Growth Along the Writing Journey

As a panelist on the WriteOnCon session “We Were All New Writers Once: Growth on the Journey,” I spent some time reflecting, of course, on my own writing journey.

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Here’s the thing: I honestly never thought I’d be a writer.

My daughter disagrees. She says from what I’ve told her, at every turn I was a writer…from the boxes and boxes of saved handwritten letters (each one means I wrote to them first), to papers I claimed to have loved writing in school (including my dissertation), to comedy & theatre sketches, to the way I somehow always ended up writing at work whether it was news releases or ghostwritten technical papers or business plans. She even mentioned the mock Christmas newsletters I used to send out, like when I claimed she toured Europe in sold-out piano concertos (she was 7) and one son had unlocked the secret to the Dead Sea Scrolls (he was 5) and the other had been banned in the Midwest for his expert ninja skills (he was 3). [I guess I was always creative if nothing else.] Yes, I had stints as on-air and newspaper reporters too, but they came as a result of a corporate job where, to make a long story short, I ended up co-writing a syndicated newspaper column on a fluke.

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Or was it a fluke?

Did I unknowingly will it to happen? Have I always been a writer?

My daughter’s accusation, if you will, really caught me off guard. But OK. Maybe I really have always been a writer even if I didn’t realize it until this week. Maybe it’s that I never thought I’d be an author. But honestly, aren’t they really the same thing?

I realized I have always been drawn to — what…places? work?… — where writing plays a large role. What a great creative outlet! And you’re in control the whole time. Don’t like what you’ve written? Go back and fix it. Get feedback that what you’ve written isn’t right, or good? Well it’s not like math–right or wrong. It’s subjective. So you don’t have to like what I’ve written. I do! It’s the perfect loophole, lol.

Surely that “you can’t tell me it’s wrong” caveat gets tricky when it comes to being published. The other person HAS to like what you’re writing in order to publish it, unless you are self publishing. Even then, there are grammar rules, punctuation, etc. People have to like your writing in order to buy it. It’s not exactly a free-for-all. But as a writer, I am in control of everything! I write when I want. What I want. I certainly take what others say into consideration. I honor proper English and don’t go rogue on spelling or manuscript formatting or query protocol. I have several critique partners that I couldn’t live without. I definitely do my research, attend conferences, and listen to experts. I learn and adapt. I feel I improve a little every day. I don’t do it for anyone else, any more than someone who practices free shots in their driveway over and over does it for any one other than themselves. (Are they trying to impress the neighbors? Get an NBA contract? No. They just want to get better at free throws. They earn a sense of accomplishment, of work well done.)

My daughter had a point. Maybe my journey started before I even knew I was on board, and all that time I spent writing earlier in life helped land me where I am now.

And my journey isn’t over. Far from it.

Maybe your journey started years ago too. Maybe it’s starting right now. No matter when it began, your writing journey can go wherever you want it to! You are in control, my friend.

Your writing is yours. Only you can write what you write, from your perspective, with your voice, with your knowledge base. And so too is your writing journey. Only you can decide where and how to map it out. Only you decide how often you write, how often you edit, how seriously you take professional feedback and direction. It might be up to another person to say yes or no as far as a contract, but its up to you to get your work to the point where they simply can’t say no! Write once in a while? Great. Just don’t expect grand success if you’re not hammering away regularly. Even the best natural writers won’t succeed unless they–wait for it–SIT DOWN AND WRITE.

It takes time. Probably more time that you’re gonna want it to take. Other people will succeed before you. But that’s their journey, not yours. Keep at it. You might not have all the time in the world right now. No one does. It might be really hard to see how to get from point A to point B if you can’t even make it through the day. We’ve all been there! If you can only afford a few hours a week for now, that’s okay. Relish those few hours a week! Work smarter so those 20 minute a day can be even more productive than an open day where “let me just finish this last email” leads to three hours of wasted time. It’s your time, respect it. It doesn’t have to be strictly in front of your computer. Block off time on the calendar and temporarily cut off the internet. Eat lunch alone outside under a tree and speak your notes into your phone. Brainstorm while folding laundry. Find a pen-pal to swap ideas and manuscripts with (note: be upfront with what you are looking for: do you want ongoing positive reinforcement or true honest feedback?)(not that they are mutually exclusive!). Try to do one thing every day to move your path forward, even if it’s one tiny step…but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Or three.

Your journey can only move forward if you’re in motion!

