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Author Toolbox: Mythcreants

Welcome to our second Author Toolbox entry. These posts will highlight resources that we’ve found helpful. Blogs, software, books and people who have something to offer authors. While we may spotlight some well-known resources, the focus at first will be things off the beaten author path or stuff that’s on the bleeding edge (that is, very new tech or ideas). And without further ado…

Author Toolbox: Mythcreants

We are not just any authors. We are that rare breed, that maverick species called speculative fiction writers. Science fiction, horror, fantasy and many odd niches like space opera western, ninja engineer steampunk and post-apocalyptic amish vampires. In space.

It is because we are strange, weird, peculiar, outlandish, unusual, bizarre and astonishing (yes, okay, fine, I used a thesaurus) that we may find it difficult to make friends. And find readers.

There are some common watering holes. #StarWars and #StarTrek are a good start, but honestly those places are getting crowded with muggles. Cross-pollinate your search with Doctor Who and Firefly and you’re on track to finding some cool peeps (not kidding – check out this Pinterest board, fill your chore or commute time with podcasts on spec fic topics or audio fiction, find spec fic geeks to hang with in Texas, and discover wonderful ways to empty your pocketbook).

But if you want to find the Mythcreants, you ought to include in your search Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter, Discworld, and don’t forget to include comics and RPGs.

What is “Mythcreants” and what’s it to do with us?

mythcreants-websiteFirst, let me introduce them to you in their own words.

Mythcreants is a blog for speculative fiction storytellers. To better understand and tell the stories we love, we analyze popular stories and explore techniques in writing, roleplaying, and worldbuilding. We’re here to provide entertainment, insight, and inspiration. The site is powered by about a dozen hard-working volunteers.

I have enjoyed their articles on writing and world-building and felt that their insights and online community are compatible with what we’re doing here at the #SpecFicCollective. As a Trekkie, I find their Star Trek articles both fun and insightful.

Most of all, I share Mythcreants with you because while there are many websites that teach the writing craft, there are fewer that discuss the finer points of speculative fiction world-building and storytelling. Also, one of the core strategies of the genre author in today’s market is connecting with others who might share a similar audience. Finding places where fans are talking about things you love is a great way to find others of like mind.

Enjoy! And if you have any favorite places that you go to discuss speculative fiction, drop a comment below and share it!

 

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Author Marketing Journey: Assessment Quiz Analysis – Part 2

Continuing our series on the author marketing and publishing journey, we examine the answers to quiz questions 3-4. If you missed the original 8-point assessment quiz or Part 1, take a moment to review them. This post is most helpful if you use it to analyze your answers to the quiz and get ideas for what to focus your efforts on right here, right now.

warriors-apprentice-bujold-quote-ideas-move-men

Also continuing to share my love for Miles Vorkosigan and his universe…

3. Type of work

Mostly short stories – If your finished works are mostly short stories, but you’d like to write novels, put some effort towards finishing that first novel. However, there’s a new opportunity available to authors who love the short story form: today’s publishing landscape is wide open for those who want to make (or supplement) a career with short fiction. Today’s mobile readers want stories-to-go, so you could publish with flash fiction magazines, and/or sell your own anthologies of short fiction. In other words, if you like the short story form, don’t feel like a second-class citizen. You don’t have to write a novel. There’s a global shortage (in my opinion) of truly great short fiction authors. This could be your time to shine.

Mostly novellas – The novella is a sweet spot in today’s publishing landscape. Readers love it because it’s a quick injection of entertainment, perfect for their busy lives. Most readers are content to pay the same amount for a good novella as they do for a cheaply-priced novel. There are opportunities available for wider recognition if you target a well-known contest (although contests aren’t always your best bet) or partner with some other authors to create a collection of works that would please readers in your genre (a boxed set, a bundle, an anthology, etc). That said, you might consider taking the leap and writing a full-fledged novel.

