How good am I?

I have no idea. I can’t say. And that makes it very hard to promote my work. In fact, any type of self-promotion is really difficult. But as I keep getting told, it’s a vital part of being an author. To me, there is something inherently uncomfortable about promoting my own writing. Reading and writing are such subjective notions and there is as much diversity in the likes and dislikes of the reading consumer as there is in any other aspect of popular culture.

So how do you establish a baseline for the quality of your material? What do you use to tell people that they should read your work? Would the HDs or the Dean’s Excellence Award in my Master of Creative Writing be of any use? I’ve heard a lot of industry professionals dismiss Creative Writing courses as irrelevant to success in the publication industry. Does it then become dependent on what you write? Is it appropriate to talk about talent or technical ability in constructing narrative, or do you rely solely on the genre content?

Is it the sales you clock up on your eBooks? But these don't mean much unless you hit the Top 100 on Amazon or iTunes. Can you use the ratings on eBook distributors such as Smashwords? How do you kick-start these numbers?

Putting your work out there for public scrutiny is a daunting task. And unless you are fortunate (or wealthy) enough to have a publicist for this purpose, it is the responsibility of the author to, at the very least, make people aware of your book. Now awareness is one thing, but how do you get them to actually read the work?

There are lots of ideas out there about promoting your work. I’ve read about ‘pushing’ your books using social media, on the bottom of every email you send, using business cards, mass text messages, and carrying promo material around with you so you never miss an opportunity to spruik. None of this really sits well with me. I don’t want to become a pain in the butt to my personal network. I’d love for friends to read and comment on my work if they felt comfortable enough to do so, but I don’t want to pressure people into feeling obliged. And then there's the need to move beyond your personal network if you are to see any kind of increase in sales and/or profile.

I love the solitary nature of being a writer and I’m a bit of a social recluse by nature. I’m much more comfortable (and effective) when I’m communicating in writing than I am verbally ― unless it relates to singing my own accolades, then I’m left wanting on both counts. So how does an author get their work known? How do you draw attention to yourself when you ordinarily do what you can to avoid drawing attention to yourself? How do you do it?

Perfection and Procrastination

It seems to be a problem for every writer I’ve come across. Many claim to hold the Ultimate Procrastinator title. But I have to say, it belongs to me - I am the Queen of Procrastination.

There, I’ve said it. Publicly. Is that what it takes to free me of this terrible curse? I hope so. It’s not as if I don’t love being writer - I absolutely do! I love the relative solitude of the writer lifestyle, I love getting lost in plots, conversing with characters while walking the dog; I love the dream-state of turning anything and everything into a story-line, I love workshopping my manuscript in my writing group.

Above all, I love whiling away the hours sitting in front of my computer, just me and my plot. And Facebook and Twitter and Email and Skype and YouTube and… and there it is! A day gone by and not a word written. Ugh! Sometimes day after day. But there are things I have to do, people I have to chat with, vids I have to see. How else would I stay on top of the solitary lifestyle a writer has?

It’s not as if I intend to let the days slip by. I have three out of seven days each week dedicated to writing. Three days of the week for working. And one day for other stuff. Except for school holidays - these are for writing. Exclusively. It’s the perfect scenario. Each year I intend to increase the writing time and reduce the working time by one day a week until I can support myself as a writer full-time.

It’s a great plan. Except for the procrastination. I’d be almost there. Except for the procrastination. There has to be a cure for this terrible affliction. There has to be a way to overcome that which is pushing the completion of my novel further and further away…

Anyone…?

Writers Groups – Constructive or Destructive?

I have experienced the best and worst of my fellow writers this past week. All in the same context - writers group. There is no denying the value of a writer’s group, but what happens when it goes wrong? And what can you do about it?

A writer’s group, also known as critiquing group, typically exists to give feedback during the development process of a novel. Members of the group read, or hear the work read, and respond with constructive criticisms designed to enhance the development of the piece. Comments and criticisms relate to aspects of the writing such as character development, voice, point of view, consistency of tense, plot development and structure, among other things.

