A Bit More on Goals

First, a public service announcement, especially for avid readers: if you’re going to be in or near Green Valley on December 6, I hope you’ll stop by to see me and a lot of other local and regional authors at the annual Meet the Authors Book Fair. That’s next Saturday, December 6, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Desert Hills Lutheran Church at 2150 South Camino Del Sol in Green Valley.

I’ll have my new novel, Leaving Amarillo, as well as thirteen collections of short fiction and my two popular nonfiction books on writing. Stop by!

Some points about the Meet the Authors Book Fair:

  • Admission is free
  • WiFi is available
  • There will be author readings in a small adjacent room

Again, the venue is located at 2150 South Camino Del Sol in Green Valley.

Here’s a Google Map of the location.

Hope to see you there!

Okay, last time up I talked about goals.

When I first set my goal to write a short story per week for a year (back in mid-April) I was about half-terrified. I didn’t realize yet that the world wouldn’t end if I missed, and I hadn’t even considered yet that the goal would merely re-set, meaning even if I missed a week, so what? I still had to write a new story for the current week.

Once I learned to trust my subconscious to tell the story (what Dean Wesley Smith calls writing into the dark) and once I realized nothing bad would happen if I missed a week, the goal gently shifted from a severe, “whaddayou, nuts?” kind of challenge all the way down to FUN.

That’s right, fun.

I no longer doubt that I’ll write a short story per week for a year. Once I let go of the fear, I was free to just run outside and play with all my little fictional friends. And that is SO much better than all the crap I occasionally hear about writing being “drudgery” and all that. 🙂

So I still have the ongoing “challenge” of writing a short story every week for a year, but I also have set a goal of writing at least four hours per day (fiction… not counting any nonfiction, not counting emails or blog posts) at least five days per week. Can I do that? Yep. Easily. As I’ve said many times in this series and elsewhere, it’s all a matter of priorities. Now that I’m not editing and formatting and creating (beautiful) covers for Other People’s Stuff, my days are my own.

For those of you who automatically think writing four hours per day is a monstrous and probably un-doable goal, tell me: if you have a day job (or if you’re retired, back when you had a day job), are (or were) you able to go to your job and do it at least four hours per day, five days per week? Of course. In fact, you probably spent 8 or 9 or 12 hours per day at least five days per week.

Writing fiction is my job now. (Yeah, that’s right. My “job” is sitting at a computer, making up stories. Score!) If I call myself a writer, shouldn’t I be able t0 “work” at my job four lousy hours per day? Kind’a puts things in a whole new perspective, doesn’t it? 🙂

So is writing your job too? If you answered yes, maybe you should set a goal or two. 🙂 If you need help in that regard, I’m more than happy to respond to emails or to comments left in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Back next time.

Harvey

A Few Resources and Goal Setting

Hey Folks,

A few strong resources—

If you’re serious about your work as a writer, check these out:

http://deanwesleysmith.com—The resource-rich website of Dean Wesley Smith, my own unintentional mentor and one of the most prolific writers in America. While you’re there, check out the Think Like a Publisher and Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing tabs. I also recommend checking out his Online Workshops tab and his Lecture Series tab. Also while you’re there, remember that this guy has published hundreds of novels and several hundred short stories. His wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, has done likewise. Seriously, would you rather “learn” from the peers in your critique group, or would you rather learn from someone who’s highly successful. (Hands raised, palms out: I don’t mean me. I’m not teaching anymore.)

Chuck Wendig’s blogAnother resource-rich website. Chuck regularly offers his books in bundles. I recently bought a bundle of seven for only $20, and they’re full of actual TRUE information about writing. Not the lying, worthless, even harmful stuff that’s in most how-to books for writers. I could name names but, you know, I’m a good guy. Besides, frankly, if you believe that stuff, you deserve the ensuing wasted years. WARNING: Chuck Wendig uses strong language with remarkable regularity. If you’re offended by such language, you might want to avoid this website.

Harvey Stanbrough’s Audio Lecture SeriesThis is for those of you who always meant to get to my seminars when I was teaching them live but didn’t for whatever reason. Well, that extended period of insanity is over, and I’m getting better, thanks. Now I offer the same excellent instruction online so “them as want it can take it and them as don’t can leave ‘er be.” No more need for excuses. 🙂 If you want honest, nuts-and-bolts instruction that you can apply to your writing immediately, you want these lectures. (I recommend starting with Narrative. It’s chock full of good stuff.) There’s no fluff in these lectures. It’s all meat. Or if you’re a vegetarian, it’s all peas and carrots. Okay, unprocessed peas and carrots. Sheesh. Whatever. Even if you been to my seminars, I strongly recommend my Writing Into the Dark lecture. Same link, scroll down to Lecture 12. More coming soon on Employing the Persona, Smart Self-Publishing, and maybe even Writing the Character-Driven Short Story. Maybe. I’m REALLY enjoying writing fiction. 🙂

Finally, on My Main Website, browse the right sidebar under Writers’ Resources. Seriously, there’s a lot of great stuff there. Go. Browse.

