I'm teaching a U.S. History class this year and recently we've been studying great American inventors and entrepreneurs. It's been a fascinating and enlightening study.
First I learned the definition of an entrepreneur:A person who organizes and manages a business undertaking. He or she is willing to risk failure for a chance at success.
Isn't that a cool definition? How willing are we to risk failure for the chance at success?
Andrew Carnegie was one such entrepreneur. Most of us probably only know him as the multi-millionaire philanthropist who became the largest producer of iron and steel in the United States. At the very least, most of us have heard of Carnegie Hall in NYC, a prestigious concert stage built by Andrew Carnegie in 1891.
But did you know that Carnegie was the son of poor Scottish immigrants? That he started working at the age of 13 as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill for $1.20 a week? He worked one menial job after another until by his mid-20's he worked his way up to a railroad executive. At age 30 he finally saved up enough capital to be able to go into business for himself. With savvy and many years of hard work, his business finally grew.
John D. Rockefeller was another entrepreneur. We know him today for developing Standard Oil and becoming a billionaire in the process. The famous Rockefeller Center in Manhattan consisting of 19 buildings (and the Rockefeller Plaza) was built by the Rockefeller family in the early 1900's.
Yet Rockefeller, like Carnegie, was of very humble origins. At age 16 he worked as an assistant bookkeeper for a merchant in Cleveland earning 50 cents a day. He kept working hard and getting promoted to better jobs. He saved money so that he could go into business for himself. He insisted on frugality and efficiency throughout his business, continually working hard while still maintaining quality products until his company eventually dominated the oil industry.
Another person that I totally admire is Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors in history. Among 1,093 inventions, his greatest contribution was the incandescent electric light bulb. While involved in his projects, he often worked tirelessly for days at a time in his laboratory.
There are a few Edison quotes that I especially love:
"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."
"I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work."
"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."
All three of these men were amazingly successful in their own ways. And as I studied them, I realized that if we want to become amazingly successful writers, we can take a few lessons from them.
1. Don't be afraid to start small and be a nobody for a while. These men weren't from prestigious families. They weren't loaded with connections in high places. Rather they started with the little they had and the sweat of their labor.
Too many writers want to skip over the years of being a nobody and jump right into being famous. But we have to remember that success often takes years and years. And during that time we have to work our way up the scale by the sweat of our labor.
2. Be willing to work long hours and persevere through failure. Carnegie and Rockefeller each had multiple jobs before landing "the one" that finally was successful. Edison's most famous quote is: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
We writers can't expect easy street. The road will more likely be littered with rejections, harsh reviews, and criticism, and we'll have stories stuffed in closets that "won't work." We need all of the failure before finally landing "the one" that will work.
3. Take risks, but always strive to put forward our best product. All three of the men had to step out of ordinary, comfortable, and accepted way of doing things. They led the way in change. They weren't afraid to try new methods even if there were risks involved. But at the same time, they pushed themselves to put forth their best work.
As writers, we too have to be willing to try new ways of writing, perhaps a new genre, new style, or new method of publication. Haven't you noticed that those who are at the forefront of a genre or movement are usually the ones who end up being the most successful?
That shouldgive us motivation to be innovative. But at the same time, we should never let anything stand in the way of always putting forth the very best books that we can possibly write.
How about YOU? Are you expecting success to be easy or are you willing to work long and hard for it?
HOW: Collect a clue and a favorite number (in RED) at each stop. Write them down as you go. At the final stop of the scavenger hunt, enter the clues into a Rafflecopter form.
WHAT: If you complete either the purple loop or pink loop, you can enter for a Kindle paperwhite and the 17 autographed books from that loop. If you complete both loops, you can enter for the Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire HDX and ALL 34 autographed books.
Make sure you check out the bottom of this post for the rest of the information you need for your clue and to continue to the next blog in the scavenger hunt!
My Special Scavenger Hunt Guest: Melanie Dickerson
Today as part of the scavenger hunt, I'm hosting the fabulous Melanie Dickerson another one of the authors participating in all the fun! (You'll visit her blog on the next stop in the scavenger hunt!)