Mostly novels – If you have focused primarily on novels, consider supplementing this work with some short stories or novellas. Novels take longer to put together, even if you are quick and prolific. Putting out shorter works (whether as a reward for joining your mailing list, for sale, or as freebies to your loyal followers) in between releases of your novels will keep your name in front of your audience. They also provide entry points for new readers. A proven strategy is to use free short stories to introduce readers to the characters and setting of your novels; the reader that gets hooked on your hero in a short story is likely to click “buy” on the novel. Especially if you link to the novel at the end of the story.

4. Upcoming releases

If you did the 8-question quiz, you have a list of your works-in-progress (WIPs). Now look at each one and consider the following:

  • What is unique about the setting of the story? When writing speculative fiction, the story world is half (or more) of the appeal of any given story. Think about the futurescape of The Fifth Element and Bladerunner. Remember the fantasyscape of Labyrinth and Alice in Wonderland. The wonder of Niven’s Ringworld and Pratchett’s Discworld.
  • What are the engaging aspects of your character’s personalities? What are their day jobs? What is the trouble they become embroiled in?
  • What themes or premise does your story explore?

Take each of the above, and think about ways to intrigue people with glimpses of your upcoming release(s). People joke about movie trailers that start with “In a world where…” but it’s an effective way to intrigue people. If you have art skills, you could draw things related to your story (characters, places, creatures, etc). If you don’t, you could browse Deviantart or Pinterest and find things similar to your world or characters.

People relate to others with similar jobs and are intrigued by others with exotic jobs. If your hero is a coffee shop barista, talk about the drink he invented; if she’s an aspiring actress, start casting her in upcoming movies; if he’s a hunter of monsters that stalk the night, tell us his favorite monster-free vacation spots or pet peeves about night-stalking. If she struggles with PTSD or nightmares or back trouble, share articles on the topic.

Tip: Sometimes we get story-blindness and don’t see the cool things about our own characters and stories. Find a creative friend (they don’t even have to be a writer, just someone with great ideas who enjoys movies or stories) and brainstorm with them. Tell them about your story and show them the above ideas and get their feedback; two brains are better than one! If you have a writer’s group, do this together. 5-10 minutes for each author, around the room, and you’ll have a ton of ideas!

Bonus fun: Check out this compilation of trailer voice-overs by the late Don LaFontaine, often credited with being the voice of modern American movie trailers.

To Be Continued… Same Bat-Time. Same Bat-Channel.

batman-robin-1966-batmobile

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Author Toolbox: James Clear

Welcome to our first Author Toolbox entry. These posts will highlight resources that we’ve found helpful. Blogs, software, books and people who have something to offer authors. While we may spotlight some well-known resources, the focus at first will be things off the beaten author path or stuff that’s on the bleeding edge (that is, very new tech or ideas). And without further ado…

Author Toolbox: James Clear

James Clear writes about behavioral psychology, habit formation, and performance improvement. So why are we spotlighting him here on a blog about author marketing? Like so many things in life, success as an author is very much a head game. The battle takes place in the mind. First in our own, and then in the minds of our readers.

Since a mind-control device for readers hasn’t been invented yet (Someday, my pretties! BwahahahahaHAHA! …er, ahem, excuse me… my inner megalomaniacologue slipped out), let’s stick to dealing with our own author brains.

The usual suspects

How many times have you said (or heard your author friends say):

  • I wish I had more time to write
  • I know I should be writing, but…
  • Sometimes I just feel like giving up
  • I’ve been at this for so long, but never seem to get any traction
  • I need to get my priorities straight
  • Something’s gotta change, but I don’t know where to start
  • I’ve tried to get into a habit of writing every day, but I just can’t keep it up

The list goes on. When we hear this sort of thing, it’s obvious that 1) a change is needed and 2) it’s not happening. The #SpecFicCollective mission is all about figuring out where we are, where we’re going and making the necessary adjustments to get there. So how do we make course adjustments in life?

That’s exactly what James talks about on his blog.

James ClearWhy James Clear?

The standard disclaimers apply: If you have a different guru that you prefer to go to when you need to kick yourself into gear, please give them a shout out in the comments. There are so many great sources out there. But today, we’re talking about just one of them.