Goal Setting

Last time I defined the different types of writers. Only you know where you fit among those definitions. If you’re actually a writer (a person who writes, who regularly puts new words on the page) or a serious aspirant (that’s almost an oxymoron), set a goal for yourself. Then announce it to your friends and family.

If you do this, it will drive you to your writing computer and you’ll actually put new words on the page. In other words, you will actually BE a writer.

Can you revise or adjust goals once they’re set? Of course. Remember, they’re only artificial boundaries. We set goals to help ourselves achieve what we want to achieve. When setting your goals, bear in mind the term “realistic.” Make your goals realistic.

For example, I want to write a novel. Is a novel just a story that doesn’t end really soon? I don’t know. I haven’t written one yet and I haven’t studied enough yet to know that. But I’m taking a six-week online workshop beginning November 5 that will help me know that, so I will set a novel-per goal soon. UPDATE: By the time I got around to publishing this blog, I’d finished my first novel. It’s the one I talked about in the previous post. So woohoo! 🙂

In the meantime, I still also have the recurring goal I set back on April 16: to write and publish at least one new short story per week for a year. So this is both a recurring goal (the goal re-sets every week) and a long-term goal (one story per week for a year). I haven’t missed yet.

But what happens if I do miss one week? Nothing.

The world won’t end. My friends won’t all send me Dear John letters. Deming NM won’t dry up and blow into Texas. Well, maybe, but that’ll be because of its position alongside the journada del muerte, not because I missed writing one stupid short story. And for the overall year, I still will have written FIFTY-ONE short stories. Not too shabby for an old guy learning new tricks. In fact, that’s a pretty good year, don’t you think?

Okay, so what’s stopping you? If you’re a writer, Get On With It.

Harvey

My First Novel and Killing Writing Myths

Hi Folks,

First, a salute to my brothers and sisters in the United States Marine Corps—Happy 239th birthday—and a respectful toast to our brothers and sisters in the other US armed forces as well as friends in the ROK Marines and the Corps of Royal Marines.

May your days be vibrant,
your evenings calm,
your heart safe and warm at home.

Okay, on to business.

As I write this, I just finished my first novel. It’s a short novel of just over 40,000 words. I won’t talk about how long it took but those who took my Writing Into the Dark intensive or online Audio Lecture already know.

Most notably, with the accomplishment of this personal goal, a few more writing myths died quick, painless deaths. That will be the main focus of this post so it’s all about You, the writers out there.

But first, if you’ll allow me, did I celebrate? Oh yes. I told the members of my writers’ group. (These are actual writers, mind you. Folks who put new words on the page pretty much every day.) Then I emailed Dean Wesley Smith, my unintentional mentor. Then I sent the manuscript to my first reader. Then I yelled Woohoo! Then I wrote this blog post to share the good news with You. 🙂 I learned SO much during this project. If it never sells a copy, it will still be more than worthwhile just as a learning experience.

So what writing myths died? Well,

  • I did NOT suffer withdrawal symptoms, which I’ve heard some writers actually call “post partum depression” (seriously?) from having finished a novel (ODG, it’s over! What now?);
  • I did NOT feel completely exhausted, arm-across-the-forehead, being-carried-from-the-stage spent (James Brown) like I need to take a day or a week or a month off now that I’ve finished (I felt only elation, actually, along with a touch of annoyance that my protagonist solved his problem without me and probably about 20,000 words before I expected him to);
  • I did NOT feel like I “owe myself” anything in particular beyond the celebratory stomps laid out above; and best (and biggest) of all,
  • I have absolutely NO desire to go back and re-read it, even for pleasure, much less for editing or rewriting or any of that. I’m following Heinlein’s Rules, baby. 🙂 If you want to learn Heinlein’s Rules, you can take my Writing Into the Dark Audio Lecture or you can even Google it. But if you Google it, chances are whoever put up the rules will add their “interpretation” (a bunch of pure crap) to them. Pare away all that and you’ll be fine. Just for grins, I’ve added them below (updated for today’s wonderful self-publishing revival). Yes, revival. You DO know that what we call “traditional publishing” has been around for only the last 70 years of human history, right? As my buddy Denise says, Truedat.

Finally, I woke up this morning thinking Yikes! What if that was just the ending of Part I? Well, it IS true that I had hoped to accompany the protagonist to Mexico, but

  1. I’ve already spouted off to everyone I know that I’m finished and
  2. I can party with him in Mexico just as easily in a second novel as I can by accompanying him across the border in the current story.
  3. Plus, if I write a sequel, I’ll have TWO novels out there instead of just one. Remember awhile back I said the best way to market your work is to write more stuff and put it out there?

