Writers always have an audience, have goals of some sort, but I sometimes think we are confused as to what those things are. There are countless answers to the question, "Why are you writing that story/blog/novel?" But I'm going to take a stab and guess: you're writing to engage a large readership, for healing, or to share a significant story you from which others could benefit. Maybe a couple of you are writing to entertain. A few of you might have answered: to make money. I don't know that I can help you make tons of money, so I won't answer that directly, but I do think I can offer some "Don't do what I first did" advice to writers hoping to engage readers.
1. You are probably not writing for other authors, so who is your target audience and how are you going to reach them?
A lot of new writers start their career by setting up relationships with other authors and this is a good thing. It helps to have a support system, good advice, people willing to share your tweets/facebook statuses/review your book, etc. But don't stop there. Other authors should not be your only goal, nor your primary goal in social marketing. You're not really writing for other writers, for the most part, are you?
You have a more specific readership. Who are they? My book is a book about a mother undergoing severe PPD, who meets other characters in a world representative of the depressed mind. There are fantasy, paranormal and magical realism elements. There are romantic elements but it is not a romance. There are poetic references. So, when I blog on my book site, I think about those things. Readers interested in my book would be interested in the postpartum experience, depression, New Adult issues, poetry, parenting, romance but not erotica, etc. So, I blog about those things and I tweet my blog and I find other people interested in those issues: venues, blogs, websites, etc. and I engage them.
When I first started this social media indie publishing deal, I engaged ANYONE, shared annoying self-promotional tweets and asked people to review me. I realized I hated getting crap like that on my social networks, so I stopped doing it, embarrassed. Now, I do engage in promotion when it's appropriate, but mostly I do what the wonderful Rachel Thompson suggests and I engage my readership by blogging about things that my potential readers might find interesting. I share jokes, my favorite books, I comment and share other people's wonderful blogs and, guess what, I'm making a lot of great connections with stellar people and this whole marketing thing just got enjoyable.
2. If you're writing to help people heal, to share a significant event, to inspire, you still have to make your story a story.
That doesn't really make sense, lady. My story is a story. That's why it's called a story. Well, yes, but real life does not follow the narrative arch, structure or excitement that people expect from a book. Even if you're writing a memoir, you must pick the moments that are going to best engage your readership and you must create a character (yes, even out of yourself) who has a growth arch, a plot, substance. Your story might be interesting, but readers will also be looking for that little thing called plot.
Dave Eggers wrote a wonderful memoir entitled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. David Sedaris has made a good chunk of money writing his life story in interesting ways through several books. One of my favorite memoirs about diabetes, homosexuality and the scope of life for a young man is called Sweet Tooth by Tim Anderson. What all of these writers have in common is that they are writing about things that are important to them, things other people could probably relate to, life's surprises and monotonous moments, but they create a snapshot of certain times that are all interconnected and lead up to an interesting, plot driven narrative. They have a purpose and they get there in engaging and over-the-top, humorous, self-aware ways. Their stories are not just A happened, then B, then C. They craft a story from moments that are all drive the point of their memoir home. And they get their readers to empathize with them by writing about their lives in a way that not quite how it happened, but how it happened when trying to get readers to empathize with a character version of 22 year old them.
If you're breaking convention and using different forms of narrative, poetry, song, pictures, etc. that's fine, too, but you still have to be deliberate about what you're putting together and how it tells the story about the important event/feeling/hardship you're trying to convey. If early readers don't follow what you're doing or lose interest, that's good to know. Because even if what you're writing is important, it can still come across as boring if you don't add some plot, humor, deeply poetic moments, etc.
When I started writing about depression, I did so as a memoir. It was not coming out right. It was plodding, not engaging, and just too much to deal with. So, I went to my go to reading genre, fantasy, and I started writing a story about someone else dealing with a fantastical world of depression. The things I want to talk about, the things that are healing and important for me to convey to readers-the trauma of rape, the postpartum experience, life as a new mother, the way depression looks, feels, even smells like-are all still in my story. But there are other exciting, interesting developments that move the book, that add conflict, romance and side plots. Those things propel the story I care about and they will, hopefully, keep my readership engaged.
