Monday, May 20, 2024

The Long Haul


What I’ve Learned in a Career that Isn’t Over Yet


A publishing friend of mine who is much smarter than I about such things once said to me, “The only true marker of success in this business is longevity.”


After 17 years and 27 books, I suppose by that metric I would have no choice but to consider myself a success. It’s funny, though — it doesn’t feel like success.


This could lead us down a deep, dark rabbit hole of what is success and what does success feel like, but instead I think I want to talk about the other side of the equation: Longevity.


I don’t know many authors who only want to publish a single book. Most people who write want to do so professionally, extensively, reliably, constantly. And, yes, remuneratively. Because it’s the money from each book that makes publishing the next one possible.


If, like me, you want to be in this for the long haul, here’s what I have to say…


Of primary importance is this: You will never know what direction your career will move in. The book of your heart — your absolute magnum opus — may tank. And the book you dashed off in a month to meet a contractual obligation may take off and change your life. You don’t know. It’s impossible to know. So…


Capitalize on your successes

My career has had ups and downs, most of them utterly beyond my control, but certainly the biggest mistake I made was following up my I Hunt Killers series with two science fiction novels. It wasn’t a completely stupid move on my part. Publishing is a slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow business and when I started working on the first of the sci-fi novels, I had no way of knowing that the Killers trilogy would be the biggest hit of my career. I Hunt Killers was my ninth novel, after all. I didn’t take into account that, with that series, I had accumulated a whole new audience, an audience that really liked the story’s darkness and real-world grittiness.


So when I followed up that trilogy with a book set hundreds of years in the future and then another book set in an alternative universe, well… That big serial killer-loving audience didn’t follow along. And who could blame them? They wanted a Big Mac and I was serving up tacos.


Again, the timing of the publishing industry made this a tough spot to get out of, but I probably could have and should have handled it differently than I did. I was (too) confident that my audience would follow me wherever I went. My big flub? It’s right there in the previous sentence: my audience. You don’t own your audience. At best, you have a long-term rental. Don’t take a readership for granted.


Roll with the punches

Towards the end of 2019, my wife and I published our first collaboration (if you don’t count our kids): The Hive. It was well-received, with People calling it one of the best books of the Fall. On the back of that book and my successful Flash series, I was invited to a boatload of conferences, conventions, and other such visits. It was definitely shaping up to be a career-changing year of travel.


Well, you know what happened, right? All of that amazing travel went into the toilet when 2020 rolled around and COVID sent the world off the rails. All of the grand plans I had disappeared like faces behind surgical masks.


You might think that lockdown would be a good time to get a lot of writing done. And at first I though it might be, but soon it became necessary for me to take a hiatus to deal with some protracted family issues. When I returned to the keyboard a year later, the entire landscape of publishing and pretty much the world had changed. Sure, I wrote. But I was also trying to figure out where I fit in and what it made sense to craft for this new world.


I cast my net wide: I worked on a variety of projects that were all radically different from each other, trying to figure out my new niche.


But I did something else, too: I had some fun! Look, if the pandemic taught us all anything at all (and these days, that seems debatable…), it’s that life can knock you off the curb with a transit bus at any moment. So why not have a little fun?


I resuscitated my moribund email newsletter, retooling it into less of a sales vehicle and more of a community platform. Every month now, I send off into the ether a melange of comic book goofiness, serial killer facts, deleted scenes from my books, and links to stuff I find cool and fun. It’s not about selling books — it’s about offering readers a nice little supplement to the books. It’s about giving something back to the people who’ve made my career possible.


I also launched, believe it or not, a merch store! I’ve always liked noodling around with design, so I sat down and had fun producing a collection of t-shirts, notebooks, stickers, and the like for readers of my books.


Are the newsletter and the store going to change my life or my career? Probably not! But I enjoy them and they keep me from getting bored with myself or — worse — taking myself too seriously.


Know what you can control

The answer to that is, sadly, not much.


You can’t control the sales of your book. You can’t control the marketing. You can’t control the social networks we all rely on now to spread the word — the algorithm can change in a heartbeat, a viral meme can steamroll your hard work, a buy-out can destroy your networking opportunities. You can’t control the overworked editors and assistants who tell themselves they’ll look at your book tomorrow…every day.


Fretting about the things you can’t control (or, worse, trying to control them anyway) will drive you stark raving mad.


But you can control the work. You can write the book. And then the next one. And the next one. Even if they’re not selling, you can keep writing them.