So that’s what I’m doing next: writing another story, another novel, another whatever. Just Writing. After all, I’m a writer, and Writers Write. Right? Right! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) 🙂

Here are Heinlein’s Rules. If you want to know what they mean, read them again or take my Audio Lecture.

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must not rewrite.
  4. You must put it on the market so someone can buy it (or in today’s world, publish it).
  5. You must keep it on the market until someone buys it (or in today’s world, leave it up).

If you’re still chasing traditional publishers, numbers 4 and 5 above (he wrote this in 1947) mean after you’ve written something, if you want to be a professional writer you have to actually submit it to someone who can buy it (publisher). If it’s rejected, you put it in a new envelope and send it out to the next publisher on your list.

Heinlein himself wrote that these rules are deceptively simple and ridiculously difficult to follow. He wrote that’s why there are so few professional writers and so few aspirants. Which are you?

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

A very special blog post

Hi Folks,

If you live in southeast Arizona and you are an aspiring writer who

  • can’t seem to find time to write
  • has never heard of Heinlein’s Rules
  • HAS heard of Heinlein’s Rules but have amended them because you think they’re too good to be true
  • believe you have to “polish” your work before publication
  • believe you have to rewrite X number of times before publication
  • believe you have to write X number of drafts before publication

you REALLY need to take my one-day intensive on Writing Into the Dark. It covers all of that and a great deal more.

Believe me, I’m fully aware you can come up with any number of excuses why you can’t come, but if you can, this one day will probably be the best investment you’ve ever made in your writing.

Here’s what it would cost you

    • a trip to Benson next Saturday, October 25
    • a class from 9 – 4 with an hour for lunch
    • immersion in a small group of avid writers who care about the craft, and
    • eighty bucks (okay, dollars… eighty dollars… don’t be showing up with venison)

and I’m telling you, it’s worth at least three times that. Why am I selling my knowledge so cheaply? Because I want as many people to get it as possible, and frankly, after this one, I’m done.

If you live in southeast Arizona, and if you’d like to attend, email me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com and let me know. I’ll send you directions and everything else you need.

This probably is the last live seminar I will ever teach. From here on out, I’m writing at least 3 hours per day, at least 5 days per week. I can do that because I know this technique. I write about 1,000 words per hour. In a day, that’s 3000 words. In a week, it’s 15,000 words. In a year that’s 780,000 words (65,000 words per month). That’s working a “job” five days a week only three hours per day.

But calm my numbers down. Say you can write only 1000 words per day, 5 days per week. That’s still 5,000 words in a week, and in a year that’s still 260,000 words. At 60,000 words a pop, that’s four and one-third novels. Just writing 1,000 words per day, 5 days per week.

Now, do you want to be a writer or do you just want to talk about being a writer?

I still have five seats available in this intensive. Let me know.

Best,

Harvey

It’s Columbus Day

Hi Folks,

Well, here it is. Today is the day we celebrate Columbus Day, although it’s actually one day later than the actual date on which Christopher Columbus was falsely credited with “discovering” America. Of course, in order to give some of us an extra day off per year, we have to conveniently ignore (or at the most honest, set aside) the one big, overriding question: How can anyone “discover” a land in which other people are already living, indeed in a thriving civilization? It would be like me driving several hours northwest and “discovering” Las Vegas. (Actually, as it turned out, it would be almost exactly like that.)

I can just see Chris and his crew struggling ashore in those funny, vertically striped balloon pants and frilly shirts and waistcoats through waist-deep waves. Then, once the camera crew was safely ensconced at just the right distance and angle from the “discoverer” and the sun was in just the right position, Chris himself planted a flag on only the fourth try, having been thwarted by inconveniently placed hard-shell clams twice and a conch shell the third time, and proclaimed something formal sounding like, “I hereby claim this new land for Queen Isabella of Spain, who truly is a massively groovy chick and a major sugar-mama.”

At that point, a small contingent of natives, who had been watching these curious goings on for the past few hours, managed to curtail their laugher long enough to step out of the brush, wave and say, “Um, helloooo. We were here first. However, welcome to our humble land. Um, you didn’t bring any diseases or anything like that with you, did you?” But that’s a story for another day.

Doesn’t really matter to me, but as a working writer with manuscripts in the mail, I’d really like someone to explain why I have to forfeit mail delivery one day a year just because some late-15th century Portuguese shyster was able to sweet talk Queen Isabella into outfitting him for such a trip. In the first place, how does suspending mail delivery somehow slap a celebratory aura over the nation?