Mainly: take yourself seriously. Allow yourself that daily distraction-free time, even if nothing immediately usable comes of it. Nothing creative is wasted anyway. You’ll reuse it in some form, either by learning from it (finding out it’s not a direction you want the story to go, for example, is great progress!) or from the positivity you just allowed yourself to embrace.

Don’t forget the “journey” part of the writing journey means it’s a process, not a one-time event. The journey might be spotty and frustrating at times, but it will also be rewarding and wonderful. Stick with it, even if it’s just for fun. Not everything we write has to have the ultimate goal of being published. Some of our best writings never have to be read by anyone but ourselves. We can be proud of our work no matter where it sits. The important thing is that we’re writing–present tense.

Never thought you’d BE A WRITER?

You already are.

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Creating an Author Platform

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Quick quiz: You’re told you need to work on your “Author Platform.” You:

  • A. Smile politely, then go back to searching online for cute cat outfits
  • B. Nod, smile, then furiously Google “author platform” hoping you’re not the last to know what the heck that is
  • C. Think “Oh, yeah it really is time I update and interact with my social media” [Facebook, Twitter, Insta, blog and/or website], then dig right in
  • D. B or C but definitely not A (unless it was a really good sale)

Correct answer: D

What is an Author Platform? And why do you need to care?

Let’s break it down. Author. Platform. It’s like a compound word. (Author Platforms or Writer Platforms, no matter what you call it, are the same thing, don’t get hung up on author vs writer. For the sake of ease, we’ll use the terms synonymously here. I’m also capitalizing the words here for effect, which is unnecessary elsewhere.) What does the phrase mean?

As defined, a writer or an author is someone who has written something. A platform is a raised surface, something you’d stand onfor better visibility. Like a stage. Put the words together and you’ve got an image of a writer standing on a, well, platform, a little taller than everyone around them. They stand out; you can spot them in a crowd.

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That’s the writer you want to be.

You want to be the writer/author that people can find easily or can recognize…the one that stands out. And you’ll need a platform on order to do it.

“Author Platform: your visibility as an author, utilizing your personal ability to sell books through who you are, the connections you have, and the media outlets you use.” –Writer’s Digest

Branding

I think of the term as a less-commercial way of saying “author branding.” It means how you present yourself to the public, and how you are seen/viewed by readers, agents, editors, fellow writers/artists and anyone else paying attention. It’s a way of showing your unique qualities that “brand” you as a person, as a writer, or artist…with the ultimate goal of leading to book sales.

Don’t confuse it with image. Image implies something perceived. You’ll be putting the real, flawed you out there, just like you do for your main characters. An Author Platform should be based on truth. You’re not an actor hiring a publicity agent to get media attention. You’re you, showing who you are, with the ultimate goal that the likable you is worthy of following or noting or reading or acknowledging, and it will at some point lead to book sales. Isn’t that why school visits, book signings, special promotions, launch parties and all that exist: to sell books? Well you’re the in-person version of that, the walking billboard, the neon sign, the ever-friendly smile of customer service, open 24/7. Except when you’re asleep. Or driving. Or whatever. You know what I mean.

You are NOT shaking hands and asking people to buy your book all the time, oh no, you’re missing the point if that’s what you just ran off and started doing. No one is going to follow or buy the book from a guy that’s sending pestering Tweets or spamming Facebook posts or always standing up in groups asking people to buy their books after the meeting. Boy is that annoying or what? I hate that guy. What I’m saying is you are your brand. You represent you. So be respectable. Make me like you. Make me WANT to buy your book. If you do it right, you will probably never have to say the words “Buy my book.” I’ll decide I want to on my own.

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Note this is a Writer Platform, not a book platform. This is about you, not your book. Why?
Because you’re more than one book. If you brand yourself too closely with one title, on the next book you’ll have to do it all over again. That confuses people. They can handle lots of books, but they only want one you. Brand yourself correctly and all your books will easily fall under that one umbrella…you!

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Public Perception

Everything you post online becomes a part of your brand. Your Tweets, your FB posts, your blog updates. Your forwards, your shares, your likes. It all shapes the person people see. Those who have never met you can only form an opinion based on what they see. And that’s based on what you do. How you reply to comments. What you post or repost. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. The way you talk to your friends. The way they talk to you, even. It all paints a picture.

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2016 NY Writers Conference: Who’s With Me?

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I’m headed to one of the largest children’s book writing conferences in the world: the SCBWI Winter Conference (why our annual winter conference is in NY [where it’s supposed to be 8° this weekend] and the summer conference is in LA, I’ll never understand, but that’s another topic.) And OVER A THOUSAND fellow writers and illustrators will be there too. The event boasts many top (dare I say famous) editors, agents, art directors, authors & illustrators in the children’s publishing world. It’s going to be a fantastic few days of learning, inspiration, and friend making.