It’s the only thing you control, really. But you do control it.


Control the work. Cleave unto the work. The work will save you. When the rejections come, when the sales aren’t there, the work will save you. Because every book you write is a new opportunity. Every book you write is a new world to be born.


I have published 27 novels. And then life knocked me back and I had to take some time away. But I truly believe that my best work is ahead of me. As long as I choose to produce it. Someone can only choose to publish my work if I write it in the first place.


“The only true marker of success in this business is longevity.”


So, as we asked at the beginning: What is success? What does success feel like?


I think my friend was probably right. Because I’ll give you my answers, after all those books, all the ups and downs, all the joys and pains: Success is still standing. Success feels like fingers on the keys, like still being alive.


Connect with Barry Lyga on his website.



Barry Lyga is the author of the New York Times-bestselling I Hunt Killers, as well as 26 other novels that weren’t on the New York Times bestseller list, but were still really, really good. Visit him at barrylyga.com. Sign up for his newsletter at barrylyga.com/newsletter. Check out his merch at barrylyga.redbubble.com.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Homophones

 


Homophones are a fascinating aspect of language, where words sound identical or nearly identical when spoken but possess different meanings and often spellings. These linguistic twins can sometimes lead to confusion, especially in writing, as their identical pronunciation can cause writers to mistakenly interchange them. One classic example is "there," "their," and "they're," which all sound the same but have distinct grammatical roles. "There" indicates a place, "their" denotes possession, and "they're" is a contraction for "they are."

Another set of homophones that frequently confound writers is "to," "too," and "two." While all pronounced the same, they serve different purposes in sentences. "To" is a preposition indicating direction or intention, "too" means also or excessively, and "two" represents the number 2. Confusion between these homophones can alter the intended meaning of a sentence drastically. Careful attention to context and usage is necessary to ensure clarity in communication.     

Homophones are not only prevalent in English but in many languages worldwide. These linguistic quirks add richness and complexity to communication, challenging speakers and writers to be precise in their expression.  While they may pose occasional challenges, homophones also provide opportunities for wordplay, puns, and creative expression. Understanding and mastering homophones contribute to linguistic competence and proficiency in any language, allowing for clearer and more effective communication.

The homophones that often snag me when I'm writing is "loan," "lone" and "gate," "gait." What about you?  What homophones causes you to stumble?

 

Sandra

 

Monday, May 6, 2024

How to Draw Readers in Through a Character’s Inner Struggle by Angela Ackerman

 

Readers have short attention spans, so the goal is to draw them into a story quickly. We can hook their curiosity through the protagonist’s actions and emotions in the moment, and use the setting, events, and POV observations to awaken the reader’s need-to-know response. These are good strategies to get us going, but to create real investment, we need to move readers beyond curiosity. To generate true connection and empathy, we should show the protagonist’s inner struggles, especially those moments that touch the deepest parts of their selves and reveal who they are by how they resolve personal turmoil.

Moment of struggle where a character’s beliefs and values conflict or contradict are especially important to show. Consider these:

·                  Leo discovers a secret about a family member that is both shocking and harmful. Should he go to the police, or stay silent? (Family loyalty vs. justice)

·                  At her university graduation, Darma is at a crossroads. Her parents expect her come work in the family business, but she knows that won’t make her happy. Should she do what is expected of her, or chart her own course? (Duty vs. freedom and self-fulfillment)

·                  Jim’s old friend Steve is in town, and two days into the visit, he asks for a favor: to lie for him. Steve’s worried about his crazy-jealous wife discovering he had coffee with an old high school flame the day before. If she finds out Steve wasn’t with Jim all day as he told her, she’ll send her mob-connected brothers after him. This situation seems fishy and Jim is an honest person by nature, but Steve’s invoking the bro code. (Friendship vs. honesty)


In each case, the character’s beliefs and core values are clashing, and it’s causing them internal tension. There’s a term for psychological discomfort caused by these contradicting thoughts, perceptions, values, or beliefs: cognitive dissonance.

Inner conflict, and the dissonance at the root of it is compelling to readers because these things are true-to-life. Readers know what it’s like to wrestle with difficult situations and the pain of not knowing what to do.

In these moments, a character experiences negative emotions, possibly guilt, worry, confusion, defeat, shame, and the like, and may question their own value and strength. If their emotional discomfort is strong enough, they may try to run from their problems and difficult decisions rather than deal with them. Readers understand this too. Avoidance is a pretty common coping strategy when a person feels overwhelmed or unequipped to handle the challenge before them.