(Groan… I know, I know… mail delivery is suspended so the employees of the US Postal Service get to celebrate as well. After all, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria carried the first transatlantic mail from Europe to what would eventually become the United States—well, a group of islands somewhere south of the United States—a fact that, by comparison, makes today’s mail delivery seem fast, sort of. So I’m just sayin’, US Postal Service employees have more reason to celebrate than the rest of us do, maybe. But back to the basic problem and what caused it.)

Maybe ol’ Chris talked ‘Bella into outfitting him for the trip, but then again, maybe not. Maybe men and women being what they are regardless of their station in life, and human nature being what it is (with heavy emphasis on “nature”), maybe he talked her out of considerably more than ships, stores and crew. Maybe he sidled up next to her ear, all warm-breathed and stuff, and mumbled something like, “Have you ever considered whisper whisper whisper whisper?” to which she responded by blushing, wrist-flicking her fan open and muttering, “Well, certainly not ’til now, you silver-tongued devil you!” and off they went.

Then, the following morning, having been thoroughly and irrevocably disappointed, she quickly responded in the affirmative to his much more formal, public request, provided him with the aforementioned ships, stores and crew, and bade him a hasty farewell to get him the heck out of the kingdom before the gossip rags of the day interviewed one of the chamber wenches and reported the late-night goings on.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Anyway, as long as I have to wait until tomorrow to see whether I’ll get another check in the mail or my new glasses or whatever, I suppose you might as well enjoy the day.

Happy Columbus Day

El Harvey de Mucho

A New Era Begins: Writing Intensives and More

Hi Folks,

Now that I’ve retired as a copyeditor and resigned my position as General Manager of the Universe, I have more time for my own writing. Fortunately, I can also focus on teaching writing to those who are serious about becoming professional writers.

Most of my mechanics and techniques seminars (the ones I’ve taught all these years in Tucson, Bisbee, Green Valley and Willcox) are available online in my Audio Lecture Series. If you want to learn in-depth how to write dialogue or dialect or how to create characters or tame your overreaching narrator, that’s where you need to start.

But if you want to go beyond the mechanics and learn to make or augment your living as a professional writer, read on.

I’m developing a series of interactive online workshops. Each workshop will be six weeks long, each will include six “meetings” and five assignments. Each workshop will be limited to 10 participants, and I will work individually with each participant through emails and by critiquing his or her assignments. (The assignments will not be not mandatory, of course, but recommended to get the full benefit of the workshop.) At the end of some of these workshops, you will have written five more chapters in your novel (Yes, in six weeks), or you will have a five-story collection of short fiction or memoir. But much more than that, you will have gained confidence in yourself as a writer.

Initially I expect the online seminar topics will include these:

  • Writing Into the Dark (a technique used by the most prolific professional writers)
  • Employing the Persona (a technique that enables you to give power to your voices… all of them)
  • Writing the Descriptive Short Story (learn to write a story that’s difficult to stop reading)
  • Using Fiction Techniques to Bring Your Memoir to Life (dialogue, dialect, descriptive narrative)
  • Writing the Poem (this is not theory, but writing)

I’ll add other topics as time goes by. Each writing workshop will include 5 or more assignments and critiques, enabling you to learn what you’re doing right, what you could improve, and specifically how to improve it.

But it will take time to create the online workshops.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to offer a series of one-day workshop intensives on some of the same topics. By “intensive” I mean during six hours of instruction from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (an hour for lunch) you’ll receive a LOT of information, and all of it will be essential to your knowledge as a writer. This will be a day chock full of “aha moments.”

I’ll offer these one-day intesives in Benson, Arizona. Each intensive includes at least one critiqued assignment and costs 1/2 as much as the online version. Plus you get all the information in one fast-paced day.

The first intensive is scheduled for Saturday, October 18: “Writing Into the Dark.”

“Writing Into the Dark” is an invaluable, Zen-like technique and possibly the best-kept secret in writing. I am not exaggerating. This knowledge actually changed my life as a writer. If you want to dramatically increase your productivity and actually enjoy the writing process, this is the course you want. This will move you a giant leap closer to being a professional writer. If you already know the mechanics (if you’ve attended my earlier seminars), this course will get you there.
 
This day-long intensive will cover retraining yourself regarding how you think about writing and how you practice writing, learning to trust yourself and your process, setting priorities, an in-depth explanation of the technique itself (what it is and what it is not). Also includes busting some myths that actually quash the desire to write, silencing your critical mind so you can Just Write the Story, being IN the story (not ABOVE the story), increasing your productivity, and the importance of Heinlein’s Rules.
 