The large mix of attendees is weighted a little heavily towards the beginner, with many in the intermediate and many many in what I’d call the “seasoned professional” category. The NY conference is a little different from other SCBWI conferences in that, given the proximity to so many publishing houses, it practically rains editors and agents. You’ll see them at conference keynotes, intensives, panels, awards ceremonies, heck, even elevators. Some of them just show for the Art Show or Gala Dinner. Many of them are either new or overworked and don’t travel much, so you won’t see them elsewhere.

If you’ve never been, and have wondered if it’s worth it, I have to give it a hearty YES YES, two cramped writing thumbs up. And not just because I love my NY roots and will find any excuse to go back. But because it’s a writing experience like no other. It’s not a pore-over-your-workshop-notes-and-guarantee-yourself-an-aha-moment. It’s a wow-I’m-really-a-writer-surrounded-by-other-writers-and-this-is-where-I-want-to-be-moment. If you don’t have one of those while you’re there, well, you might not be a writer after all. And that’s OK, too. Isn’t that an important learning moment as well? No matter what you walk away with, I promise you won’t regret your decision to attend. There’s a reason a thousand people from around the world will be at this thing.

Now if you happen to be one of these thousands of fellow conference attendees this week or sometime in the future, and are fearing for your life because you’d rather be in your jammies creating in the privacy of your home and not in the middle of a grand ballroom surrounded by all these cat ladies, here are some conference tips to maximize your trip.

Conference tips:

  1. You’re not going to get a contract (seriously, toss that thought right now), but you WILL make contacts. These connections might lead to a contract some day. But don’t pressure yourself, or others. Listen. Learn. Be present. Follow some new people on Twitter and Facebook (follow this blog!). It’s kind of like college-you aren’t really there to memorize the Periodic Table; you’re Continue reading

3 Ways to Rock Your Bio

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right? Your bio may be the only time someone decides if they’re going to invest more time or energy into getting to know you, into hiring you, or into trusting you. So you want to put your best foot forward. Make that both feet.

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This image was brazenly and randomly stolen off the internet

1. Know Your Audience  What is the bio for? A book flap? Conference? Website? School visit? Who is reading it? Make sure your qualifications match the reason you’re there as a speaker, writer, professional. You’re a complicated (yet attractive) beast with many facets. You can’t possibly put everything down every time; nor would you want to. Play up your experience for that circumstance, adapting as needed. If you’ve written a piece on molecular biology, your stint in improv has no place in that bio. Your experience as a second grade teacher might, if the piece was written for grade schoolers. If it’s for college level, though, just mention being a teacher. Do you see what I mean? Highlight what uniquely qualifies you or makes you stand out for that situation. Do your audience the Continue reading

Pay to Enter a Writing Contest?

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There are some sneaky things going on in the writing world that you might not find sneaky. But I do. And I’m calling it out.

Writing contests. Mostly the kinds where you send in unpublished works.

It seems everyone and their mother, literally their mother, has some sort of reader’s or writer’s choice award. All you have to do is pay a small fee, say $19 to enter your manuscript or book into the contest. WHY ARE YOU PAYING MONEY TO ENTER A WRITING CONTEST? At least at the state fair you get a free fair pass in exchange for your peach pie entry fee. If it’s for charity, of course, yes yes pony up. But otherwise NO. As in NO.

What do you win? Let’s dissect a bit.

It might be bragging rights that you won a writing contest. That’s OK. It doesn’t have to be a trip to Sweden to accept the award.

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Maybe it’s simple a ribbon or actual award/plaque. Fine. Still not a reason to cough up dough. Don’t tell me they are charging you to cover the cost of the actual award. Oh please.

Why would you pay money to say someone liked your unpublished story? Will it help you move forward, professionally, in some way? Really? Don’t fork over cash just to have your ego massaged. Volunteer somewhere if you feel the need for that kind of ego boost. Or I can tell you: You are a good person. You have value. Your writing is great. I think you’ll amount to something someday. Really. I believe in you. Please don’t waste your money.

Ask yourself these questions:

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Revision: Taking A Step Back

 

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Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?

Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.

After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.

Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:

Dear Bitsy,

Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.

A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.

A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about. Continue reading

8 Writing Tips in 8 Minutes: Bitsy’s tips for the newbie picture book writer

Are you one of the over 200 peeps headed to the SCBWI CA North/Central 2015 Spring Spirit writer’s conference? (wow, that was a mouthful) Are you looking for some beginner’s tip? Take a look here…”8 Writers Tips for Beginner Picture Book Writers” (uh,yeah, that was a mouthful too…don’t that that sway you on my mad writing skillz)

 

Hope to see you Saturday!