3. Don't stop writing. Practice makes perfect in everything.
I got some harsh feedback more than once about my self-published version of my novel. The first time I got this type of feedback, I stopped writing for awhile. It hurt to invest in something and get negativity back. What I realized, though, is that there was some truth to what was said.
So I picked up the Ol' laptop and started working with the critiques, making my story better, considering a professional editor, etc. Most importantly, I kept writing. When I felt like my novel might make me throw-up if I read it again, I started on something new. I started engaging in online writing forums, contests, groups to encourage the practice. I take part in NanoWriMo. I don't always win, but I always write, and that counts. Sometimes what I write is crap, but there is no waste when it comes to honing my skill.
My book is leagues better than it was a year ago. Still, I will have to publish it before it is perfect and write something else. I'm already doing so. And guess what? I'm getting better at this. I'm catching my own mistakes and weird tendencies and I'm enthusiastic about getting another story out. Keep writing every day. Don't let any negativity stop you. Use helpful criticism and ignore hurtful criticism.
The more works I publish, the more my name pops up as an author, too. And that counts. If you're only in this to be a one hit wonder, I guess that's fine, but it's not all that likely to happen for you. If you're in this writing thing for the long haul, it takes investment and a lot of time.
4. Keep reading.
There are other authors out there who have been doing what you want to do well and for a long time, who are maybe even successfully making money as writers/authors. Read those people. See what they are doing right. It's okay to be inspired by people who know the game. Don't steal, obviously, but read a lot of literature and find what works and what doesn't. It's okay to read something not great and avoid doing what that author did, as well. I get inspiration by reading Sherman Alexie. He has a way of making readers laugh at the most uncomfortable situation. He paints pictures in unique and fascinating ways. His writing is never boring and is always engaging. When I want to look to world building, I read J.K, J.R.R. and Pierce who just create the most believable worlds and the most relateable characters.
Also, reading what today's readers are interested in keeps you in the know with current trends, if you're interesting in writing for entertainment, money and a wider readership. It's like research for the aspiring bestseller. You can't go wrong knowing what readers are drawn to.
Lastly, if you're not enjoying this writing thing, if it stresses you out and you can't find a way out of the darkness, maybe it's not something you want to do for the long haul. It's extremely frustrating to put in years of labor on one book and have someone ask you for a free copy. You worked your ass off for years to create that story and you might want to think about whether the payback is worth it to you. It's worth it to me. Those people who pick up the book and just love it, felt that it understood their darkness, joy or hope, felt that Monochrome was a real place, or were so invested in a character that the character became real...those people make this writing thing a lot of fun. It's not tangible, but sometimes the best stuff in life is intangible, non-monetary, so to speak.
H.M. Jones, local teacher and writer, was cooking oatmeal for her children, 6 a.m. Tuesday June 23rd, when a loud thump sounded outside her door. Expecting her new puppy was done with his outdoor business, she opened the door and saw a tall person, dressed in head to toe black, fleeing the premises.
Stranger still, Mrs. Jones noticed a mysterious book at the foot of her door, in which sat a quickly scrawled note: "Open When Alone." Though alarmed, Mrs. Jones is an avid reader and never passes up on a good book. She took the book inside and shut herself away in her room.
Since that time, Jones has reported to our source that life has become relentlessly exciting, but also quite dangerous. Strange visitors have come calling, knocking and spying upon her house at all hours. She suspects they are coming around for the book, but insists she will not give it up. "It came to me. The mysterious person wanted me to read it, "she claims.
"It's all pretty great, actually. Instead of writing exciting plot twists, I'm living them. I don't know who the anonymous person was that left this book on my doorstop, but life has been...very interesting since." Jones told Rezlife Times.
Jones, pictured to the left in this photograph taken just days after the book incident, is a changed person, neighbors say. "She skulks about with a dark book in her hands and distrust in her eyes. She comes home late at night, covered in scratches and bruises. She's been wearing dark clothing and stocking caps like she's part of some weird revolution. I don't like it, but she does seem fairly excited about it all," says her neighbor and sister-in-law, Miranda Smith (age 18). Smith admits to asking Jones if she could borrow the strange book that started the transformation. Jones retorted that she doubted someone so young and impressionable is ready for the world she's been thrust into. Smith thinks she's just being greedy.