The workshop includes at least one critiqued assignment (short story, chapter of a novel [WIP], or memoir, depending on the your interests). The students will complete the assignment within a few days and send it to me via email. I’ll critique it and send it back. (The assignment is not mandatory, but recommended to get the full benefit of the course.)
The cost for this intensive (including the assignment and critique) is $120, payable in cash on the day of the course or in advance via PayPal.
Class size is limited to 10 participants, and I expect it to fill up quickly.
 
Reservations are first-come, first-served. To reserve your seat or for more information, email me at harveystanbrough@yahoo.com.

Those of you who are too far away to attend, hang in there. The online version is coming probably early next year. But if you live anywhere from Phoenix south to Mexico or east to Las Cruces, this trip would be well worth your time.

Perhaps best of all, I’m not teaching these workshops to make money. I’m offering them for those who want to learn. If a workshop makes (it takes only two or three participants to make a workshop, maximum 10) that’s great. I love teaching, and I love watching those little lights of understanding flick on. But if a workshop doesn’t make, that’s okay too. I’ll stay at my desk and write. 🙂

Finally, I still have a few seats available in my next Pro-Level Writing Seminar Group, which will meet in Benson beginning in January. There will be ten meetings, during which I will teach you everything I know about writing as well as a good deal about self-editing and publishing. Again, I have only a few seats left and there is an application process, so if you’re interested, please email me at harveystanbrough@yahoo.com on or before September 30.

On September 30 my regular blog posts will return with how to Safeguard Your Credibility as a writer. ‘Til then, happy writing!

Harvey

6 Ways to Increase Book Sales (and Why They Work)

Hi Folks,

One of my StoneThread Publishing authors and I were discussing possibly giving away a “sampler” that contains, say, the first 20 pages or so of four different books. If I have 32 books, I’d create 8 samplers. The author originally was talking about creating printed samplers in POD. The discussion led from why I wouldn’t prepare printed samplers to what I could do and what the author could do. I decided it’s is an important enough topic that I wanted to share it in a blog post.

The thing is, if you give away free printed samples of you work, there is a relatively large overhead. (For example, even if you found someone who would do the print layout and cover free of charge, you’d have to buy the actual books to distribute). Secondly, of the printed sampers you purchase and give away, probably 99% of them will end up in the garbage, and probably a full two-thirds of those will end up in the garbage at the convention or conference or other venue where you handed them out. (And yes, the same thing happens with bookmarks and other printed items writers buy to use as giveaways.)

But the biggest problem with a printed sampler is this: even if the printed sampler does entice the reader to purchase the actual book, there is no way to insert a Buy Now link. The best you can do is add printed purchase links and hope the reader’s interest will not wane before he can get to a computer to order the book. And trust me, that’s a massive long shot. That’s why I won’t be creating printed samplers.

So how to entice more readers? Enter the ebook. If I do the same thing with an ebook sampler, I can add Buy Now at Amazon and Buy Now at Smashwords links in the middle and at the end of each book sample. So when the reader is most likely to be interested in buying, he’ll have a link right there. Desire meets opportunity, and a sale is made.

The writer also mentioned brainstorming new ways to sell books. I’m relatively new at publishing, but I’ve been writing and selling books, successfully, for a long time. I promise—one of the absolute best things you can do as an author to promote your books is TALK.

  • Schedule talks and/or presentations at local and regional writers’ groups and professional groups.
    • Consider, you’re a successful author, possibly an expert in your field, some of you are prolific, and a few are multi-genre authors. All of those things will recommend you to different audiences and venues.
    • At writers’ groups, address some aspect of how to write your particular genre.
    • At professional groups, address your field of expertise, of course tied in with your book(s).
  • Contact the Literature department of your alma mater and see whether they need speakers. (If they voted you Most Likely to Sack Seed, this would be a great opportunity to return as a published author.)
  • Contact local and regional high schools, junior colleges, colleges and universities. Offer to speak to campus writers’ groups, clubs, writing or literature classes, etc. They might even ask you to present a writing award to a deserving student. I was paid $1500 for 20 minutes doing exactly that one time, and my poetry collections are (or maybe were) in the literary canon of that university just outside of Dallas, Texas in Denton.
  • Schedule appearances on panels at specific and multi-genre conventions and conferences.
    • Okay, frankly, panels suck. They’re mostly boring for the participants and they’re only minimally informative for the attendees, but they get you face time in front of your fans (current and prospective) and they help establish you as an expert, which can lead to other appearances.
    • Mostly panels serve to allow attendees to see and hear their favorite authors speaking and otherwise acting as if they really are mere mortals.
    • Note: Unless you can legitimately teach some aspect of writing, always opt for conventions rather than writers’ conferences.
      • Fans and Readers attend conventions, and they want to buy your book.
      • Writers attend conferences; they want you to buy their book.
  • Attend (whether invited or paid) and be visible and available at conventions appropriate to what you write: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Romance, Multi-Genre, etc.
    • If you aren’t invited to present or sit on a panel, the attendance fee for most conventions is minimal anyway, often hovering around $25 for a three-day pass. The point is, you can’t be visible and available to attendees if you aren’t there at all.
    • The first time a fan walks up and says, “Hey, aren’t you…?” and you get to say something like “Yep, that’s me. I’m not presenting at this one because I applied late, but I thought I’d make time to come hang out anyway” you’ve just made a fan for life. And chances are, his or her friends and acquaintances will come along as well.
    • If you know far enough in advance about the convention, you might set up a book signing at the Barnes & Noble or whatever across the street.
  • Finally, when you’re at any of those events, be continually visible, friendly and available to pretty much anyone (most will be your fans or fans of the genre) who wants to talk with you about pretty much anything. Paste a smile on your mug and never let them see how tired you are. You can sleep when the convention or conference is over. Do this and you will sell more books than you thought possible.

