Author Learning Center, authors, book marketing, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

7 Things Every Writer Needs to Become an Author (Part 1)

This is reposted from the Lulu.com blog where I was a guest blogger. Part 2 is coming soon.

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The ALC is a GPS for your publishing journey.

Researchers have estimated that 200 million people have an idea for a book, and yet most aspiring authors never get published. Why is that? That’s because having an idea for a book is easy. Starting to write a book is easy. Finishing the book is a much more difficult task. Not to mention marketing the book once it’s finished. So what does it take to turn a writer into an author? From my personal and professional experience, plus conversations with thousands of aspiring and accomplished authors, I have identified seven key things writers need if they are going to reach their publishing goals.

 

#1 An idea

Having an idea may seem obvious, but there is a big difference between an idea and a well-thought-out idea. The idea is the foundation for the book, yet many writers don’t take the time to really think about their ideas.

The five key elements of a great story

If you are writing a fiction book, there are five key elements of a great story you need to make sure are part of your book.

  1. An inciting action—This is the action near the beginning that kicks off the story. A dead body is found or a car chase ensues or two people kiss. Something needs to set the story in motion.
  2. A protagonist—This is often the main character who you want readers to cheer for and care about.
  3. An antagonist—This is the person who is working against the protagonist and putting up obstacles or making it difficult for the protagonist to accomplish whatever is set before him or her.
  4. A conflict or challenge—This is whatever must be overcome for the protagonist to succeed. What happens if your protagonist doesn’t stop the asteroid from hitting the earth? What happens if someone takes over the world and inserts a virus into computers? What happens if the murderer isn’t caught? Too often, writers start out with a really good idea, but they don’t draw the reader in by making it clear what’s at stake. It sounds simple, but surprisingly many writers don’t make this easy to spot when this is what typically propels the story forward and gives context to the characters.
  5. A resolution—A story without closure isn’t really a story. Readers don’t want to be left hanging. So even if you are writing a series, you want to provide a satisfying ending. All good stories do.

Both traditional publishers and Hollywood executives look for these elements in a story, which is why you will see them in most successful books and movies. However, what I have found is most first-time authors are missing one or more of these key elements in their stories so the book fails to satisfy. I encourage you to take a hard look at your book and ask yourself if you have these elements clearly defined. If not, make sure you add them to your story. It seems like a short list, but it is critical if you are writing a fiction book.

What about a nonfiction book?

If you’re writing a nonfiction book, you still need to have a framework, but it is different from a fiction book. One big question you want to ask yourself is how will readers be impacted by reading the book?

  1. What outcome can I expect after I read your book?—Will I quit smoking? Will I be a better parent? Will I invest my money more wisely? Will I lose weight? Will I have better health? There is any number of outcomes that can come from reading a nonfiction book, but you need to be clear what your book offers.
  2. Are you going to give me a process that is repeatable?—Just because something worked for you doesn’t mean I will find it interesting if there is nothing I can apply from your experience. So you need to consider how others can use what you have learned. Give readers a process they can implement.
  3. Are you simply going to inspire me?—If you’re writing a memoir, yours might be a story that inspires and motivates a reader. That can be the power of a true story, but if that is your goal, do consider how you tell the story. A series of facts is not nearly as interesting as a book that includes the five elements of a great story—even if it is a memoir. Just because it happened chronologically doesn’t mean you have to tell the story in that order or even include every detail.
  4. Serve them PIE—As you start to develop your chapters, think about structuring them around the acronym PIE, which stands for Principal, Illustration, and Example. In other words, as you begin to write, try to include the principal you want to convey, but then couple that with an illustration of how it might work. Finally, offer an example of someone who has applied the principal in a real-world setting. This simple, proven structure can help readers more easily grasp the key points you are trying to make.

With an idea established for your book, you can start doing the real work of creating your book; the writing, editing, and developing.

#2 A deadline

The second thing that every writer needs to become an author is a deadline.