Can you see how reminding readers of their own personal experiences makes them feel connected and involved? By seeing a character go through something they know themselves, they come to care about the character and what happens next.

 

Tip: Don’t Leave Inner Conflict Unresolved

 

Characters running from their problems might be true-to-life, but if we don’t reverse that the pace will stall, and we’ll lose our grip on the reader’s interest. An emotion amplifier can help us get things back on track.

Emotion amplifiers are an added condition or situational burden that a character must cope with on top of everything else. They’re a challenge, conflict, and emotional destabilizer rolled into one, capable of causing physical, cognitive, and psychological discomfort. Like adding weight to an already overloaded cart, the strain can become too much, and the character breaks like a cart’s wheel.

Pressure, pain, exhaustion, scrutiny, danger—these and other amplifiers have the power to intensify a character’s emotional state, making them reactive. If they lose control of their emotions they might lash out, act with poor judgement, and make a mistake. Not only does generate conflict, but it also resonates with readers who have also lost control and then had to clean up the fallout.

Reminding readers of the real world is always a good strategy for engagement, but anything that touches their emotions will be especially powerful. If you’d like to learn more, check out The Emotion Amplifier Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Stress and Volatility. To see a full list of amplifiers you might like to use in your story, go here.

 

 


Angela Ackerman
is a story coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, and its many sequels. To date, this series has sold over a million copies.

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers®, as well as One Stop for Writers®, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day and Writing Distractions


It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The co-hosts for the May 1 posting of the IWSG are Victoria Marie Lees, Kim Lajevardi, Nancy Gideon, and Cathrina Constantine!

May 1 question - How do you deal with distractions when you are writing? Do they derail you?

Distractions can be anything.

Your children
Your pets
Housework
Yardwork
The phone
Emails
Social media

Some distractions need your attention.

Some are self-inflicted.

Some you just need to ignore.

Take time to prioritize your day. Make a list the night before of what you need to accomplish and note what’s the most important. Focus on what matters most first. Then when distractions happen, you’ll have most of the key items done and not be completely derailed.

How do you deal with distractions? How do they derail you and how can you stop that from happening?

Monday, April 22, 2024

Great Tips I Wish I Knew Before Writing My First YA Novel


By Jaire Sims

I decided to write and publish a Young Adult (YA) story when I was in high school. The process was exciting but had challenges along the way. Once I began writing my debut novel, it took almost ten years to self-publish my story, and the year after publishing, Getting By earned an award. While that's incredible, there are some things I wish I had learned about publishing before launching. I was a newbie, and in many ways, I still am. But I know a lot more now by trying to figure out the process of self-publishing a book, mostly on my own, leading me to create an online course on self-publishing to help writers streamline the process and save them time and money. It will also allow me to improve the release of my next book. With that in mind, I have some tips and suggestions for aspiring YA writers.


Researching the YA Market

Many writers start by writing a story they want to tell; as the adage says, "Write what you know." While that is fine, it's important to know if there's an audience for your story. Is it something readers will want to read? Otherwise, it will be tough to market and sell your book to audiences (though YA novels are popular among teen and adult readers.) But you still should know what makes a good YA novel. Do your due diligence by looking at market trends, researching recent successful YA releases, and seeing what stories such books tell. Then you can emulate elements at play in other successful YA books in your novel. If there's a story in you that you want to write, you don't have to compromise your ambitions to suit trends entirely. But depending on your goals, be mindful of what your target readers want to see in their YA books and find a compromise.

Building An Online Platform
One regret with my self-publishing experience is that I didn't establish a solid online presence before publishing my debut book. Now, I'm building my online platform with a blog and writing articles, expanding my email list by offering freebies to help aspiring YA authors, and collaborating with other writers in the community (like Ignited Ink!) to increase my visibility and attract my target readers. But it's an uphill battle. Marketing and selling a book after publishing without an established audience is challenging. Start building an audience as soon as you embark on your writing and publishing journey to build hype. Connecting to and engaging with the writing community is a great start, as many people would be willing to help you with your writing goals and champion your progress and success. Remember that no one is successful on their own, so it's good to seek help from people who may have knowledge that can help you early in the writing process and will spread the word when your story hits shelves!