Sources say that another local author, A.C. Fuller, may be in some way connected to Jones' strange behavior, as his name was found on the offending book. He has been tweeting, facebooking and promoting an event of some magnitude for June 25th, 2o15. If that's true, then the general public should be prepared for things to get a bit more exciting...
Monochrome, a dark fantasy/magical realism book about depression, life, hope and love has a new trailer. Enjoy, and share if you like it.
Today's #womenwinningwednesday feature is author Alesha Escobar. This woman is the writer of some of my favorite fantasy mash-up books: The Gray Tower Trilogy. These books have a strong, smart and cunning female protagonist who is a spy, an alchemist, and a woman fighting for the rights of the oppressed in Nazi Germany and at home. The imagination of Escobar's stories is phenomenal, but the ways in which she incorporates issues of equality into books that are not quite fantasy, sci-fi, or historical fiction, but all three, is amazing.
Alesha is also a strong supporter of other writers creating awesome female heroines in their work. She works to promote and include indie authors who are little known but talented. Moreover, she is a co-founder of the rockin' indie pub Creative Alchemy Inc, a wonderful small publishing company that promises to do well.
This talented woman understands social media, has a wonderful internet presence and blog and even creates fantastic trailers in her "spare" time. Along with her partner in crime artist/story boarder/graphic designer and co-publisher Luis Escobar, I'm not sure there is something this woman can't do. Check out Alesha Escobar and get acquainted with her work.
I'm a person who does what she loves, everything she loves: teaching, writing, raising her children, and teaching them to be thinking, feeling citizens of the world. I also like working out, baking, running, hiking, gardening, weaving and pulling in the canoe. I like to do so many things that it's actually pretty overwhelming. As someone who is often manic, I want to do everything that I'm passionate about, and when I'm manic I'm passionate about EVERYTHING. So I do. I stay up late planning for class, sending out queries, contacting bloggers, writing short stories or chapters in my novels, weaving, blogging, making trailers, drawing, or doing anything that I feel is necessary to do at that time.
But I've been worn out, recently, feeling depressed and overwhelmed by even the smallest task. I'm hitting a low point in my bi-polar swings. So, I've decided to get help-counselling to start off with. I was talking to my counselor about feeling out of control and she pointed something out to me, something I think might actually be helpful to any person who takes on too much, whether that's due to mania or just due to being an overachiever. Follow your wise mind.
She told me to think about it this way: You have a brain. Your brain sends signals to your body to do something. Sometimes what your brain is telling you to do is stupid, when you're bi-polar or have difficulties with brain signals. My brain often tells me to react in extreme ways. It sends adrenaline through my system, triggering a flight or fight response for inane, unimportant things (spilling something, my kids throwing normal fits, etc.). Thankfully, I also have a mind, and that mind is more capable at wading past the signals and thinking about what should be done.
So, when I am presented with a decision, whether it is small or dangerous big, I have to stop and think beyond what my body wants me to do. For example, a bi-polar brain will sometimes send very powerful lust urges to the body it inhabits. A handsome, funny, smart man might approach my bi-polar body and want to buy it a drink, have a talk, sympathize with me, and probably more. My bi-polar brain will want to say "yes" to that man, regardless of the face that I am married. It's sending me all sorts of "lust" signals. But that would be a terrible idea, since I'm a happily married woman.
My brain is stupid. If I listened to my brain all the time, the signals it sent me would probably have put me 6 feet under by now. I wish I were kidding about that. So I ask my mind: 1. What are you feeling? 2. Assess the positives and negatives of the situation 3. What is the best course of action? 4. How do you need to act to achieve the outcome that follows your values, morals and standards?
These aren't the exact question my counselor told me to ask myself, but they are helpful questions, all of them, because they make me stop, think, and analyze what I'm doing. I've been in the middle of an agitated rage, an oppressive lust and a desperate depression and I've made both bad and good decisions for my life in those moments. The good moments always came to me when I stopped, thought about my values, my responsibilities and made the decision that best fell in line with those values by ignoring the signals my brain sent to my body and using my wise mind to deduce the best course of action.