As anyone who has written (or attempted to write) a full length manuscript knows, it is easy to get lost in your own vision, your own story. I thought the first manuscript I wrote (the one that remains unpublished in the bottom drawer of my desk) was fantastic, a masterpiece! That was until I read it out loud some years later. Now I cringe with embarrassment when I think about it, and wish I’d thought to join a writers’ group way back then.

The manuscript I’m working on now (my third) will probably be my strongest. Why? Because each week in my writers’ group, my fellow Authors tear it apart. Well, maybe not tear it apart, but they do tell me what is wrong with it and why. Sometimes it is hard to hear. Sometimes the scenes I think are awesome, they suggest cutting (yes, every writer has heard about ‘killing your darlings’ but it doesn’t make it any easier). Sometimes the bits that I think are boring, they say are important for plot development. Sometimes I think one or more of them are wrong and I ignore them (at my own peril, I know), but mostly they are right - and I love them for it. Because I trust them. Because I know they have my best interests at heart, as I do theirs.

The inherent value that lies in constructive criticism cannot be underestimated for any author developing a manuscript. Any manuscript, in any genre benefits from this kind of deconstruction. So what happens when someone who struggles with accepting criticism, no matter how constructive, joins such a group?

A writing/critiquing group that provides endless empty positive platitudes is more destructive than it is constructive. It serves no purpose at all and is not fair to the writer sharing the work - it provides no basis for development. But what do you do when a writer receiving constructive suggestions fires back with personal attacks?

Well, you could do nothing, and watch as the group dynamic changes, regular members stop attending, people start feeling intimidated and getting defensive, until the group eventually dissolves. Or you could step out of the firing line and allow your fellow writers to be very clear about what is, and is not, acceptable within the context of a critiquing group. And if you are lucky enough to be part of a positive, productive, functional group of writers that holds high esteem and mutual respect and trust for each others work, this is exactly what will happen - in no uncertain terms!

Writers groups are a wonderful, valuable and I believe, essential means for developing a manuscript. But it is crucial to get the ‘right’ mix of people for it to remain so. I love my writers group.

A Risk Worth Taking?

I wrote my last post as a stream of consciousness about ePublishing following a Writer’s Festival I attended. The festival at the NSW Writers Centre was great, but the subtle conversational subtext between authors and publishers, as well as the open discussions between proponents of the ‘New World’ of publishing and traditional publishing set me a-thinking even further.

I dived into the blogosphere and read and surfed and read. What I found was enlightening. The negativity out there surrounding ePublishing mostly seems to come from Traditional Publishers - not so surprising given they’re the ones set to lose.

I also found some very interesting points of view about the negative perceptions of people who self-publish, and why they may exist. John Locke, who has recently reached his one millionth eBook sale, and is on the NYT best seller list, gives his analysis of the reasons for the negativity as being a matter of survival for the publishers. After all, it is in their best interests that those who dare to promote their own work be thought of as 'less than' credible. And Robin Sullivan writing for the blog Publishing Perspectives, talks about the new ‘mid-listers’ who are successfully forging a full-time career out of writing and publishing their own eBooks. It's a changing world out there.

Sure, it’s a risk. I am a published writer, but now I want to write fiction. I want to be a novelist. And I want to be able to do it full-time. The questions I have to ask myself are, am I ready to walk away from submitting to traditional publishers? Am I willing to take the risk and publish as an eBook?

I've already had some success by being awarded an Australian Society of Authors Mentorship for my novel, Fake Profile. And I had the wonderful experience of having iconic Australian Author Hazel Edwards as a very supportive and encouraging mentor.

My book is ready to go. I have the marketing plan in place, I’m pretty sure there’s a niche market for this type of novel, but I just can’t get a publisher interested. So…

I took the plunge! I used Smashwords as my distributor and listed it as an eBook in iBooks on the Apple iTunes site, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Diesel, Kobo and Scrollmotion.

I’ve already had enough sales to warrant sorting out my U.S. IRS forms, but more importantly, I’ve started getting positive feedback via random reviewers on Smashwords as well as the Barnes & Noble and iTunes sites!

It’s all looking very good so far, but time will tell. At 60% royalties with Smashwords as my distributor, and consistent online marketing, who knows where it will all lead. But what I do know, is that I am no longer waiting and wondering and stressing about traditional publishers. I am in control of my own destiny.

And it feels great!