Melanie Dickerson is the author of sweet and romantic fairy tale retellings set in Medieval Europe, the time of knights and castles and damsels who sometimes find themselves in distress. She currently lives with her husband, two daughters, and two guinea pigs in north Alabama, but you can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and her Website/Blog.
The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest is set in 1363 Medieval Germany, a time of knights and noblemen, kings and peasants.
A beautiful maiden who poaches to feed the poor. A handsome forester on a mission to catch her. Danger and love are about to unite in Thornbeck Forest.
The margrave owns the finest hunting grounds for miles around—and Odette Menkels spends her nights poaching his deer to feed the hungry orphans of Thornbeck. By day, Odette is a simple maiden who teaches children to read, but by night this young beauty has become the secret lifeline to the poorest of the poor.
For Jorgen Hartman, the margrave’s forester, tracking down a poacher is a duty he is all too willing to perform. Jorgen inherited his post from the man who raised him . . . a man who was murdered at the hands of a poacher.
When Jorgen and Odette meet at the Midsummer festival and share a connection during a dance, neither has any idea that they are already adversaries.
The one man she wants is bound by duty to capture her; the one woman he loves is his cunning target . . . What becomes of a forester who protects a notorious poacher? What becomes of a poacher when she is finally discovered?
Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?! To whet your appetite even more, here's an excerpt from the book:
It was that silly superstition. Anna had insisted she place her flower circlet under her pillow, along with a bunch of calendula and St. John’s wort, so she would dream of her future husband. But the only man she had dreamed of was Jorgen Hartman, the forester, throwing her into the dungeon. And even though his blue-green eyes made her heart thump hard against her chest, the dream had helped confirm her realization that she could never marry him.
Then her mind roamed to more immediate recollections. How many children would go hungry today because Odette had not been able to go hunting the night before, when there were too many people roaming the forest celebrating Midsummer? She had slept but little, having awakened from her dream feeling cold, the pungent smell of calendula in her nostrils.
“Forgive me, Brother Philip, but I am too tired to study today.”
He frowned at her. “No doubt you engaged in too much frivolity last night.”
“If you are thinking I went to the town center and danced with men I had never met before, you would be correct.” Odette couldn’t resist saying things she knew would evoke a look of shock on the monk’s face.
His expression of horrified disappointment was a little more than she had been aiming for.
Secret Word: WHAT Secret Number: 17 (The age of the heroine in my book)
BEFORE YOU GO: Please Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win my latest release An Uncertain Choice. USA Today says: "This YA novel is as lovely as a fairy tale, with just the right amount of surprises — revealed at just the right times — to keep you on your toes. With plenty of sigh-worthy moments, you’ll be quickly hooked into the story. "
LEAVE A COMMENT: What is your favorite time period for a book?
To be honest, I wish I didn't have to write a post like this. But lately I've had a slew of really annoying Facebook interactions and as a result have unfollowed some writers. Lest those writers think I'm calloused or too good to mingle, I thought I'd offer an explanation for my seemingly rude behavior.
First, I should start by saying that I have two Facebook accounts: my Personal Page and my Author Page. Obviously I have my author account as a place to share updates about my books, contests, and other reading related stuff. But my personal account is "public" and so I rarely turn down friend requests there, although creepy requests from strange males with strange names are usually a NO.
One of the main reasons that I accept most friend requests on my Personal Page is that when readers look me up on Facebook, they may run across my Personal Page first and send me a request without realizing that I have an Author Page. And since I like interacting with my readers and want to maintain an open and positive aura, I accept their requests rather than send them a message to go over to my Author Page instead.
Needless to say, having an open policy poses some problems. But then again, I have similar problems on my Author Page too.
What are these problems, you might ask? Basically the summary of the problem is "ad calls." An ad call involves annoying people that call your private phone number and try to sell you a product. Sometimes they're really pushy and the only way you can end the conversation is by hanging up on them.
