Writing Tips for Young Writers

I’ve been doing this writing thing seriously now for a few years. I am far from the perfect writer, and I am continually working on my craft to improve, so I don’t want this post to come across to anyone that I am the great writing guru imparting knowledge to the poor souls who toil aimlessly with their words.

But I do have some experience, and I have witnessed what I feel are some real mistakes that young writers can make.

Without going into any specifics because I certainly don’t want to call anyone out, but I’ve come across some circumstances of young indie authors who should not YET be indie authors. I’ve read some cringe-worthy synopsis and book openings which were sorely lacking. The mistakes have ranged from misspellings of simple proper names, factually incorrect information, and a meandering writing style that talked about everything but the actual point of the story. I did not laugh at their mistakes because they aren’t funny. I felt for them. I applaud their passion for writing, but they are lacking the preparation needed to get their writing to a stage where it should be published. This led me to think of a few ideas which might help young writers (or inexperienced writers) to know whether or not if they are ready to publish. So here goes:

1) Seek help and advice. Young writers should be looking for a writing mentor who can give them pointers, read part of their manuscript for input, and help them feel confident that a manuscript is ready. The last thing a young writer should be doing is sending a manuscript to print when it isn’t ready or when the writer himself isn’t ready. Self-publication makes it too easy, and it’s way too tempting to just “get your writing out there.” It sounds like the right thing to do, but it’s not. You can quickly shoot yourself in the foot by putting your name on something that people will not read or will quickly pan as amateurish. So before you publish, seek advice from someone who knows.

2) Take advice. This is harder than seeking advice. Young writers often want to be encouraged but they often aren’t quite ready to hear the truth – their writing isn’t ready yet. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was 45. That’s after I had been writing drama for about seven years and after I had twenty-some years of living overseas, accumulating loads of different experiences. There’s no right age to publish, but don’t rush it if you’re young.

3) Have someone rip apart your manuscript, or at least a section of it. Words, sentences, structure, plot, spelling, syntax – everything! Use this painful exercise to understand your tendencies both good and bad. Belief me, this isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. I remember getting back a manuscript with red marks literally all over it, but, boy, did I learn from it. I have improved tremendously in my self-editing skills through this process. My latest novel came back quite clean from my editor because of this. I know what to look for and what I tend to do. It helps a lot.

4) Be a learner. You’re young. You don’t have as many experiences as someone in their forties. Read, grow, try, do, watch, experience, explore, imagine. Just write. All kinds of things. Try new directions and genres. Find a niche you are good at and you are passionate about. Keep at it and continually get feedback from others.

5) As you write, remember to keep your approach simple. Don’t try to sound pretentious or wordy. Don’t be Charles Dickens or Henry James (please no!). Be yourself.

6) In your simple approach, remember to keep every detail RELEVANT to the story. This is extremely important, and it’s a big mistake that many writers make. I remember when I was starting a story by describing a sunset and trying to be so poetic and wordy. But in reality, the sunset had nothing important to say about the story. Many young writers try to describe things which don’t need to be described. It’s one thing to practice your descriptive writing – that’s a good exercise – but it’s quite another to try to sound like you’re a good writer because you can describe a wind-worn wheat field in great detail. Trust me, nobody cares about the wheat field. Get to your story and stick to it. Cut and stay focused on what’s important.

I’m sure there are a lot of other important advice which can be given to young writers, but I hope these few words might be an encouragement to someone out there.

Most importantly, if you love to write, don’t stop writing. Just don’t publish it until you’re ready.

Kindle Scout Kick-off: Hot & Trending

My fourth novel’s Kindle Scout  campaign is off and running. Early results? HOT & TRENDING!

kindle scout hot 2

 

I really appreciate everyone  who has nominated it so far, and if you haven’t checked out the  site yet, you can do so HERE!

If you nominate my book and it is chosen for publication through Kindle Press, you’ll receive a free Kindle version! Great for you, great for me!

I’m really fond of this novel. Quite different from my other ones with no mention of Vietnam. Shocker! Actually, the way I wrote it, there’s no mention of the name of the country at all. There’s a specific reason behind this, but I won’t go into that now.

Here’s the synopsis. If you go to the website, you can read the first three chapters.

Thanks again, and here’s hoping the hotness doesn’t flame out too soon!

The revolution starts with an innocent smile.

As nightly raids burn the capital city, the mundane existence of Gerald Sanpatri takes a dramatic shift when Rosia walks into his life bringing laughter and unexpected love. She inspires the ex-writer to once again take up his pen and write the impossible: a love story for an entire nation. A Love Story for a Nation chronicles the explosive and heart-warming journey of one country’s brush with history through the eyes of a courageous man who dared to stand up, smile, and think the unimaginable.

Tedious Editing & a Decision about Kindle Scout

I recently received the manuscript back from my editor for my new novel A Love Story for a Nation. 

Once that happens, the gears start turning and the planning begins.

The first step is to obviously fix the mistakes and issues brought up by my editor. This is what I can tedious editing – the minutia of grammar and syntax that is ever so boring but also extremely important. I find it especially tedious because there’s nothing creative about it – it’s simply find and fix with the occasional re-write and re-phrasing.