You must pick a date when you want to hold a copy of your book. With no deadline, you will probably never have a book.

If you work with a traditional publisher, they will set a date for you because your publisher or your editor will give you a deadline for when you need to turn in your manuscript. If you are self-publishing, you need to set that date for yourself because, without it, you most likely will never get to your goal. So make sure that you set a date when you want to hold a copy of your book.

And writing that date down makes a difference. Research shows you become 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals and dreams simply by writing them down on a regular basis. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, studied the art and science of goal-setting, and she concluded those who wrote down their goals achieved them at a significantly higher rate than those who did not.

If you want to increase the odds of becoming an author, set a deadline for finishing your book and write it down.

#3 A plan

You’ve got an idea and you’ve set yourself a deadline to complete that idea. How do you take steps to meet that deadline? A plan of course.

A plan is like GPS. Once you set your destination, you need a path with the steps to get to your goal. It’s also helpful to have milestones along the way to mark your progress. Think of the milestones a mini-deadlines.

If you are a writer and you want to become an author, these are some key milestones you want to mark on your journey.

  • manuscript complete
  • editing complete
  • submission for production
  • design
  • final revisions
  • printing

With the proper support and information, you can achieve these interim goals, and most importantly, celebrate success along the way. The key to remember is no date, no book; no plan, no book. In short, without a date and a plan, it is very unlikely you will get your goal.

Stay Tuned…

We’ll be back with the four remaining pieces to transforming yourself into an author, along with Keith’s conclusion!

 

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Author Learning Center, authors, book marketing, book selling, Hollywood, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

The good, the bad, the scary and the future of book publishing

Recently I had an opportunity to participate on a panel and I loved the title: The good, the bad, the scary and the future. It caused me to reflect on the state of the industry both in terms of where we are now and what can we look forward to in the near future. Here are my thoughts from that panel. See if you agree. If you have any other ideas you would like to share, use the comment section to do that.

The Good

Publishing options—there continue to be more ways for authors to publish books and get them into the hands of readers. Services, formats and distribution opportunities all continue to increase.

Connecting with readers through social media—savvy authors are taking advantage of social media to find potential readers and have them share about the book with their connections. Technology like Meet Edgar and Bookgrabrr have made it much easier.

Authors aren’t as isolated—writing a book is a solitary activity, but the journey doesn’t have to be. Platforms like The Author Learning Center help authors get connected with others who can provide help and encouragement along the way.

Still Alice

Still Alice started as a self-published book and became an Oscar winning movie.

Hollywood is more interested in ever in books—I think I read somewhere that there are 28 movies being released in the near future based on books.  That means more opportunity for authors no matter how they publish.

The Bad

Anybody can get published—with self-publishing still growing, it means almost anyone can become an author. That means there are more books available to readers than ever before so it has never been more important to have a well written book and compelling story.

Competing for attention is challenging—there are so many things vying for our attention that it is more important than ever to have a targeted marketing campaign.

The Scary

How hard it is to write a good book—I think people who start out with an idea underestimate how much work and skill it takes to write a good book. That is why it is more important than ever that a writer be committed to the craft and business of being an author.

….it is more important than ever that a writer be committed to the craft and business of being an author.

Reading for pleasure in some countries is declining—studies have confirmed fewer people are reading as a leisure activity. There are still some exceptions. Book clubs create power readers. Emerging countries seem to be cultivating more voracious readers, but in a number of established countries, the potential customer base could be shrinking.

Opportunities with bookstores and traditional publishers are waning in some markets and genres—As operating bookstores becomes more challenging and traditional publishers consolidate, there can be fewer opportunities for authors. That is not always the case depending on the market and type of book, but there has definitely been a decline in opportunities from even 10 years ago.

The Future

Self-publishing will continue to grow—since we first drew pictures on a cave wall, we have always wanted our ideas and stories to have permanence. Because of that I believe self-publishing will continue to expand to more people and more countries.