There are writers on Facebook doing the same thing as the old-fashioned ad call. They look up people with the specific intention of selling their books. Unfollowing one of them on Facebook is a little bit like hanging up on an ad call. You hate to do it and be rude, but when people are pushy in your personal space, what choice do they leave you?
Here are the top 5 things writers do on Facebook that make me "hang up."
1. After accepting their friend request, they post on my timeline leaving a blurb about their book along with a link to an online bookstore.
2. After accepting a friend request, theysend me a "personal" messageexplaining their life situation, what lead them to write their book, and how I might enjoy it. And of course, they leave either a link to an online bookstore or invite me to visit their website and learn more about their book.
3. After accepting a friend request, they tag me and about twenty other strangers in a comment that is–yep, you guessed it–about their book (or indirectly relates to it somehow). And not only do they tag me, but they continue to tag me on future posts.
4. They leave a message on my Author Page saying they "liked" my Facebook Page, and they would be obliged if I would head over and "like" theirs in return.
5. They tell me that my books look good and that they're looking forward to purchasing them. In the meantime, they suggest that I might enjoy purchasing their books too.
I want to point out that obviously, there are some VERY genuine writers that I've met on Facebook. The kinds of behaviors I've mentioned above are the exceptions rather than the rule. Most of the time, most writers get the idea that the effectiveness of ad calls or cold sales pitches died long ago, if they ever were effective.
However, for those who friend new people on Facebook simply to sell books, the "friendship" request feels more like a slap in the face, like you're showing interest in others for what you can gain rather than genuinely connecting.
So if you're offended that I unfriended you, please know that your tactics are offensive too.
What do YOU think? Have you ever had someone friend you on Facebook only to try to ram a product down your throat? How did that make you feel?
For my traditionally published books, I'm required to send a synopsis to my publisher before I start a new book. While the mere mention of writing a synopsis gives many writers hives, I've actually grown to appreciate the pre-writing synopsis.
For one, the synopsis gives my editors some ideas about the direction I'm planning to take the book. If they spot any red flags, they can let me know upfront which saves me from having to do some rewriting later.
Second, the synopsis forces me to come up with a road map for my book, how to get from Point A to Point Z. Of course, as I write my book, invariably detours crop up and the story path takes me places I never imagined. However, because of my synopsis, I still end up at Point Z.
Recently, I sent a 5-paged synopsis to one of my editors and my agent to get their feedback. After reading through my synopsis, my agent called me with her concerns, primarily the fact that my synopsis was a retelling of my external plot and had no other dimensions to it.
I quickly assured her that my plot was multi-faceted, that I generally separate my plot into three main parts. In fact, I like to think of my plot like a three-stranded braid having distinct but interwoven parts:
1. External plot: A struggle/conflict that occurs against another person, group of people, nature, or even with self. The four common types of literary conflict are usually summarized as: man against man, man against society, man vs. nature, and man vs. self. Traditionally this involves a villain/antagonist pitted against the heroine.
2. Internal plot: Involves an interior character issue or spiritual struggle that the heroine must work through. She starts off flawed in this particular area, and as the book unfolds, she becomes more self-aware of her internal problem and begins to work toward change. This inner struggle is also known as the character arc.
3. Relational plot: The relational plot is critically important in a romance, but it can also apply to other types of relationships that are central to the book including parent-child relationships, friendships, etc. Basically the relational plot consists of the relational dynamics and obstacles that the pair must overcome throughout the book.
If our story involves more than one character (like the typical hero and heroine found in a romance novel), then we would develop all three plot strands for both of our main characters.
In other words we would give our heroine an outer plot problem or foe (like a failing business). We would also give our hero an outer challenge (like he has to expand his business or lose his job). Both of their external problems may have some overlap (perhaps he's buying her building and shutting her down). They may even be facing the same antagonist. In fact, they may be each other's worst nightmare.