First, a bit of context. I’ve read the books and/or taken the training for a half-dozen different approaches to time management, business planning, habit forming, etc. Stephen Covey, John Maxwell, Dale Carnegie, Peter Drucker and David Allen are good buddies of mine (no, not really, but it feels that way, with the number of times I’ve read their books). I’m familiar with how these things work.

James is familiar with them, too, from what I can tell. But James puts things a little differently. His outlook is a unique blend of fitness, psychology, and business. He draws examples from interesting people and fresh research. And one of the key concepts he promotes feels particularly relevant to me and this Collective of creatives: the concept of identity-based change.

Instead of focusing on trying to change our actions or motivating ourselves based on what others think, he talks about changing how we think about ourselves. A change in how we look at ourselves brings long-lasting results, as we become what we envision.

Straight from the source

Better that you hear it in his words, though. Below is a list of articles that have made a huge difference in my approach to life, business and becoming the author (and person) I want to be.

If you like listening to audio instead, here’s one that he did on the Unmistakable Creative podcast. James also offers a handy list of his most popular articles on his blog’s main page.

What do you think?

Once you have a chance to check out his work, I’d love to hear what you think. If there’s someone you find helpful in dealing with the mental aspect of the author journey, post a link to their work in the comments!

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Author Marketing Journey: Assessment Quiz Analysis – Part 1

Last week we posted an 8-question quiz to help you assess where you are in your author journey. The publishing landscape is complex and ever-changing, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In fact, when I finished drafting the quiz analysis, the post was almost 3,000 words long! That’s a lot for one sitting. (If only I could have added that to my NaNoWriMo wordcount. *le sigh*)

So I’ve broken the quiz analysis into three posts. Once you’ve got your list of answers from the quiz, analyze them with the suggestions in these posts to determine your primary focus for where you are right here, right now.

Forward momentum + right direction = Win

During this series, we’re going to take some inspiration from Miles Vorkosigan. He is the master of forward momentum. What this means is that I don’t have any gorgeous movie photos to share with you, so I’m going to use book covers and quotes. It may look a little like advertisements, and yes, I actually link to the books on Amazon. But it’s not some nefarious scheme to fund this blog via referral micro-payments (ha!) or to make any authors feel left out because I’m not quoting their books (wait your turn!). It’s simply because this is my blog and Miles is my favorite protagonist of all time (so far), and because I hope you’ll enjoy the quotes.

The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

1. Publication status

Unpublished – Your number one goal is to WRITE. This may seem obvious, but as you probably know by now, it’s easy to get distracted. Depending on how much time you have available, you may add 1) developing your author brand and 2) networking with other authors and influencers in your genre(s) to your plate. But do not add anything else unless you are actually writing on a consistent basis. And when I say “write”, I mean:

  • write a novel
  • write short stories, flash fiction, screenplays, graphic novel scripts, etc
  • read books in your genre and analyze them (notice your favorite parts, think about how the plot works and why you enjoy the characters)
  • copy your favorite passages of books in your genre (your brain will absorb the writing differently when you type it out than when you read it)
  • read books on the writing craft; actually DO the exercises in them
  • attend writing classes, workshops, conferences
  • participate in a writing group, online or offline; critique others and be critiqued
  • if your goal is traditional or indie publishing, learn and practice writing queries and proposals and such
  • submit your work: to agents, to publishers, to beta readers, to contests, to magazines, to anthologies, etc
  • in other words, grow your skills by both study and practice

Self-published / Indie press published / Traditionally published/ Magazine published – Once you are published, it’s very important that whomever reads your work can connect with you and that you (ideally) collect their email addresses for future marketing efforts. The number one thing: get a website of your own. Even if it’s only one page, that’s enough to share your author brand and connect with your reader. Choose your social media account(s) and maintain at least a nominal presence. This is the same across all forms of publishing. I’m always disappointed when I read a great piece of flash fiction in a magazine and the author doesn’t have a website or social media account. There’s no way for me to read more of their work.