At one time, while writing my own stuff and editing for others, I was making as many as 18 writers’ conferences per year. Had I limited myself to conventions (where you aren’t glued into giving several presentations over the whole three or four days), I could have made a lot more. I don’t expect you to do that, but this is something all of you can do to some degree. It’s all a matter of priorities.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

PS: If you’re reading this in an email and you’d like to comment (please do) just visit http://harveystanbrough.com/blog, scroll to the end of the current post and comment.

Notes on Being a Professional Writer

Hi Folks,

Yeah that's me. The guy with the beard.
Yeah that’s me. The guy with the beard.

When I was first learning to play the guitar at the age of 14, I was frustrated. Even after I learned to chord cleanly, nothing ever sounded quite the way it had when I’d heard it on the radio or when my uncle or others had played it. I checked and double-checked my chording, the progressions and timing between chords, and even how I was holding the guitar. Nothing seemed to make a difference. When I played for others, if anything it actually sounded worse than when I played alone.

I finally I asked my uncle (the guy I’m looking at in the pic), “When will I be able to play like you do?”

He just grinned and pointed at my guitar. “When you stop thinking of that thing as just another toy.”

He was right. When I began to respect my guitar and the discipline, I learned quickly. Like any other craft, it took respect, diligence and practice. Talent doesn’t hurt anything either, as evidenced by the existence of folks like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Duane Allman, Jimmy Page, Chet Atkins, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and many more. But there are a lot of great guitarists who make money at their craft but have never gotten famous.

Writing is no different. Although some writers are profound enough or prolific enough to achieve fame, many make a living with their craft without ever becoming household names. But “craft” is the key word. Writing is a craft, and to master it, the writer must study and practice, always striving for perfection. The fact is, great writers never stop learning.

The others, those who will never become great writers, fall into two general categories. The first group consists of those who believe the ability to use two long lines and a short one to create a capital letter A renders them able to write. Their motto is The reader will know what I mean, which in my experience as an editor equates to I can’t be bothered to do the actual work. The second group consists of those whose work has been published (self-published or otherwise) and they’ve taken that as a signal that they can learn nothing more. Ten minutes browsing in a bookstore or reading excerpts online will tell you that simply isn’t so.

If you want to be a successful fictionist—by which I mean a writer of short stories, novellas, novels, memoir and creative nonfiction—you need a driving desire to Get It Right. That’s what separates professional writers from those who just “kind’a sort’a think it might be neat to knock out” a few short stories or a novel.

For a professional writer, the first draft is for himself; everything else is for the reader.

Believe me, I understand the frustrations of trying to get a sentence or paragraph or passage Just Right, but the difficulty inherent in creating something brand new is the joy that enables the writer to keep breathing. There’s a great deal more to it than simply putting in the time. As Hemingway wrote, “Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done.” Most days he wrote only 400 to 600 words, but those words comprised a finished, polished passage. Some writers “just write” then go back and polish later in a second or third draft. But regardless of the individual writer’s ritual or technique, I’ve never known a successful professional writer who would risk anything short of making his or her writing as perfect as possible.

But won’t a really strong story carry weak writing? Generally, no. Consider, even though your overall story might well be wonderful, if any part of it confuses a reader or makes the reader wonder about inconsistencies or stops the reader cold, that story is not ready for publication. The writer should polish endlessly to get those glitches out, not because he can actually achieve perfection but because he should be embarrassed to present such work to the public. In the publishing world more than anywhere else, you truly do get only one chance to make a first impression. “Good enough” simply isn’t.

The point is, it isn’t the reader’s job to decipher your writing. The first time or two that most readers encounter confusing passages or egregious errors, they will simply toss the work aside and vow never to buy anything else by that author. So even though the writing might well improve later, fewer readers will take a chance on it. And why would they buy that author’s work again? The fictionist’s job is to entertain the reader. The reader’s job is to be entertained.