We would also give each of our main characters an internal or character issue that they need to work through. Each one needs to have separate and distinct flaws. They can be unaware of the flaw or keenly in tune to their issue. Either way, they must take steps to become a better person so that by the end of the book they have grown. (Notice I didn't say they became perfect!)
Finally, they each need to have barriers that are keeping them from developing their relationship (whether that's a romance relationship or otherwise). Each one should have their own issues that prevent them from having a flourishing and truly satisfying relationship with the other person. They need to overcome the barriers by the end of the book so that they are finally "together."
Our story becomes more cohesive and fulfilling if we're able to intertwine and relate our three strands as much as possible. Those strands, when interdependent and woven together, end up being much stronger and thicker and deeper than if we had only one of them.
In balancing the three strands, writers can err in several ways:
1. Err by neglecting/minimizing an external plot. If the only conflict is the romance plot, then it can become hard to maintain the reader's interest. Or if the plot is mainly character driven, it can also be difficult to keep our reader's attention. Obviously for shorter category romances or YA, the external plot can't be too complicated. But it still needs to be there nonetheless.
2. Err by neglecting/minimizing a character plot. The writer may throw a worry or fear or some other surface issue, but fail to take character development to a deeper level where the MC is grappling with real issues that stem from their past and often serve to drive their present decisions.
3. Err by neglecting/minimizing the relational plot. This plot is particularly essential in a romance where it should be the thickest strand and stick out the most. But even in other genres, our readers empathize best with our characters when they're facing the same struggles that we all have in relationships. And our readers draw hope and inspiration when they see the characters overcoming obstacles to have the fulfilling relationships that we all desire but that often elude us.
What about YOU? Do you have any organizational methods to your plotting? What helps you make your plot stronger and thicker and deeper?
Before I was published, I hardly ever told anyone that I was a writer. I was a coward. I know. But almost every time I told someone I was a writer, they'd ask, "Oh. What have you published?"
Most of the people weren't trying to put me on the spot. And they weren't trying to be rude. The fact is, most people outside the writing industry really don't know all that goes into becoming a published author.
Usually when I'd answer the well-meaning people, I'd hang my head and mumble something like, "I'm not published yet." Or at times when I wanted to make myself look better than I felt, I'd say, "I'm sending things out and it takes a long time to hear back."
Because I hated having to answer those kinds of questions, most of the time I was content to remain a "closet writer."
In hindsight, I realize that it's perfectly okay not to pursue publication. In fact, sometimes it's even better for beginning writers to take the pressure of publication off themselves. Then instead of feeling embarrassed at the perceived lack of accomplishments, writers can respond to questions with one of these answers:
1. "I'm not writing for publication right now. I'm content to remain a hobby writer for the time being."
Yes, it is perfectly okay to write as a hobby. I would classify a hobby as something like cooking, gardening, or any number of activities that a person engages in for the pleasure of the activity.
No one asks someone with a hobby of cooking when she's planning to start her own cooking show. No one asks a gardener when she's opening up a road stand business. Most people accept that hobbies are there for us to enjoy without having to make it something bigger and greater than it is.
Writing is the same way. We should start writing because it brings us immense satisfaction. Plain and simple. When I began writing, it was because I loved inventing my own stories. I had no thought of publication. The hobby itself brought me enough joy without any other rewards.
2. "I'm not writing for publication right now. I'm taking the time to learn how to become a good writer first before going public with anything."
What's the hurry to put our work out there? If young writers are expecting publication to be like the Gold Rush (which is a little bit what the past couple of years have resembled with the rush to self-publish), then they're in for a huge disappointment. Yes, some writers may find a few nuggets of success here and there. But very few beginners hit the mother lode on the first book or two.
Why not take the pressure off ourselves? Instead, when our friends and family ask us about publication, we can remind them that most other professions require many years of training before being ready for a professional career. Most other jobs require a paid degree and sometimes internships (working without pay for a while).
We need to feel comfortable telling those pressuring us that we're taking our time, learning the craft, practicing what we're learning, and that someday, finally, we'll be ready for publication. And when that happens, we'll let them know.
