Guess what?

So many people walk around this earth with no idea
how to communicate their gifts to the world.

But you, dear writer, have already found your language.
Now it’s simply time to trust YOUR voice.

With love and total belief in you,
Marni Freedman

Welcome to The Feisty Writer!

Ummm, what is it exactly…

A New Blog for Feisty Writers Everywhere

What does it mean to be a feisty writer? Is it for me?

Well…

  • Are you ready to take your career into your own hands?
  • Are you looking for ways to improve your craft without being bored out of your mind?
  • Are you looking for new techniques that will actually get you to the page?
  • Are you seeking a writer-tested-and-approved method to complete your novel, memoir, screenplay, or play?
  • Are you a severe procrastinator with a fierce inner critic?

 

Guess what?

We are your tribe.

Don’t Wait to Get Advice on Marketing a Book

Pink hourglassI love marketing books. However, it’s inevitable—I hang up the phone after receiving a call from another prospective client, and the last words I hear before we sign off are: “I wish I’d spoken with you sooner.”

I hear this same lament over and over again. Mainly because a good number of the authors who are call (and often it’s their first call to any publicist) didn’t complete some of the crucial marketing steps that must take place before they release their books.

When It’s Too Late for Marketing to Help

In many cases, it’s too late for me to help them. Especially if the authors have already done one or more of the following:

  • waited over a year before trying to get publicity for a book already released
  • didn’t develop a social media platform
  • didn’t have their covers professionally designed
  • didn’t have their books professionally edited
  • signed publishing contracts without reading them
  • allowed publishers only to issue their books in hardcover
  • released their books late in the year
  • didn’t workshop their manuscripts before publishing
  • wrote a book in a genre that is overcrowded or difficult to sell
  • wrote a book that doesn’t have a newsworthy angle or point of view.

Arguing Doesn’t Help

When I mention that these situations that might make it difficult for me to help market their books, I inevitably receive the following arguments:

  • but I didn’t know that a book should be marketed within the first six to eight months after release
  • but I’m computer-phobic and don’t know how to use social media
  • but I’m a good artist and my friends and family like my book covers
  • but I was an English major and don’t need an editor. Or my publisher is going to edit my book (even though the publisher is most likely not a professional editor)
  • but the publisher told me that she or he would do ________ (so I didn’t read the contract)
  • but the publisher said that she or he would issue the book in softcover after I sold an (unknown) amount of hardcovers
  • but I didn’t know that releasing a book in late winter would make it difficult to promote because of the holidays and that most venues will be already booked for the year
  • but my cancer survival/parental issues/adoption story or memoir doesn’t have to be unique—everyone I know likes it
  • but the fact that I wrote the book makes it newsworthy.

Successful Authors Listen and Seek Advice Early

In many of these cases, the authors don’t like what I have to say. They try to convince me that somehow I’m wrong about these important steps. Some of them try to tell me that because a few reviewers liked the book, they feel they can somehow bypass the rules. And some of them don’t listen at all—instead, they call to tell me how important their books are and, thus, whatever I have to say doesn’t matter to them.

In the end, every author has the right to do whatever he or she wants with his or her book. But if authors (especially new authors) want to be successful at selling their books, they have to be willing to educate themselves about the selling process. And they must realize that marketing is different from what they learned (or, in many cases, didn’t take the time to learn) about creating a successful book.

Book Marketing Basics

What I end up suggesting to those who call me with these issues is the following:

  • educate yourself about the book industry. Know the statistics and requirements for your genre and be realistic about where your book might stand if your genre is difficult to sell
  • educate yourself about the promotion process: take classes, attend workshops, go to conferences, read books on marketing, and talk with other authors who have successfully published and sold their books
  • don’t wait to hire a publicist: make contact (preferably by email) at least four to six months before the book is released
  • don’t be afraid of social media—learn how to set up and manage at least one or two sites (I recommend Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads) and place your blog posts on all of them, including your website (get help from a social media consultant if you find this process too daunting)
  • plan to promote your book during the first six to eight months immediately after the book is released
  • don’t ever release a book that hasn’t been edited by a paid professional
  • never design your book cover
  • don’t sign a publishing contract without reading it word-for-word and, if anything is unclear, discussing it with a publishing attorney
  • don’t let a publisher talk you into only releasing your book in hardcover—hardcovers are too expensive for readers and booksellers won’t stock them. Insist on softcover and ebook versions, or pass on the opportunity
  • don’t release a book at the end of the year (any time after October is too late); instead, plan to release in either January or February. That way you have the entire spring and summer to schedule events, make appearances, and promote
  • don’t assume because you received one or two positive reviews that selling the book will be easy
  • don’t assume that because you have an interest in your content/story that others will feel the same way you do.