Even in small decisions: should I buy that expensive dress to make my depression feel less oppressive? Should I take on that third blog when I'm already fairly busy? Should I watch my nephew when I can feel that my mania is a bit unmanageable? My brain will tell me to be rash, to act right away, very quickly. But my wise mind has a better idea of what I can handle. And I'd like to make more decisions with that part of my consciousness from now on. I am going to try to. I might not be successful in always doing the right thing, but being aware that I have a little control does help. I might need to be medicated at some point, so that my wise mind is not overwrought by demanding signals.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, try slowing down, using your wise mind. Your brain will want you to do too much, especially if you're a very passionate, adventurous person. I am very passionate. I'm very interested in learning and do many things and my brain wants me to. My mind is asking me to take a step back, breath and say "not now" to many of the things I feel the itch of inclination to carry out. I don't have to do everything, no matter what my brain is telling me about it. I have a choice to say "no" or "not now" to the things that will add stress to my life. So do you. I hope you find happiness and peace in your moments of wisdom.
This week's #womenwinningwednesday is Miranda Smith. She's not famous, she's not a household name, and she doesn't need to be. She is my sister, and she is my saving grace.
When I'm at my lowest, I call her and she plays with my children, goes to lunch with me, joins me at a workout or run, or just lets me vent. But let me back up, give a little history.
I started dating my now husband many years ago. One day he decided to introduce me to his family, a big step in a new but strong relationship.
When he first opened the doors to his parent's house, I noticed a quiet, smiling, Native beauty of seven years sitting on his family's couch. Not fifteen minutes into my visit, I was playing a board game with this sweet girl, who quietly asked me, every visit after that one, "Hannah, do you want to play a game with me?" I was her first shot at a sister, and she was not letting me off the hook. Since then, we've done many sisterly things together, and it's been awesome.
I actually think I might have married my husband so that that little girl would be my sister. Just kidding. Sort of. Eleven years later, I have hundreds of little memories, moments, and bonds that I could share with you, but none of them would really encompass the love and bond I have with Miranda Lee Smith.
But, just to give a it a try, let me list the reasons why she is winning, regardless of whether she ever makes a fame and fortune list (though I wouldn't be surprised if she did):
1. She is super creative with baking. When I want to make a weird zombie cake or princess cupcakes or a bug birthday party cake, she is there. No questions asked.
2. She loves my kids with patience, kindness and tolerance, even when they are acting their grumpiest. I'm not sure there is a more patient person in the world, to be honest. She holds the key to my kid's hearts, and so she hold the key to mine.
3. No matter how depressed, crazy or messed up I am, she will always offer a listening ear and stands by my side. I'm not perfect, but she doesn't expect me to be, nor does she exclude me when I'm not. She goes on a run with me, has lunch with me, laughs with me and allows me to be what and who I am.
4. She has always been my helper. Ever since I can remember, Miranda has been the quiet, stable helper in everything I've done. When I was a summer school teacher, she was my teacher's aide. As a college instructor, she takes my classes and puts her full effort into them, setting an example for anyone who comes through my NWIC courses. When I feel like being a mom is too much, she is there playing with my kids, showing me what it's like to be effortlessly kind and selfless. When I need a workout, she puts on her rayon pants and looks to me, expectant and supportive.
5. Miranda is a better person than I'll ever be. She is a loyal friend, a role model for our community, a cultural leader and she NEVER asks for recognition. Her quiet presence is a constant, so much so that she goes under appreciated in most of the things she does.
There are many other reasons that my little sister is my feature for #womenwinningwednesday, but I'll end with the fact that she is graduating from High School this year, and that I'm very proud of how well she's done inside and outside of our little community. I truly believe she could do so much, but no matter what she chooses, she will be happy because she is full of life, joy and love. I cannot wait to see her grow, and to grow old alongside a person who makes me want to be better everyday. I love you, Miranda Lee Smith, and I'm very proud of you.
H.M Jones is the author of B.R.A.G Medallion Honor and NIEA finalist book Monochrome, its prequel Fade to Blue, the Adela Darken Graphic Novellas, Al Ravien's Night, The Immortals series, and several short stories.