3. "I'm not writing for publication right now. Since being an author is demanding, I'm waiting until I've learned more about the industry and what it really takes to be successful."
Even if we've honed our writing techniques and story-telling abilities, it's still okay to wait. With the abundance of authors putting out backlists, novellas, free books, etc. it's still a very tough market for new authors to gain traction.
I speak from personal experience when I say that it takes an incredible amount of work to be an author nowadays. I wrote for a while before finally pursuing publication, and honestly I'm glad that I gave myself that time to learn about the industry, make writing friends, and develop some savvy before I jumped into publication.
My Summary: The bottom line is that the joy and love of writing and storytelling should fulfill us, even without publication. If it's not, then perhaps we've lost our true love and need to take some time to gain it back.
What about YOU? Have you felt pressure to publish before you're ready? Why do you think that pressure is so strong nowadays?
In fact recently I had an excruciatingly busy week that made me wonder if the insanity was worth it. I'd just received some intense line edits with a short turn around deadline. At the same time, I had essays to read and tests to grade for a composition class that I teach. Plus I had real life demands–kids to taxi to activities, a doctor's appointment, a committee meeting, etc., etc., etc.
At one point during my week as I was running myself ragged with my line editing, I couldn't keep from burying my face into my hands, groaning, and saying, "Is all of this really worth it? Am I trying to do too much? Can I really handle all the pressure?"
Of course, I whined and complained only a few minutes before I picked myself up, shook off the gloom, and promptly got right back to work. I was honestly just too busy to have a pity-party. But the experience did force me to take stock in what I'm doing and why.
Sometimes when we feel like giving up, it helps to remind ourselves of the following 4 things:
1. Remind ourselves of the truth.
There will be plenty of times when our emotions will try to rise up and take control. We may feel like giving up for any number of reasons. Because we're discouraged that the process is taking so long or is much harder than we thought it would be. Because we're overwhelmed with juggling writing and life (like I was!). Because we get too much negative feedback and never enough positive. Because we aren't making the kind of money that we'd hoped for.
Whatever our situation, it's all too easy to allow our feelings of discouragement to take over. We wallow in the despair and let it weigh us down until we're immobile, sometimes to the point of not being able to write.
When we hit those low points, we have to remind ourselves of the truth of why we write, the truth that we're story-tellers, that we're in love with the written word, that writing, like breathing, is part of us that we can't do without lest we shrivel and die.
2. Resist making decisions when discouraged.
I always tell my kids we should try not to make big decisions or resolve a huge problem right before we go to bed. Why? Well, because usually by that point in our day we're too tired and emotional to see things objectively. It's best to get a good night's sleep, give ourselves some perspective, and then come at the decision again when we're fresh.
And the same is true with our writing decisions. When we're faced with burnout, discouragement, or even overwhelmed by all of the juggling, we shouldn't make a decision to throw in the towel at our low point. Instead we should wait until we've had the chance to take a short break, take a deep breath, and gain some fresh insights.
3. Re-evaluate our goals.
There are times when we may need to do more than just get a good night's sleep. There are times when the pressure, weariness, and responsibilities may require us to re-evaluate our goals and perhaps make some changes to what we're doing.
Maybe that won't mean that we give up writing altogether. But perhaps we'll have to seriously consider whether we're in a season of life where we're ready for the demands of being a published author. Perhaps for a time, we'll have to consider the possibility that we need to take the pressure of publication off ourselves and simply write for the joy of it. In fact, there may even be times when we need an extended break from writing.
After the birth of my twin daughters, I took a seven year hiatus from writing. I didn't write a single word in all that time. Now in hindsight, I have no regrets about giving myself that time off. I can see that it rejuvenated and matured me, so that when I finally picked up the pen again, I was much more dauntless and prepared for the job.
One of the things that keeps me going through the especially discouraging times, is that I continue to nurture my story-telling nature. I feed it in countless ways, but mostly by reading. Somehow in the process of reading the stories of others, I keep my own love of story-telling alive and thriving.