Hollywood will find more first time and self-published authors—as the demand for new ideas and stories continues to grow to feed the number of cable and streaming channels, Hollywood will expand where they look for ideas.  Movies like The Martian starring Matt Damon and Still Alice for which Julianne Moore won the Oscar started as self-published books which I believe opens the door for other authors who have not published traditionally.

Book shops that become a community focused will thrive—while bookstores have been challenged in some markets, we have also seen a number of retailers flourish who use their store as a place to gather people around ideas and events.

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authors, creativity, helpful hints, self publishing

4 words that will help you unleash your creativity.

Creativity is a very interesting and often debated topic. Is it something you are born with or something you can develop? Is it something that only happens when limitations are removed or is there a process you can follow to foster creative ideas?  From my experience some people may have a greater propensity to come up with new ideas, but we all have the capability to be creative. I say that because I believe creativity is essentially seeing or ordering the relationship between existing elements differently and perhaps in way that you had not seen previously. Therefore I believe you can use a process to help ideas flow more freely. It is a process I have used to fuel my own creativity and train others to use.

It is really quite simple and only requires you to remember four words:

  • Subtract
  • Add
  • Combine
  • Substitute

With these words in mind, you ask the question, “what if?” You can utilize this process in just about every area where creativity applies, but for this post, I want to focus on how an author might use it.

By subtracting the ability for characters to chose their future, the Divergent series provides an interesting plot twist and sets up the conflict for the main character.

By subtracting the ability for characters to chose their future, the Divergent series provides an interesting plot twist and sets up the conflict for the main character.

Subtract

One of the first things you can do with your story is “subtract” something. In other words, ask the question what if the main characters did not have sight? Or in the case of Divergent, what if they could not chose their future, but it was pre-determined. By taking away that simple choice, a major plot line unfolds. So what can you subtract from your characters or world and what ideas would that spawn.

Add

The opposite of subtract is add. So in the same way you subtracted things from your characters or plot, do an exercise where you add something. They could have a special power or previously unknown child. The environment in which they live could have some additional feature as well. The key here is that addition is the goal.  The goal is to make your story or characters more interesting by adding something that is a bit unexpected or launches the plot into a completely different direction.

Combine

This exercise involves taking two elements that you would not normally associate with each other and combining them. One of my favorite examples is the series, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer. Here the author took a well known character from history and combined him with the idea of vampires. It is a bit campy, but quite memorable and certainly a twist you did not expect.

Combining ideas in relationships that might not normally be seen can create some interesting ideas like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

Combining ideas in relationships that might not normally be seen can create some interesting ideas like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

Substitute

This last technique involves taking a common element and substituting something else in its place. So for example instead of communicating by sentences and speech, perhaps the characters in your book only communicate by song. Or instead of living on land, they live on water. Again the key here is to use this method to create a twist that makes your story or characters more unique and somewhat unexpected for the reader.

What do you do to stir your creative juices?

I trust you will find these simple exercises helpful as you strive to make your book as interesting as can be. Is there something else you do to help your creative process? If you are willing to share that, use the comment section on this post to let us know.

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Author Solutions, authors, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

3 brainstorming techniques that can help you capture the best ideas for your book

One of the keys to writing a good book is making sure your manuscript contains the best of ideas or story you want to brainstorm ideaconvey. That means you need to make sure you include all the main ideas and supporting concepts for a nonfiction book and all the key plot points and characters in a fiction book.

Brainstorming before you begin writing can help you capture scattered thoughts and explore new ones you might not have considered. You can brainstorm about your book in general to get started, or you can brainstorm something more specific, such as a particular character, the setting of your story, or a chapter. There are several brainstorming techniques that are useful for writers. Here are a few to try that could help make your book even better.

Ask Questions

Instead of focusing on the answers and what you know, think about questions you could ask about your topic or plot or a character. “What if” is a great place to start. What if the character was from another planet? What if no one spoke the same language? What if you wrote a workbook to accompany your non-fiction book? “What if” can lead to a number of new ideas.