2. Number of published works

This is, perhaps, the most influential factor when an author is deciding where to spend his or her time. The recommendations below are based on the shared experiences of many, many veteran writers who are navigating the unexplored regions of the modern publishing ‘verse. Names who have come from all walks of publishing: Bob Mayer, Dean Wesley Smith, Seth Godin, Joanna Penn, Sean Platt, JA Konrath, Michael Hyatt, CJ Lyons, Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki and many, many more. Feel free to do your own reading and develop your own plan. But if we sat down to coffee, you and I, this is what I’d tell you.warriors-apprentice-bujold-quote-cry-on-breasts

1-2 published works – KEEP WRITING (see “Unpublished” above). You have something out, and that’s great. But you need more momentum. Develop your author brand, but stay focused on getting more work published. Finish your trilogy. Put out a novella, some short stories. Build your resume. The goal is that when a reader finds you and likes your work, they will have enough to read that they can transition from reader to fan.

3-5 published works – SHIFT SOME FOCUS TOWARDS YOUR AUTHOR BRAND. Spend at least 20% of your “writing career time” figuring out your brand, getting some copy written about yourself and your books, developing visual materials that reflect your brand, interacting on social media with the intention of building that brand and gathering followers. Network with other authors, especially those whose audiences are compatible with yours. KEEP WRITING. You still need more published before you look like an established author with a body of work, so don’t stop writing. Spend 80% of your time continuing to produce your work.

6-10 published works – GET SERIOUS ABOUT YOUR AUTHOR BRAND. Get that brand/platform thing figured out. If you’ve been putting it off, stop procrastinating. You need a brand, you need an online presence that reflects it across multiple social media outposts, and you need to identify and put into play some strategies for 1) bringing in traffic likely to be your target audience and 2) converting that traffic into loyal followers and 3) moving those followers to buy your books and become raving fans that do your marketing for you.

10+ published works – REST ON YOUR LAURELS. You heard me, your work here is done. OF COURSE I’M KIDDING, SILLY! Did you know, there are authors who published over 500 books in their career? Isaac Asimov, for one! If you are enjoying what you’re doing, keep doing it. However, I would recommend thinking hard about where you want to go from here. Do you love the writing process best? Or do you want to spend more time getting to know your readership and enjoying relationships with people who love your work? Look at your body of work so far and decide what you would like to add to the collection. More of the same? Or shifting gears towards something you’ve always wanted to write but hesitated to try? Decide some career goals (measured financially, by number of books sold, or by numbers of books written, or some other factor — you pick!) and go for them. If you are going to continue to write, then all of the above items mentioned for people with fewer published works applies to you, too. If you don’t already have an author brand, online presence, etc, get that done.

BONUS TIP: 3+ published works & overwhelmed by marketing – If you don’t understand online marketing and feel overwhelmed and confused when you try to research it on your own, MAKE FRIENDS with some people who “get it” and who have the ability to point you in the right direction. When I say “make friends”, I mean anything from reading their blog and commenting with your questions to actually inviting them out to coffee if you live nearby. Don’t be a pest, but step out boldly and ask some questions. Then DO something they recommend. Thinking about marketing never does a thing. DOING it — trying something, seeing how it goes, trying something else (or more likely, doing the same thing consistently for a year or two) — is what gets results.

To Be Continued… Next week!

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The Author Marketing Journey: An 8-Point Self-Assessment for Writers

Before e-books and the Great Indie Publishing Revolution, things were tough enough for writers trying to break into publishing. But now? There are more options and opportunities, but with them come more choices to be made and more items than ever on the list of “What to do if you want to succeed as an author”.

enders-game-battle-interface02

It’s as if author success has gone from the difficulty level of climbing Mount Everest (with all the planning, training, and expense involved in that) to launching a manned mission to Mars (we’re talking exponential difference here). Or perhaps I should say it’s as complex as fighting a real-time space battle against a formidable alien foe. Congratulations, you’re in Command School now.