Once I finish my tedious editing, I do another complete read through. I read it out loud to get a feel for the language and flow. On this final read through I fix any other mistakes I encounter along the way – though at this point the manuscript is ready for publishing. Of course, I do find phrasing and words that I want to change. A writer can never be completely satisfied. There’s always a danger of making changes at this point because what if I make a silly mistake that I don’t catch? It’s been known to happen, but it doesn’t stop me.

Once my final read-through is complete, I will typically produce an ARC which I make available to bloggers and reviewers.

But I’m not doing that this time because I’ve decided to give Kindle Scout a try. Kindle Scout is Amazon’s reader-driven publishing program. Any new, previously unpublished manuscript can be added to the site for 30 days. The more traction the book gets with readers will help it to attract more attention to Kindle Scout editors who may offer to publish it on Kindle Press. What’s most attractive about this program is that an author will know for sure with forty-five days whether Kindle Press will be publishing your book or not. If it chooses not to, then all digital and audio rights go back to the author.

I was happy to see Fiction and Literature finally being added as a new genre for Kindle Scout. This helped me decide to give it a try.

My goal is to have my new novel live on Kindle Scout by the middle of April. That way, I’ll have a decision from them by around the first of June.

If they decide not to publish it, then I will self-publish in mid-July.

Please keep your eye out for more information about my book on Kindle Scout. Your nomination on the site could help me land a publishing deal. That’s pretty cool. Even if it doesn’t happen, I am curious to see how the program works, and I’ll report back on my experience.

I guess that also means I need to release my book cover. Soon!

You can buy twitter followers? The dark side of modern publishing.

What?

Call me naive and extremely behind the curve, but what? Is? That?

I need to pause and think for a minute.

Hmmm. You mean by this afternoon I could be followed by tens of thousands of twitter-heads?

Okay. I’ve thought. Here’s my conclusion: if that’s what it takes to succeed in this world, then I am all right living in obscurity.

I mean, really. What is this all about?

In a word: image. If you have oodles of followers I would assume that people think you have something important to say. Is value and importance now subject to popularity tests?

I can imagine that quite a few people in history would not have done well on Twitter if they were living in this day and age.

What this all says to me is the supremacy of image and perception is creating a fallacious cloud around the publishing industry. (Though this could certainly apply to many other fields as well.) Let’s take a look at how publishing today creates image through falsity:

  • An author can buy twitter followers.
  • An author can buy ready-made book outlines. (I have a post on this coming up.)
  • An author can post fake reviews on all the popular sites.
  • An author can have a business buy oodles of their books up front just so it hit the best selling list.
  • A (fake) author can hire a ghostwriter and proudly slap their name on the cover.
  • An author can sign up at different websites where authors buy each other’s books as a “I’ll scratch your back, you’ll scratch my back” way to improve their Amazon sales rank.

I’m sure I’m missing some here, but you get the picture.

The temptation to do some of these tactics is no doubt real because the benefits of a book finally breaking through can be the difference between an author languishing in the realm of making a few hundred dollars a year to being able to finally build a career with one’s writing.

And if I can just say, some literary agents aren’t making the problem any better. One agent, answering the question of what they look for in writers in terms of on-line presence before they would agree to represent him or her, said that he would like to see someone who has tens of thousands of twitter followers. Hmmm … now we know it’s not that difficult. But what have we created? This false monster of image which looks good on the outside but may not have any tangible correlation to the talent or story-telling ability of the writer.

As for me, I won’t participate in this racket. If I have a follower on Facebook, it’s because someone of their own volition decided to click the “like” button.

I’m of the naive and old-fashioned persuasion that a writer speaks first and foremost through his or her writing.

I’m of the naive and old-fashioned persuasion that a reader cares first and foremost about a good story.

If that means others pass me by, so be it.

I’m going to live honesty, write honestly, and tell my story. Whoever wants to come along for the ride is more than welcome to join me, but, sorry, I’m not going to pay you to follow me.

Reflections on Two Years as an Indie Author

December 2014 is the two year anniversary of my decision to become an independent author. It’s really been an amazing ride thus far. I’ve learned so much, made a whole lot of mistakes, and met some great people. I don’t regret the decision at all.

So I just want to reminisce for a minute about what I’ve done and what I’ve learned over these past twenty-four months.

What I’ve published:

  • My first novel, “Beauty Rising” – Dec 2012
  • My second novel “The Recluse Storyteller” – Oct 2013
  • My third novel “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” – July 2014
  • My first short story “If Love is a Crime: A Christmas Story” – Dec 2014
  • Two dramatic sketches (using a pseudonym)

What I’ve written in addition to those above:

  • My fourth novel, “A Love Story for a Nation” – coming July 2015
  • My fifth novel in progress
  • 20+ dramatic sketches
  • A full length musical
  • A one-act play

What I’ve done as an Indie Author:

  • I started blogging daily.
  • I stared a author’s Facebook page
  • I reluctantly joined Twitter. I still can’t figure it out.
  • I’ve run countless promotions.
  • I’ve had my first couple public readings.