My Best Book Marketing Advice

Finally, my ultimate advice to all authors is to write the best book you possibly can. For most, this means workshopping the manuscript with a writing group and taking the feedback that is given to heart. I see too many books that should never have been published. Not only because they have been improperly produced, but because the writing level is not where it should be to compete in today’s crowded market. Educate yourself about the promotion process as early as possible. Make sure your book is truly ready to be released into the world.

 

Five Stages of Editing a Novel

Editing a novel is a thick fucking task, there are no buts about it. Anyone who says it’s easy is an asshole and/or a liar. If you’re working on your first draft, here are the stages you’ll go through, complete with tears, laughter, madness, and despair.

THE FIVE STAGES OF EDITING A NOVEL

1. Euphoria

Holy shit, I wrote a book! That’s what happens immediately after you type THE END, and it feels like fucking magic. Like you have lightning bolts coming out of your fingertips, and you are suddenly the figure in your imagination, churning out blessed words that people the world over will clamor to read, hear, and speak.

2. Panic

Holy shit, I wrote a book! This stage happens about five minutes after the first stage but lasts much longer. This is where you bite your lip as you stare at the literal REAM of paper you just printed out, and you ask yourself, nay, berate yourself for writing 86,000 words. Do I have to figure out where the glitches are? How will I ever find them? Why didn’t I just write a limerick instead? Woe is me! I’ll never finish! (Or if you’re especially dramatic and have a flair for languages, you might say “Dios mio!” And press the back of your wrist to your forehead, and possibly faint.). That’s how I roll.

3. Fear

There’s a good chance that you now treat that manuscript like it’s a rattlesnake, and boy is that rattle going. You don’t want to touch that stack of cellulose for anything in the world. It might burn you, or you may burn it, just out of spite and self-destruction. You put it in a corner of your house when you get tired of giving it a wide berth every time you walk into the house and turn on the television. It may grow into a ghost of sorts, haunting you in your sleep, and having strangers come over and stare at you wide-eyed, while they point hesitantly and say, “W-w-w-what’s that?”

4. The Ceremonial Eating of the FROG.

This is where you actually exorcise that fucking demon and pull it into the light, blow the dust off, and start reading. You have your trusty pen in hand to wipe away the drivel you wrote before, and you smile when you come across a piece that reminds you how much you enjoy writing. Alternately, you feel like a genius and a moron as you read what you wrote. You work through your manuscript like Indiana Jones hacks through the jungle (with a machete and roguish smile), and then you make those changes to the actual file like you’re seizing a flag at the top of Mount Everest. Good for you, you fucking baller. You mountain-climbing, jungle-thrashing, ghost-killing BOSS. You’ll continue to oscillate between steps 2, 3, and 4 for a while, so buckle up.

5. The Unburdening

You’ve gone through the stages multiple times, and you didn’t think you were ever going to make it. You probably missed someone’s birthday in there (hint: it was your own), and you can’t remember the names of the people living in your home with you, but you made it. You’ve grown a hump from hunching over both manuscript and keyboard, and you recoil from sunlight like a vampire. But you know what? You got through it. You’ve gone through all the stages and lived, just like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, or (for something a little less gruesome), Nicholas Cage in National Treasure. And you have your treasure, and it’s ready to go off on its own with a cute little backpack and a walking stick, and charm everyone it meets along the way, while you start the next book, because you can’t wait to repeat these five stages AGAIN.

Photo Credit: Stock Snap

Strategies for Beating Summertime Writing Blues

a picture of beach sand with the word success carved into the sandTime for some painful honesty.

I was more fidgety than the students I teach in anticipating summer. I couldn’t wait to revise my memoir without interference from my full-time job as a college professor. Gershwin’s song became an earworm: “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy . . .”

Summer 2017 lingered in memory as an ideal I sought to recreate. It had been my first experience of feeling like a “real” writer. I woke early, dove into revising and suspended in a flow. My enthusiasm often outlasted my body’s willingness to hunker in front of a screen, so I went for an afternoon run, walk, or yoga class. Then I returned to revising, brimming with ideas that exercise and a shower had shaken loose.