I listen to a lot of audio books, try new authors, read a wide spectrum of genres, and through it all, allow myself to revel in stories. As a historical writer, I take special pleasure in reading biographies and other historical books which spark my imagination. When I read something fascinating or come across a character that grabs me, I can't keep from wondering what "really happened."
The rejuvenation helps me then to go back to my own writing with fresh energy and enthusiasm.
What about YOU? Do you ever feel like giving up? How do you keep yourself going?
During the early social media explosion about six years ago authors were everywhere doing everything on social media. I think the frenzy led to a lot of burnout. As a result, I've noticed that many authors who were once really active on social media have grown silent with perhaps an occasional tweet or FB comment. But overall, many authors have been content to return to their writing caves.
In addition to burnout, I've also seen a very strong philosophical shift in author's attitudes regarding social media. The popular consensus is that writers should focus on increasing their output of salable works. Many believe that, "Books sell more books." In other words, instead of "wasting" time on social media trying to market books, writers can better spend their energy by writing more books, pricing the books strategically, and then using those books as a marketing tool.
This "increased output" strategy may have worked well at first, but now the market is extremely flooded with free or cheap books by everyone and their brother hoping to hook in new readers.
While I agree that our main focus needs to be on creating content, I also think social media remains an important tool. Yes, it can help with marketing to a degree. For example with my latest release, An Uncertain Choice, my fabulous Launch Team spread SO much buzz around release day that my book hit several Amazon best seller lists.
However, I think writers all too-often fall into the trap of thinking that social media is primarily for marketing and thus if it doesn't "work" to sell books, why bother?
Perhaps writers who are participating in social media mainly to promote their books have it backwards. I'd like to propose that social media isn't so much about marketing as it is about relating with readers.
In fact, I have to be honest. I'd much rather interact with readers on social media just for the fun of it, than to try to sell my books to everyone I meet. It's much more rewarding to relate to people than to jam a product down someone's throat. Don't misunderstand me. Social media can help spread book buzz (as I did for me recently). But that can't be our primary focus.
Instead, we need a paradigm shift. We need to think of social media as the place where readers can interact with us and our books on a deeper level.
Thus as I plan my website pages and book releases, I'm constantly thinking of ways that I can relate better with my readers. What kinds of things can I institute that would be fun for them?
Here are 8 ways writers can be more reader-friendly:
1. Have a "My Wonderful Readers" slide show for reader photos. I adore when readers take a picture of themselves with my book (or with their pets)! I let readers know that I'd love to display their picture and that they can send me the picture or tag me on Facebook. (I post the pictures on a special "My Fabulous Readers" board on Pinterest too.)
2. Display special artwork on "My Reader's Creations" on your website. Sometimes readers create graphics with quotes, draw pictures, or come up with something else creative. I make sure to give those creations special treatment on my website because I know how much time readers took to make them.
3. Make discussion questions readily available on your website. For An Uncertain Choice, I have a special 27 page Discussion Guide that I've made available for as a free download. I even have a large graphic that makes it easy to locate.
4. Have a "Readers' Board" on Pinterest. I've created a special public board for my latest book, An Uncertain Choice where readers can pin their favorite medieval pictures or post their ideas for what the characters look like. So far readers have had a lot of fun sharing pictures there.
5. Have a "Story Board" on Pinterest. I've designed story boards that give a summary of my story in a picture format so that readers can browse the boards either before or after reading for a little more information about the book.
6. Put an "Authorgraph" widget on your website. Each of my books' pages has a spot that readers can click if they'd like me to "sign" their e-copy of the book.
7. Have a downloadable "Books List." I keep a running list of all my books that readers can print out. I've found that readers really like having a printable list to take with them to the bookstore or library.
8. Do book giveaways. This year I'm giving away books on my Giveaway Page. And no it's not to promote my own books. Rather I'm giving away new releases of author friends as a way to help promote them and also as a way to say thank you to readers for supporting me.
What are some other ways that authors can be more reader-friendly? I'd love to hear YOUR ideas!