Another way to approach this technique is create a sheet that has six categories: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then start writing down questions that need to be answered. Who are the antagonist’s allies? What is the one thing the main character cannot live without? Where will the story unfold? Give yourself a time frame, and write down as many questions as you can. At the end of the brainstorming session, dig deeper into some of the interesting questions that arose.

Create a Mind Map

Mind mapping can help you explore new directions and new ideas for your book.

Mind mapping can help you explore new directions and new ideas for your book.

To expand your basic idea, try the technique known as mind mapping. Mind mapping is a technique used to organize your brainstorming ideas. Start with a circle in the center of a blank page (use a large sheet of paper, a whiteboard, or even a sidewalk and chalk). In the middle of that circle, write your main idea or initial thought, and then branch off from there. Draw other circles branching from the first one, filling them in with related ideas or subplots. Continue expanding on each subsidiary idea and then on ideas subsidiary to the first sub-idea. Continue quickly, creating more branches and associations. At the end, your page will be filled with a mind map of ideas that will help you develop your story.

Make a List

The first two brainstorming ideas are intended to create a breadth of ideas around a topic, but making a list will help you explore the depth of a topic. To start set a number as your goal for your list. It could be ten, or 20 or 50. The number doesn’t matter as much as the commitment to create the list. Then write a statement or idea at the top of the page. For example, at the end of the book, the main character will ______________. Then start making a list of all the possible things that could happen to the main character. Most of the ideas on the list won’t be viable, but the goal is to just open up your thinking to find that one really killer idea on the list. Don’t worry about the quality or order of the items you are listing, just get them out onto the page. Then go back and review your list when you are done. You will probably be surprised at some of what you listed, but look for that one idea that can make your book really special.

Have you used brainstorming techniques?

I trust these three simple ideas are helpful to you, but perhaps there are other techniques you have used in your writing process. If so, please share those in the comment section and I will post for the other readers to see.

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Author Solutions, Editing, self publishing, writing

4 great tips for first time writers

Once again, I am going to draw from the experience of Kathy Ide to encourage and educate. In this video clip, which is featured on The Author Learning Center, Kathy shares some important tips for those who have not published before. The interview is less than three minutes long and definitely worth watching if you are working on your first book.

Lots of great information to help you with writing, publishing and marketing.

Lots of great information to help you with writing, publishing and marketing.

The tips are best said by Kathy, but here are the key points she makes.

Passion for your idea needs to be your motivation. Once you start the work of writing, it can be easy to forget the passion you had for your idea at the start, but don’t. Remember what compelled you to want to write.

It is a long road from the idea to finished book. This is not a new idea, but it is good to be reminded of it.

Tenacity is needed to write and re-write. Like the tip before, this is a reminder that you need to stick with it to get to your goal and impact readers with your writing.

Don’t give up. Remember there are people out there who will want to read what you have to say.

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Author Solutions, Editing, Indie book publishing, writing

5 helpful things aspiring writers can learn from our dog, Charlie

Eight years ago we brought a chocolate lab into our home who answers to the name of Charlie and I find him to be a most interesting and delightful animal. As I was observing him a few days ago, I realized there were a number of habits which he has that would actually be beneficial to writers.

Have a routine

Watching Charlie's routine is a a reminder of the habits writers need to develop to get to their goals.

Watching Charlie’s routine is a reminder of the habits writers need to develop to get to their goals.

One of the keys to accomplishing your goals is setting a time on the calendar to write and keeping it like an appointment. Charlie has times like that. Every morning, he expects me to take him out about the same time and feed him about the same time. I don’t know if we have trained him or he has actually conditioned us, but the most important thing is he is committed to the same activities each day at almost the same time without fail. Aspiring authors who try to fit in writing around their other activities almost never get to their goal.

Aspiring authors who try to fit in writing around their other activities almost never get to their goal.

