. I’m thankful for stories that demand to be told.

Despite the many characters’ voices clamoring for attention in my head, taking me to task when I allegedly slack off, and even though I have more story starters ricocheting within my gray matter than I could ever make time for, I can’t imagine living in a world where random “What if?” thoughts don’t bloom into myriad plots and would-be worlds as I traverse the here and now.

2. I’m thankful for progress.

Every writer could use more time for fiction writing, and none of us would turn up his nose at a few more acceptance letters (and advances). I haven’t accomplished nearly as much as I wanted to this year, but in spite of an unrelenting calendar, I can look back and see how far I’ve come. Even small, measured steps take us forward.

3. I’m thankful for support.

I’ve compared writing to an addiction in the past; if nothing else, it’s a habit, and I’m blessed to be able to rely on family and friends for support—whether for feedback for specific projects or simply for encouragement when the struggle overshadows the enjoyment of the craft. Additionally, I’m honored to be a part of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin (because writers groups still matter).

4. I’m thankful for success.

Despite the woeful fate of The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers, the children’s book my wife and I self-published, I still count that project as a victory—a learning experience, yes, but a victory nonetheless. And even though neither of the short stories I’ve been shopping around have been published, “Going Viral” received an honorable mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest in June, and I was notified recently that “Ghost Mode,” which I submitted to that same contest for the fourth quarter of 2014, made it to the next round of judging, so…fingers crossed!

5. I’m thankful for opportunity.

I’ve spent a lot of space on this blog pointing out some of the misperceptions and missteps inherent in the self-publishing arena as well as the traditional publishing model. But at the end of the day, thanks to modern technology, we writers have never had more channels through which to reach our audience. Moreover, we’ve probably never had so many literate people on the planet at one time. Just imagine trying to be a writer in the Middle Ages?

6. I’m thankful for living in the heyday of speculative fiction.

It’s everywhere, folks, and that’s good news for someone who not only consumes sci-fi and fantasy books, movies, and video games, but also who can’t seem to write a story that doesn’t go someplace weird.

7. I’m thankful for the world outside my head.

OK, that’s an odd way of putting it, but what I mean is that all of my ideas in my head, all of the words I type, and all of the readers I may one day reach don’t mean much without the embarrassment of riches that make up the rest of my life. All of my needs are met, as are so many of my wants. I have an amazing wife, two awesome kids, and so many other people around me that make life at least as fun (if not stranger) than fiction.

When I stop dwelling on supposed shortcomings and impediments to where I want to go, I realize that the journey has been one heck of a road trip so far and promises to stay that way. “Thank you” almost seems too small a sentiment to pass along to the Author of it all.

What are you thankful for—as a writer, a reader, or simply a human being? Share below!

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4 reasons why fiction writers struggle with marketing

Please excuse me while I make some excuses.

You see, I’ve read 3,009 articles about how fiction writers need to become savvy marketers and self-promoters if they want their books to succeed commercially, and I fear I’m becoming a convert. (This very blog is evidence of that.)

Many of these how-to editorials cover common ground, but every now and then I discover one that contains tidbits I hadn’t uncovered before, as was the case with “10 Things Authors Ought to Know about Book Marketing.”

And even though writing advice is often rife with contradictions, one theme rears its draconian head again and again when it comes to writers and marketing: you should start your marketing strategy well in advance of your book’s publication.

Blocks of Swiss cheese

No time or interest in marketing your fiction? How about some cheese with that whine? | “Swiss cheese cubes”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Even if you don’t have anything else published yet.

Despite the chicken-and-egg paradox this presents—how can I get fans when I don’t yet have anything for them to be fans of?—I can appreciate the proactive approach presented in articles like “When should you start marketing your book?”

With so many marketing tips for fiction writers out there, I’ve come to a couple of deducations:

  1. Self-promotion must be important.
  2. Writers, apparently, aren’t inherently good at it.

But why don’t fiction writers approach marketing with more gusto? Read on.

Disclaimer: These are not universal facts about the fascinating and complex animal that is the Earth-dwelling author. They are possible truths about most fiction writers…or some fiction writers…well, at least, one fiction writer.

Excuse #1: We don’t have time.