By the way, if you’re interested in becoming a professional writer, I’m offering a free introductory seminar on February 15 entitled “Taking Your Writing to the Next Level.” I’ll conduct the seminar in south Tucson. If you want to earn a regular income from your writing, if you strive for perfection in your craft and want your work to outshine all the other submissions in the publisher’s in box, these seminars are must-have. For information, email me at h_stanbrough@yahoo.com.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

PS: If you’re reading this in an email and you’d like to comment (please do) just visit http://harveystanbrough.com/blog, scroll to the end of the current post and comment.

A New Note in Punctuation

Hi Folks,

Interrobang1When I edit a manuscript, my sole purpose is to make the reading experience seamless for the reader, thereby enhancing the writer’s reputation for excellent writing. When I’m finished there should be no rough edges over which the reader can stumble, no ambiguity or lags in the flow of information that can momentarily confuse the reader, and no punctuation that fails to direct the reading of the work and help convey the mood of the moment.

We probably are all aware of the “new” punctuation mark that’s actually been around since 1962, the interrobang. It looks like an exclamation point imbedded in question mark. It’s intended to convey the exclamatory question. I was going to show you one in context, but most fonts don’t include it yet, so I’ve slipped in a couple of photos instead. The one above is a stylized photo from http://interrobang-mks.com/ and the one below is the way the interrobang appears in Microsoft Word’s Wingdings 2 collection. (To find it go to Format, choose Fonts, then Wingdings 2. To find the interrobang, on your keyboard select the ~ or the } or the ^ (the carat above the 6) or the _.)

Note that the interrobang would be used only in dialogue as the narrator never has a reason to display emotion of any kind, even when he’s also a character. As in real life, the narrator and character roles are different even when they’reInterrobang2 played by the same person. But back to reality for a moment. To keep the interrobang in the font you’re using through the rest of the manuscript, I advocate using a question mark followed by an exclamation point: “What the hell are you doing?!”

The question mark should come first because “What the hell are you doing?” is a question. The exclamation point simply indicates that the question was presented in a stressed voice. (Of course, the way the question is worded indicates a bit of stress even without the exclamation point.) Here’s the question presented differently to indicate increasing levels of stress:

“What the hell are you doing?”
What the hell are you doing?
“What the hell are you doing?!”
What the hell are you doing?!

And that isn’t all. In my current editing project, I ran across the situation that stirred this blog post in the first place: a terse statement (again, in dialogue) that had been interrupted by the other character. Here’s that snippet of conversation:

“You don’t give a damn about our race, you pompous son of a—!”
“I’ll tell you one thing, William, and listen to me closely.”

Of course, we know to use the em dash to indicate the abruptness of an interruption. To indicate an exclamation that’s been interrupted, as in the excerpt above I advocate using the em dash followed by the exclamation point: “What the—!” or “Oh man! Holy sh—!” or “But Manuel, I love—!” or “¡Pero Maria, te amo—!”

(Now, for those of you who still believe you should use an ellipsis to indicate an interruption, please don’t. Remember that the ellipsis creates a pause of indeterminate length; that is, whether the pause is medium or long or somewhere in between depends on the context. That’s why the ellipsis is appropriate to indicate halting speech or dialogue trailing away at the end of a sentence—there’s nothing abrupt about it—so to juxtapose the ellipsis with an exclamation point simply wouldn’t work. If I may personify the two marks for a moment, the lackadaisical attitude exhibited by the ellipsis would clash with the sense of urgency conveyed by the exclamation point.)

So there y’go. If you’re wondering about any other punctuation marks or if you believe you’ve discovered new, innovative uses for them or for combinations, please add a comment below.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

10 Mistakes Authors Make That Can Cost Them a Fortune (and how to avoid them)

Hi Folks,

The Microsoft Word for Writers series will return on October 30, but right now I wanted to share this very important reprint with you. I’ve trimmed away the non-essentials but kept the main points and the rationale. I’ve indicated omissions with an ellipsis. This series of excerpts is reprinted with permission from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com. Where I added anything, it’s inside brackets.