Navigating a complex landscape

How do we decide where to spend our time? More than ever, we need to be strategic. Monday’s post talked about accepting where you are in the publishing journey and finding motivation to keep moving forward. Today’s shorter tactical post is all about getting the info to determine the next steps in your author marketing journey.

To use any map effectively, you first need to know where you are.

The 8 points of reference

Spend 5-10 minutes and jot down your answers to the following eight questions.

  1. Publication status – Check all that apply. Are you: unpublished, self-published, indie press published, traditionally published, magazine published, other?
  2. Number of published works – Do you have: 1 published work, 2-5 published works, 6-10 published works, 10+ published works?
  3. Type of work – Your published works are: mostly short stories, mostly novellas, mostly novels, other?
  4. Upcoming releases – Works in progress (list your WIPs, along with estimated completion dates)?
  5. Completed work next steps – So far as completed drafts go, what do you most need right now: a critique partner, an editor, beta readers, a publisher, a book cover, formatting help, a decision regarding where/how to publish it/them?
  6. Overall career next steps – So far as personal career development goes, what do you most need right now: to improve your craft (basic writing skills), to improve your storytelling (advanced plot/structure and developmental story issues), help deciding where/how you want to publish (self, indie, traditional, hybrid), help with marketing/selling your published works, connection with influencers in your selected genre(s), improvement of your online presence and author brand, time to write/finish your current WIPs?
  7. Greatest obstacles – What are the most common pitfalls or challenges that keep you from moving forward right now? List the top 3. Examples: lack of time, feeling overwhelmed, getting distracted, not knowing what to do next, etc.
  8. Greatest assets – Name 3 people or groups who you have in your corner (who inspire, help or encourage you in your writing).

By putting the answers to these questions onto a single sheet of paper, you can get a better view of where you are. This post ties into our series on Brand Essentials. The lists you’ve made if you’ve been doing those assignments will tie in closely with the results of this assessment. The next author marketing lesson will explain how to use these answers to decide your next steps given where you are right now.

Intricate battle interface images via ashthorp.com

Did you know…?

The graphics for this post came from AshThorp.com. Ash is a fan of science fiction and the Ender books, and working on the graphics for this film was a breakthrough project for him. Go, Ash!

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Eliminate 80% of author angst with these two things

A lot of energy is wasted — days, weeks, even years out the airlock — when an author’s head isn’t in the game. The days we spend wishing we were further along in our journey. The weeks we procrastinate, dreading failure (or success). The months that depression about our lot in life… about the value of our writing… about the amount of time we have… about how well other people are doing… (the list of reasons goes on) gets us down and keep our fingers from the keys. Wasted.

Have you felt it? Some form of angst over your writing life? This malady often strikes when we begin to work on marketing ourselves and our work. We are most vulnerable when we are comparing where (or who) we want to be with where (or who) we are.

We all want to be Superman

Superman: Man of Steel

(Unless we can be Batman. Then we all want to be Batman… Just kidding. You don’t have to like Superman or Batman to get what I’m saying. Substitute your favorite superhero in this spot.)

There are many reasons we feel author angst (call it frustration, anxiety, anger, fear, dissatisfaction or whatever flavor most often assaults you), but there’s one I see crop up again and again. It has to do with not liking where we are and who we are in a given moment.

We want to be on top of the world. Signing that publishing contract. Selling those hundreds of books a month. Dominating that best-seller list. Or maybe our goals are smaller, but they are still ambitious. We want to be writing those thousands of words a day, finishing that first draft within a few months.

But then life happens

And instead of being where we want to be, we are here. Working that day job (or two). Homeschooling the kids. Suffering with chronic fatigue or pain. Squeezing out a mere couple hundred words a day, if that. Reaching the end of the work day without enough energy to do more than sit on the couch and watch a TV show before falling into bed. Our creativity ebbs low, and time goes by, and we still only have — what? That same unfinished draft. That same, single published work. Or those same ten books, still only making one or two sales a month.

Meanwhile, it seems the world passes us by.