Just about every writer I’ve met wishes he or she had more time for fiction writing. So when it comes to finishing that short story or meeting a novel’s daily word-count quota, that must come first, and writing blog posts, participating in forums, and engaging in other social media inevitably fall to the back burner.

Or off of the stove entirely.

On the other hand, I’ve come across very successful bloggers who seem to prioritize their marketing strategy above their fiction, periodically lamenting about their lack of progress on the latter. I suppose procrastination takes many forms, including other potentially productive, writing-related activities.

Certainly, there’s a balance to be maintained when it comes to creating a writing schedule—not this!—and even small steps can reap benefits.

Another thing to consider is that while promotional writing and fiction writing share some commonalities—including the arrangement of words and punctuation—the two disciplines have significantly different skill sets. Just because someone can crank out a novel, it doesn’t mean he or she innately understands or will excel at marketing writing. (Just ask anyone who has ever reduced a 100,000-word manuscript down to a single-sentence synopsis in order to hook an agent or editor.)

Learning how to promote one’s writing and oneself as an author takes time too.

Excuse #2: We don’t like talking about ourselves.

If fiction writers thought they, as individuals, were particularly interesting, they would be writing memoirs, not novels. Self-promotion (especially if done heavy-handedly) can sound an awful lot like bragging.

Fiction writers might sprinkle autobiographical details throughout their plots and into their people, but it’s far more comfortable to couch personal thoughts and emotions in imaginary scenarios.

While putting a piece of fiction out into the world does open us up to criticism, how much more vulnerable is an author when he or she puts him- or herself out there…as him- or herself?

It’s one thing to weather the blow when a reader bashes our characters and quite another to endure venom directed at our own character.

Excuse #3: We’re a little antisocial.

Writing can be a very solitary experience, and I suspect the craft attracts more than its fair share of introverts.

Think about it. We don’t need anyone else when it comes to thinking up ideas, performing our finger exercises at the keyboard, or tinkering until we’ve hammered out a full-fledged novel.

(Which isn’t to say that there aren’t advantages to letting others assist in the process, such as joining a writers group. Also, if you want to go from being a dabbler to a bona fide published author, you’re going to have to depend on others somewhere along the path from final draft to sale-worthy book.

These days, marketing—when done well—requires a certain level of networking. However, we authors generally prefer one-way narration to two-way conversations. And if we are engaging with the masses, we find that we must become “fans” (or “friends” or “followers”) of others in order for them to even think about being “fans” of ours.

One hopes that there are other motivations and rewards for networking with other writers and readers of your genre (other than just future sales), yet there is something inherently predatory when it comes to joining online communities, in particular, with the ulterior motive of building a fan base—even when you do it “right.”

Plus it can be difficult not to take it personally when forays into the marketing arena don’t pan out—such as when an insightful and time-consuming blog post doesn’t garner any comments. (HINT HINT!)

Perhaps worst of all, networking blurs the lines between author and audience as well as creator and creation, when we really just want to be appreciated our work. Because at the end of the day…

Excuse #4: We want our writing to speak for itself.

Yes, it’s naïve, but I believe there’s a part of every fiction writer that thinks if he or she writes something wonderful, a handful of people will read it and love it, and then news will spread faster than a virus in a zombie flick.

Sadly, that’s almost never how it works, and even though the popularity of self-publishing has put an awful lot of power in writers’ hands, that doesn’t necessarily diminish the challenges of getting your story to the reader. Even authors who go with traditional publishers have to pitch in when it comes to promotion if they want their books to get noticed.

With an ever-increasing amount of competition for readers’ time and transactions, there is no shortage of other writers who are trying to do exactly what you’re doing.

“If you write it, they will come” just doesn’t work.

No more excuses…

Even if there’s some merit in these excuses, it doesn’t change the fact that marketing one’s fiction is essential.

If we ignore the business side of writing, we might as well keep our manuscripts stored safely in a box under our bed or on a hard drives and forget about publication altogether. A book that isn’t nurtured by a deliberate marketing plan—or, at least, exposed to some occasional sunlight—is bound to wither.

What’s the best way to approach marketing? There are at least 3,009 articles out there to answer that question, but I’ll add this: when it comes to the challenges of marketing, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach—not so unlike fiction writing.

Good thing you’re so darn creative!

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