Hire an Editor
New writers debate whether to hire a book editor for their manuscripts because of the cost (TLDR: do it!). Hiring a freelance editor was one of my best decisions. It's an investment that nobody should ignore. You risk launching a book that lacks polish, which can affect your reputation as an author. While many books have a few typos, readers don't mind if the story is good. But if it's riddled with mistakes, that will distract readers from enjoying your story. Moreover, an editor will smooth details in your story, like plot holes, character development, and other critical elements. To release the best version of your book, an editor's role is to help you improve the quality of your story, so don't skimp on one.

Beta Readers
After revising the first draft of my manuscript, I thought my editor was the only resource available. Now I know about beta readers and their vital role. But back then, I relied almost entirely on my editor's feedback to improve my novel. While I don't regret taking input from my editor (I received excellent feedback!), I wish I had contacted a few YA fiction beta readers first. They may have helped me improve my story further and boost my marketing reach after the fact. If you have just completed the first draft of your manuscript with revisions, have a few people beta-read and review your work before sending your story to your editor.

Creating a Marketing Plan
However you decide to publish your book, you need an effective marketing plan if you want your story in your readers' hands. A great story is not enough by itself anymore. In fact, there are successful books that may not have the best story premise or exceptional writing but are still bestsellers because of a great marketing strategy. Shocking though it may seem, I find writing and publishing a book is the easy part: marketing is the most challenging and what you'll spend most of your time doing. As a result, many writers outsource help to promote their novels. Thankfully, there are plenty of options to market and sell your book. But be aware that not all services deliver the results you are looking for. Also, don't choose a marketing service because someone recommends it. Research to see if these businesses have convincing reviews, look into their clients' successes, reach out to their clients for feedback, set up a preliminary meeting to connect, and then evaluate if it's a good fit for you. You can save money and energy by carefully vetting marketing services (and, honestly, anything you will outsource: editing, graphic design, etc.). When it comes to marketing, my final bit of advice is to start as early as possible to see better results.

Thoroughly Research all Publishing Options
Once you're ready to share your book with the world, you must decide how to publish it: traditional or self-publish. Whichever way you're leaning, evaluate your options before deciding, as either has many benefits and disadvantages. You'll want to pick the best method for you and your book. One of the reasons I chose to self-publish was to avoid going through the grueling and time-consuming process of reaching out to literary agents and traditional publishers, hoping they would like my book. Rather than risk facing countless rejections, I wanted to make my own opportunities and decisions, for better or worse. There are multiple self-publishing platforms available, and I decided to publish my book through BookBaby because their services fit my needs. Your publishing goals may differ from mine, so consider your objectives and evaluate your options before choosing the publishing route that will make the most sense for you and your book.


Set Realistic Expectations

You can save a lot of heartache by establishing expectations. To start, writing a book while balancing other responsibilities is challenging. Stick to a schedule, set aside time to write your story, and be realistic about the time it takes to finish a page. You should also understand the publishing industry and that it's competitive and often pretty subjective. Publishing houses rarely accept manuscripts upon the first submission, and many authors, even renowned ones, face dozens of rejections before being accepted. That's just part of the process, but you can use that as an opportunity to learn, improve your work, and persevere. Also, finding a literary agent and securing a publishing deal will take a while. If you're thinking about self-publishing, it takes time for first-time authors to make money. You will likely lose more money than you earn because of publishing and marketing expenses. But remember, your first book is the start of your writing journey, but you can lay the foundation of establishing yourself in the book marketing sphere and see success as an author for years to come.

Give Yourself Enough Time
Take your time, and do not rush through the process. Even though it took me years to publish my book, I'm glad I took my time with the publishing process. It's tempting to speed through so you can finally have it in your hands, but if you want to see any success with your book, you need to take your time and avoid skipping the necessary publishing steps.

Publishing comes with its ups and downs, but remembering why I wanted to write in the first place helped me persevere. I had a story in me that I wanted to share with the world. I published the best book I could write with the knowledge I had at the time. But it was so limited, and while I wish I knew more at the start, I did learn so much throughout that journey (check out my online self-publishing course if you're interested in learning more!). By keeping the above in mind, I guarantee you'll have a smoother process than me. If you have more questions about what I do or self-publishing, please find me on social media and reach out.


Jaire Sims lives, works, and writes where he was born and raised, in Chicago. After spending years with social anxiety and undergoing counseling, he was eventually diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Still, he overcame the challenges before him, graduating from Monmouth College with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies. Off and on, he worked on and eventually published his debut novel, Getting By, named a finalist in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Jaire hopes to inspire and nurture aspiring authors and, through his work, champion marginalized voices facing similar struggles to him.