Time to tell yourself a story

Supporting characters: Samwise and Obi-Wan Kenobi

What if it’s okay that you’re not Superman right now? What if right now, you need to be Samwise, or Obi-Wan? Maybe right now is the marshes, a time of slogging through mud and dealing with the ghosts lurking in their depths. Maybe right now is holding that ground, distracting Vader so those you are protecting can become what they need to become. Maybe you are Luke on Dagobah and it’s time to learn and practice your skills.

When you find yourself embraced by angst over your writing journey, there is a powerful one-two punch that I find dissipates that attack nearly every time.

  1. Acceptance: Find the beauty in where you are.
  2. Hope: Find the motivation to move forward.

“Nobody wants my story!” If you have an impressive collection of rejections, don’t let it get you down. Read the accounts of now-famous authors about their early days. Even some of the best writers were rejected (here’s a list of 50 if those other two articles weren’t enough). Have faith in what you’re doing and just keep writing.

“I’m not getting anywhere.” Well, you certainly won’t get anywhere with that attitude. The truth is that if you keep putting one foot in front of another (however slowly) you will move forward. Re-center on why you’re writing. Re-discover the joy of it. And when you feel like giving up, check out the many excellent tips out there from this simple Google search. Even if you’re in the Swamps of Sadness, don’t let the sadness get to you. But if it does, I hope that (like Atreyu in The Neverending Story), you make friends along your journey who can pull you out when you’re going under.

“If I keep going at this rate, I’ll be 102 before I finish this series.” Sounds like you need to make a tough call. Either walk away from it or keep going. And if you keep going, stay hopeful: don’t wear yourself out, but look for those opportunities to make more time for your writing. Take them when they come. Forgive yourself when you miss them. And maybe you need to make a more aggressive change: start looking for a new job, one that would give you more time or leave you less exhausted. Also ask yourself, “Is this a season of life?” You may have children to attend to, and waiting until they are grown may feel like forever. But guess what? There are many top authors who didn’t start writing until later in life. Be Obi-Wan for your children. It’s worth it.

“I don’t even have enough finished work to begin building a fanbase.” Sure, the most effective marketing tactics work best for authors with a bigger body of work. First of all, you can be thankful that during this season of your writing career (yes, go ahead and call it a career!) your best approach is to put 90+% of your energy into the thing you love best: writing. You heard me: If you don’t have 3-5 stories already published, the best thing you can do is WRITE. Ignore marketing and just write! Or…. you actually can start building your fanbase before you’ve published a bunch of novels. We’ve touched a little on that in our past Author Branding lessons, and there’s more to come. But the good news is that you don’t have to. Just write.

“I’m a nobody.” Nobody is a nobody. You are amazing. You are a shining star in this universe of spinning galaxies, and if you don’t know that yet, you need to find the kinds of friends who will notice it and tell you as often as you need to hear it. As time goes on, I hope this #SpecFicCollective community will become that kind of place. A place where you can find others who are strange like you, with that weird mix of [whatever you are] or at least a mix that is compatible with you. Like peanut butter and chocolate. Like apples and cinnamon. Like pepperjack cheese. Hmmm, I must be hungry.

What’s your story?

This article is already 1,000 words long. Too long. And I know I didn’t cover all the reasons authors have ever been stuck in a rut. Is there some fear or angst that has been hounding you lately? Share it below in the comments. If you can, try to find a way of looking at it that gives you hope. If that’s impossible, just share the problem. Often an outside perspective can help.

Sometimes when even hope feels out of reach, the most important thing you can do is be willing to hope. Even when you feel stuck. I will never forget Neil Gaiman’s Sandman tale of A Hope in Hell. I hope you won’t either. Here’s the one-minute-twenty-seconds version of the story:

I say it a lot here, because I believe we need to hear it a lot: “Never give up, never surrender!” And when you start angsting against where you’re at, remember to tell yourself a story. A story that helps you accept where you are and gives you hope for future change. A story that reminds you that you are a hero, right where you are. The hero of your story.

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