Be naturally curious

We can walk the same path. We can sit in the same room. We can follow the same schedule, but Charlie will always take time to take in a new smell or find a new toy or pause to watch the actions of a child he does not recognize. Writers should do the same. Pause to take in new information and sense experiences because you never know how it might help your writing have greater depth and interest.

Be observant of the things around you

This is similar to being naturally curious, but one thing I have seen is Charlie always notices a sound or smell or animal or person that is different from what he normally sees. Writers would benefit from the same attention to observation. From those new sensations and inputs, you may find inspiration for a more robust description of a scene or an approach to dialogue or something else to improve your story or writing.

Find a favorite spot to write and you will be more productive.

Find a favorite spot to write and you will be more productive.

Find a favorite spot

I have written about this quite often. My personal experience and conversations with other writers have confirmed that where you write can impact what you write. Some people need complete quiet. Others need the stimulus of a public space. It really doesn’t matter where you write, as long as you know the place where you write best. As for Charlie, he has certain places, often where the sun is coming through the window, where he likes to hang out. Not sure how productive he is in those spots, because he tends to nap there, but the principle is the important thing to remember in this case.

It really doesn’t matter where you write, as long as you know the place where you write best.

Celebrate the accomplishment of the day

Writing and rewriting is a long journey with stops of self-doubt along the way so it is easy to give up, but don’t.  Learn to celebrate the accomplishments of the day. Even if you just write a couple of pages or change the dialogue in a scene, focus on that.  Charlie is happy if all he gets to do in a day is run and chase sticks. He gets excited by what he got done that day. Writers can learn from that.

So if you have been stuck or laid aside your manuscript, hopefully Charlie’s routine will inspire you to get back at it and accomplish your goal.

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Author Solutions, authors, self publishing, writing

Overcoming 5 Common Roadblocks That Keep Writers From Finishing Their Books (Part 1)

RoadblockHaving an idea for a book is really easy.  Starting a book is easy, but writing to finish is difficult and very few people actually reach the goal. Why is that?  I believe it is because the path to a finished book has many obstacles.

Why do some authors get published and others do not?  Well, I have authored three books myself, but more importantly, I have had hundreds of conversations with authors. It is from those chats that I have seen five common roadblocks that prevent writers from getting the manuscript to finished book.  Here is that list and some ways you can overcome them.

  1. Forgetting why you wanted to write the book
  2. Losing the discipline of writing regularly
  3. Losing sight of the day you want to hold your book
  4. Doubt creeps in.
  5. Unclear what you will do when you are done writing.

Forgetting why you wanted to write the book. There is usually some moment of inspiration or impetus that causes an author to want to write.  It is very easy along the way of doing the hard work of completing the manuscript to forget that reason.  Motivation is tied to remembering why.  So it is a very, very simple thing to do, but take a piece of paper and write down why you wanted to write the book in the first place.  Put that paper where you can see it every time you sit down to write.

Motivation is tied to remembering why

Losing the discipline of writing regularly. One thing I have seen that is common to all authors who are successful in self-publishing is they determine the best time to write and they block that time on the calendar.  Every author who I have spoken to usually has a time that is better than others for them to write.  Most authors can write more in one good hour than in three hours when not in the right space or time.

I remember one time I was sitting with an author who is quite prolific.  She has published more than 30 book and I wanted to test this theory with her.  I was having lunch with she and her husband.  I asked her the question, “Is there a particular time that you find yourself more productive in writing?”  Before she could answer the question, her husband said, “5:30 in the morning.”  He knew being married to her that there was a time when she was more productive than not.  So that is an important thing to remember, and what I find is if you try to write only when you have time, you will not be as successful. Other things will rush in and fill up the most productive time you have for writing.  So make an appointment with yourself on your calendar and block that time.

I will address the remaining three roadblocks in my next post. In the meantime, use the comments section to let me know if you think there are any other roadblocks I did not address. (To Be Continued)

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