What I’ve learned as an Indie Author:

  • Promotions are completely unpredictable. Some expensive ones are a waste of money. Some inexpensive ones are helpful. There’s no easy answer to promotion. Just keep trying new things.
  • Reviewers are awesome. I really appreciate all the people who have agreed to read and review my books.
  • Great reviews don’t equal great sales. I remember the first time a book blogger, someone I didn’t know at all, just raved about one of my books. I thought I heard the cash-registers going off in my head. I had arrived. Let the flood gates open. I’ll be swimming in sales. Okay. I had lessons to learn.
  • The business aspect is hard. Keeping track of receipts. Taxes. Bleh!
  • I love to write. I will continue to write regardless of how many books I sell.

Becoming an indie author has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It has motivated me to improve in my writing and to not take good ideas for granted.

I’m so excited to see what will happen in the next two years. I am very pleased at what I’ve been able to accomplish so far, but I must believe that the best is still to come.

Blitz Publishing – My First Christmas Story Soon!

It’s November 30th. I’m sitting in the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel just thinking as I usually do. Rehashing plot lines and pondering random story ideas.

My mind happened upon one of the short plays I had written and produced a short while ago called “If Love is a Crime, String Me Up.” It’s a historical piece about a runaway slave in 1852. Quite moving, actually, with come great characterization. I was thinking how I could probably re-write it as a short story, and possibly even make it a Christmas story. Then I tucked it away thinking it would be something to write over the next six months or so and, if I like it, I could release it next November 1 ahead of the 2015 holiday season.

And then it really hit me. Could I possibly write it for this year?

No, certainly not enough time.

But I remembered that it’s only November 30. Maybe I could whip it up. Possibly?

No.

As I was arguing with myself back and forth, I decided to get out of the pool and try writing it to see what would happen.

I copied the entire script and then started pecking away at certain ideas and descriptions to see if it could be retro-fitted into a plausible story.

A couple hours later and I felt hopeful. I went home and around nine p.m. looked at it again. After another couple of hours, I was three-quarters of the way finished with my first draft, and not completely unpleased with what I had written.

In the morning I sent off a frantic message to my book cover designer and asked if it would be at all possible to have a simple book cover for this story within a week’s time.

By noon, my amazing designer had four incredible samples for me to look at.

Okay, this thing might be happening. Another couple hours this evening and I have completely given the manuscript a one-over and I’m 15 percent away from having a finished draft.

And so I am, quite confident to announce that I’ll be publishing my first Christmas story on Kindle (hopefully) before December 10, 2014.

This is such a cool time to be an author!

Anyways, there’s still MUCH to be done on this little story which will probably settle in to about 6000 words or so.

I’ll be writing drafts of it all week, and even hope to get some quick reader feedback.

And then I’ll put it through my brutal last round of quality control to make sure that this is really a story I want to publish this quickly.

But if all goes according to plan, there will be a sweet new Christmas story added to the annals of Christmas stories.

I’ll keep you all in the loop and announce it’s arrival ahead of time.

I hope it will provide a warm and uplifting feeling during this festive season.

Blitz publishing. I don’t recommend it, but it is awfully fun every once in a while.

“If Love is a Crime: A Christmas Story” coming soon!

 

Typography & Indie Authors

I like to do things myself.

This can be good. This can be bad.

As an indie author, typography is one of those jobs that I have no business doing, but I find myself doing it anyways.

I know many authors are by-passing the print versions of their books and just releasing e-Book versions. I’m still of the opinion that releasing a book on paperback is still a valuable endeavor. It widens the parameters of possible reviewers. It reaches a lot of people (including my friends and family) who do not yet have devices. Plus, it’s just ultra-cool holding one’s newly published book in your hand.

So, I’ve been working on the proof version of The Reach of the Banyan Tree, and I’ve been reminded that, even though I’m no typographic expert, I’m definitely better than I was when I released Beauty Rising.

Honestly, the first print version of Beauty Rising was pretty bad now that I think about it. I had broken every rule about fonts – who knew what a serif was anyways – I broke every rule about layout – oh, should it have been justified – and I even started page one on the wrong side – though I did fix that after I received the proof. Even with all of those mistakes, I still thought the book was awesome. It was still readable, though it also wasn’t edited as well as it needed to be.

That was my first shot at this typography thing.

The Recluse Storyteller was much better overall in regards to what a standard book should look like. I started modeling my books after layouts I had seen elsewhere. I liked the layout of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and got a bunch of ideas from there about different ways to do chapter headings and different styles of fonts for different purposes.

My goal is to make the paperback copies of my books attractive and readable. If the mechanics don’t stand out to the readers, then I’ve reached my goal. Someday, perhaps, I’ll have someone who knows what they are doing to do all this work for me. But for now, I’m learning, getting better, and producing books of a much higher quality than just two years ago. I will not rest until my books can stand up against any other one out there. I’m sure some experts out there would be quick to point out that I’m not there yet.

But I will be.