Current Status of Children’s Book Market, according to SCBWI NY 2015

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Ah, so much went on at the international conference that I’m still basking in the fruitfulness. I’m pretty sure that’s not an expression, but you know what I mean. I’ve tweeted out much of the greatness. I’ve culled some more juicy tidbits to share, in random order:

1. Webinars are popular and great for those farther away from the masses. Expect to see more.

2. Webinars are NOT a replacement of in-person conferences, workshops, or gatherings. They are in addition to them. Nothing beats face to face contact.

3. Editors and agents find/book authors and illustrators at conferences, people they wouldn’t otherwise hear from. Repeatedly. Attend roundtables, submit your work for critique. The additional cost is worth it.

4.  With the field so crowded, editors and agents are looking for something that “blows them away.” Really good no longer cuts it.

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5. There’s no award for speed in this industry. Give your work the time it deserves.

6. Hardcovers, after a bit of a slump, are on the rise!

7. Picture books are getting shorter, funnier…”an economy of text.”

and, my favorite takeaway from the enter conference:

8. “The importance of what we’re doing will never go away”

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Thoughts? Comments? Bring ’em.

Twitter 101: The Basics, For Writers

Twitter 101 for Writers Part One

The past few writers’ conference presentations I’ve given about Author Platforms have prompted many of the same questions. Most surround social media. I’m gonna tackle one biggie here: Twitter. Let’s look at the very basic concept of Twitter in this post, for the true beginner. How to use it effectively will be a different post, so be sure to keep looking around on my site if you need more help or detail.

“I know what Twitter is, but I don’t know how to use it like I should. Is there a specific process?” “Why do I want to use Twitter in the first place?” “What is Twitter anyway?” Let’s start with the very basics. Here are some definitions of Twitter:

  • Twitter is the best way to connect with people, express yourself and discover what’s happening. – Twitter

That’s kinda broad. Let’s look at a different definition:

  • Twitter is a free social networking microblogging service that allows registered members to broadcast short update posts called tweets. –WhatIs.com

Okay, that’s not really helpful at all. Let’s give it one more try:

  • A stupid site for stupid people with no friends, who think everyone else gives a sh*t what they’re doing at any given time. –UrbanDictionary.com

Haha well that sure is one way to look at it! I view Twitter as a huge cocktail party. You interact as much as you want, you come in and out of conversations as you see fit, you listen to other people rant or rave, you observe trends and popular topics, you initiate some conversations and contribute to others, you walk around to see what’s happening over in that side of the room, and yes maybe you enjoy a few people so much that you follow them around a little bit.

Looking at some statistics, it’s clear that social media is here to stay.

  • Facebook: 1.23 Billion users as of Dec 2013, 81% outside of U.S. (Facebook.com), 57% American adults, 73% 12-17 year olds (Pew Research)
  • LinkedIn: 277 million users as of Feb 2014 (Digital Marketing Ramblings)
  • Instagram (where you share photos and up to 15-second videos, image filters are offered): 150 million active users, 1.2 Billion likes/day (DMR, Feb 2014)
  • Vine (users share 6-second videos) : 40 million users (Vine)
  • Twitter: As of Aug 2013, Twitter reports

    280 Million users

    500 Million tweets/day

    Average 5,700 tweets PER SECOND

    135,000 new users/day

A tweet, or Twitter post, gives you 140 spaces, called characters, to say whatever you want. “Happy birthday” is 14 characters (without the quote marks), and “Happy birthday!” (without quotes) is 15. With quotes, they’d 16 and 17 characters. Anything that takes up a space, even a blank space, counts as one. The good news is you are forced to be brief. The bad news is it takes practice to get your point across succinctly.

Once you’ve got the hang of 140 characters, why keep going? What’s in it for you? Plenty. When used effectively, Twitter can:

8 Writing Tips in 8 Minutes: Bitsy’s tips for the newbie picture book writer

Thinking of writing a children’s book? Have you written one but not sure what to do with it? Well a-looky here, I’ve got some slick tips for you, dear beginner. It’ll be the best eight minutes of your day! (Unless you won the lottery, in which case may I say how beautiful you look today?)

Feel free to share the video on your own blog or website. Just please give a link back to me here, okay? Thanks, doll.

If you have tips or tricks that you’d like to share with fellow newbies, please let me know! You may be featured in a future video 🙂