By August 1st, I had rewritten my book’s second or third draft (I’d lost track). I felt proud of my rewrite’s unique structure, which I’d arrived at by sticking and unsticking color-coded Post-It Notes to my office door as if playing Tetris. I liked the structure’s resemblance to lattice, its layered imagery and echoing themes. I liked how closely that structure mirrored the content, which describes how learning to ride horses in my late 30s helped me recover from a decades’ long eating disorder and accompanying depression. The book felt like a true representation of who I am as a writer.

With the Dog Days breathing down my neck, I pivoted to prepping classes and hatched a plan: spend the academic year querying agents, entering contests, and building my author platform.

I attended a pitch conference in September, where a senior editor at one of America’s largest publishers requested my manuscript. I was thrilled but realistic, aware that a request was worlds away from an offer to publish. I also held the suspicion that every editor/agent we pitched to requested a few manuscripts regardless of intent to publish so we writers would leave happy and conference organizers would extend more invitations to earn stipends.

Months passed. The senior editor remained mute. Two agents not affiliated with the conference requested my manuscript, but neither wanted to represent it. Rejections trickled into my email inbox.

March 2018’s slog toward Spring, along with feedback from agents, forced me to some conclusions about my memoir:

  1. its premise was interesting
  2. its voice was appealing
  3. its structure was off-putting.

Agents, it seems, want a memoir that adheres to Freytag’s Pyramid, the familiar structure girding nearly every creative work, from ancient Greek plays like Oedipus Rex to 1940s novels like George Orwell’s 1984 to 21st century short stories like George Saunders’ “The 10th of December.”

I’d gambled on a structure and lost, so I stopped submitting. I put plans for a new writing project on hold and resolved to spend summer 2018 restructuring my memoir.

I submitted final grades gleefully in May and then . . . did everything possible to avoid my memoir.

Revising to please others (instead of myself) held no appeal. My book’s content felt stale—far removed from the experiences that had inspired it—and trampled by over-editing. And I couldn’t escape the knowledge that I might spend a precious, too-short Minnesota summer plodding through work I dreaded only to end up without publication to show for it.

June 1 came and went. I had to decide: Do the work or chuck the book. I finally managed to unearth some excitement about revising with help from some essential tools:

  • Self-help books. While looking for texts that would help my students learn time management, I came across Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Her book encourages readers to identify their preferences in order to form good habits. A passage on novelty versus familiarity answered questions I’d puzzled over for years: Why I did tackle some challenges eagerly but avoid others? The answer was my preference for novelty. While some people find familiarity comforting, I find it irritating. I crave discovery. Understanding that preference turned a character flaw into a small solvable problem: Hate the repetitive nature of vacuuming? Listen to a podcast while doing it. Dread revising a memoir? Find some new tools.

 

  • New tools. As a starry-eyed creative writing program graduate in 2003, I bought novel-writing software called Power Structure. Then I left the installation CD untouched. But I broke it out this summer. Learning a new program adds novelty to a familiar process. The software also presents options I’d never considered for experimenting with plot, character, and narrative tension.

 

  • Different environments. I struggle to write in the home office where I create syllabi and grade essays. My two professional roles—writer and teacher—require different mental framework. Simply moving from the office to the dining room table helped my brain shift gears.

 

  • Other writers. At my lowest point, I considered giving up writing altogether. Conversations with other writers lured me back to the keyboard by reminding me that we all sit on an emotional seesaw, that failure is a means rather than an end. A colleague who read my book’s first draft suggested beginning the revision with an event I’d mentioned in passing—something I hadn’t considered writing about. As soon as she suggested it, I could envision how perfectly it would set up the book’s central conflict. Viola! More novelty to fuel my fire.

 

  • Support Networks. Talking to my sister revealed how unreasonable I was in expecting an overnight transition from teaching to writing. Our conversation also reminded me of the two-year creative drought that followed my Ph.D. Every time I sat down to write, I heard my dissertation advisor poking fun at my proposal draft, saying that including transitional phrases was “bad writing,” and declaring I must start every sentence with one of three phrases she dictated. The power imbalance in our relationship convinced me she was right about my writing despite what tutoring graduate students in a university writing center had taught me. A supportive writing group helped me recover then, and it would now, too.

 

  • Value Mindset. Maybe it’s hubris, but I think my book offers value, especially to people battling negative body image, bearing depression’s weight, doubting the power of mind-body-spirit alignment, or seeking to understand what horses teach us about ourselves. I want to share hard-won insights so that others can avoid my mistakes. Believing in my book’s purpose adds meaning to a process that too often seems pointless.

I’m in the exposition phase of revising (again), so this post leaves Freytag’s Pyramid incomplete. Here’s hoping my summer plot thickens . . .  

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/1909823/

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