Enjoy,
Harvey

When it comes to books, promotion, and book production I know that it can sometimes feel like a minefield of choices. Although I can’t address each of these in detail, a number of areas are keenly tied to a book’s success (or lack thereof). Here are ten for you to consider:

1) Not Understanding the Importance of a Book Cover—Authors will sometimes spend years writing their books and then leave the cover design to someone who either isn’t a designer, or doesn’t have a working knowledge of book design or the publishing industry. Or worse, they create a design without having done the proper market research. … A survey of booksellers showed that 75% of them found the book cover to be the most important element of the book. Finally, please don’t attempt to design your own book cover. Much like cutting your own hair, this is never a good idea. {Recommendation: Professional EBook Cover Design}

2) You Get What You Pay For—There’s an old saying that goes You can find a cheap lawyer and a good lawyer, but you can’t find a good lawyer who is cheap. … If a deal [in marketing services] seems too good to be true, make sure you’re getting all the facts. Just because they aren’t charging you a lot doesn’t mean they shouldn’t put it in writing. And by in writing I mean you should get a detailed list of deliverables. Finding a deal isn’t a bad thing, but if you’re not careful it might just be a waste of money, so ask good questions before you buy. {Recommendation: Whether or not you do it yourself, treat marketing your book as if it’s a business, because it is. You have to work it constantly. See Angela & Richard Hoy’s 90 Days of Promoting Your Book Online}

3) Listening to People Who Aren’t Experts—When you ask someone’s opinion about your book, direction, or topic, make sure they are either working in your industry or know your consumer. If … you’ve written a book for teens, give it to teens to read. Same is true for self-help, diet, romance. Align yourself with your market. You want the book to be right for the reader. In the end that’s all that matters.

4) Hope is not a Marketing Plan—Hope is a wonderful thing, but it isn’t a marketing plan. Hoping that something will happen is one thing, but leaving your marketing to “fate” is quite another. … When it comes time to get your book out there, you need to have a solid plan in place or at the very least a set of actions you feel comfortable working on. … Once your book is past a certain “age” it gets harder to get it reviewed so don’t sit idly by and hope for something to happen. Make it happen. A book is not the field of dreams; just because you wrote it doesn’t mean readers will beat a path to your door.

5) Work it, or Not—Book promotion should be viewed as a long runway, meaning you should plan for the long term. Don’t spend all your marketing dollars in the first few months of a campaign. Make sure you have enough money or personal momentum to keep it going. Whether or not you hire a firm you must work … your marketing plan. Publishing is a business. You’d never open a store and then just sit around hoping people show up to buy your stuff. You advertise, you run specials, you pitch yourself to local media. You work it.  … Time will pass anyway. How will you use it?

{Folks, me again. For a limited time you can get a free, printable PDF copy of the ebook gleaned from my recent seminar, Emarketing & Social Media. Just Click Here. Okay, back to the blog post.}

6) Not Understanding Timing—Be prepared with your marketing early. … Timing can affect things like book events (especially if you’re trying to get into bookstores). Understand when you should pitch your book for review, start to get to know your market and the bloggers you plan to pitch. Create a list and keep close track of who to contact and when you need to get your review pitch out there. … A missed date is akin to a missed opportunity. {Recommendation: Keep in mind “major” dates for booksellers, like just before the holiday season, spring break, and summer reading.}

7) Hiring People Who Aren’t in the Book Industry—Hiring someone who has no book or publishing experience isn’t just a mistake, it could be a costly error. … Make sure you hire the right specialist for the right project. Also, you’ve probably spent years putting together this project, so make sure you make choices based on what’s right and not what’s cheapest. If you shop right you can often find vendors who are perfect for your project and who fit your budget. {Recommendation: While you’re here anyway, look around HarveyStanbrough.com for professional services from a successful writer, editor and publisher.}

8) Designing Your Own Website—You should never cut your own hair or design your own website. Period. … Let’s say you designed your own site which saved you [a few to several hundred or even] a few thousand dollars paying a web designer. Now you’re off promoting your book and suddenly you’re getting a gazillion hits to your site. The problem is, the site is not converting these visitors into a sale. How much money did you lose by punting the web designer and doing it yourself? Hard to know. Scary, isn’t it? {Recommendation: Don’t Do “Free” Sites. Pop-up ads and scrunched-up, out-of-the-box designs are not professional. Decide whether you want to put a professional face on yourself as a writer, and then choose accordingly.}

9) Becoming a Media Diva—Let’s face it, you need the media more than they need you, so here’s the thing: be grateful. Thank the interviewer, send a follow up thank-you note after the interview. Don’t expect the interviewer to read your book and don’t get upset if they get some facts wrong. Just gently, but professionally, correct them in such a way that they don’t look bad or stupid. Never ask for an interview to be redone. … The thing is, until you get a dressing room with specially designed purple M&M’s, don’t even think about becoming a diva. The best thing you can do is create relationships. Show up on time, show up prepared, and always, always, always be grateful.

10)  Take Advantage—There are a ton of resources out there for you. … The resources and free promotional tools that are out there now are almost mind-numbing, … things like social media. … Many authors rock out their campaign by just being on Facebook, or Wattpad or Goodreads. … Find out for yourself what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to marketing, the mistakes can cost you both time and money. Knowing what to do to market your book is important, but knowing what to avoid may be equally as significant.