Dragon Con is going to happen in a world that is changing, is more dangerous, more confusing, and more problematic than ever. We have homegrown terrorists who hate anyone who is having fun, we have lunatics with guns and explosives and cars they want to use as weapons. We have factions within fandom and without. We have STUFF!
And that means we need to take it all back to basics. Back to the past, to our very earliest lessons. Let’s take it back to Kindergarten!!!! Let’s all remember our kindergarten rules (updated for the grownup world of today)!
- Keep your friends close.
- Never walk away with a stranger.
- Eat and drink with friends, not strangers. If strangers become friends, keep your old friends with you.
- Hold hands to keep together when walking anywhere crowded.
- Wash hands with soap and water.
- Brush your teeth.
- Keep clean (bathe or shower).
- Know where you are.
- Know how to get back to your safe place (hotel).
- Keep your room key and badge safe.
- Keep your money in a safe place.
- Know how to get out of your hotel room and to a different safe place. (Have an exit plan.)
- If someone (person, people) looks bad (suspicious) find a policeman (security) and report it immediately.
- If you see unattended bags, report it to security.
- Be nice. But be safe.
- Have fun. But be safe.
- PARTY! But be safe.
We’ve talked about change a lot here on Magical Words. Over the years, you’ve seen a lot of changes happening in terms of the publishing industry, and every time you think you think you know what’s what, what changes again. The ground is like the sand under your feet when you’re standing on the shore with the waves washing over your feet. It just . . . goes away. If you aren’t shifting and stepping, you are going to fall on your ass. Sooner or later.
I’m in the middle of estate planning. I’m late on this one, insomuch as I have kids who are teenagers and should have had a lot of things in place just in case. The man and I are remedying that now. But it raises an issue. I have published 15 books, plus some short stories and essays. If I were to die today, would my family know what to do with them? Would they know in five years or ten? What will the industry look like then? Even if I teach them all I know, will that be like the first pc in a world of high power gaming machines? Useless?
The answer is yes, in case you didn’t know. That leaves me with the question of what to do and I don’t have the answer. Certainly my agent could help, or even manage my entire book list for the family, but you can’t just dump it all of on someone else. You have to be informed and educated about the business, and you have to stay current. Anything else is just plain stupid. I’ve taught the man a lot about the industry, but he starts to look a little cross-eyed these days and there’s a lot of, “but wait, didn’t you say before . . . ?”
I can make a literary executor for those materials, but really, I don’t know who wants to do that, even though they’d get paid, and the same issue of being informed still applies.
Then there’s the issue of what I want done with things. How I want my writing legacy to be handled. Whether I want unpublished things to see the light of day and all that sort of thing. I’ll be honest, at this point, if it makes my family money and helps them, I couldn’t care less what happens with my stuff. I’ll be dead, after all. Maybe reborn as a slug. But this sort of thing is important to other people and if it’s important to you, you need to think about it and plan for it.
One thing I can do is keep everything organized. Things like contracts and reversion dates for stories and such. I can keep a summary for each work of which rights have been sold and when and to whom and all the contact information for editors and agents. I can keep files on the computer carefully so that each book’s manuscript and mobi and epub versions are available and back those up on flash drives or cds. I can keep spreadsheets of earnings and make sure that all my self-pub stuff can be access on the different websites by the fam (which is to say, record usernames and passwords for them).
I know there’s plenty more I haven’t thought of yet–feel free to make suggestions here–but the point is, planning is important. Thinking about how to keep your work generating income for your family is important. I’m not planning to die soon; I expect I’ll have a lot more writing out there before I kick the bucket, unless I’m wrong, of course, which I’ve been known to be. I won’t have the kind of vast writing estate that Nora Roberts has, but there will definitely be some volume to handle. I was reminded yesterday that nobody cares about my work as much as I do. It’s up to me to make sure it ends up the way I want it to, and most importantly, it doesn’t make life hell for my family or friends to deal with.
So that’s the message of the day–plan for death and also, take care of yourself so it doesn’t come any sooner than it has to. But I’m still going to have blackberry pie for breakfast because I plan to enjoy life, too.
Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. Her award-nominated books include The Path series, the Horngate Witches series, the Crosspointe Chronicles, and Diamond City Magic books, and the Mission:Magic series. She’s owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. For more about her writing, visit www.dianapfrancis.com. She can also be found on twitter as @dianapfrancis.
Way back in my past life as a corporate marketer, I usually was responsible for the trade shows. That meant everything from buying the booth itself to determining the graphics and the hand-out materials/swag to briefing the sales people on how to do a booth, or being the person at the booth.
Fast forward, and I find that booths are back in my life–this time, selling books. With DragonCon right around the corner, booths are very much on my mind since I’ll be one of 17 authors in the Tairen’s Lair/Author’s Lair booth in the vendor room.
There really are some tried-and-true bits of wisdom to make your booth time more successful. Here are some tips:
- Wear comfortable shoes. Vendor rooms have concrete floors, and they’re hell on your knees and back.
- Stand as much as you can. You’ll attract more people, find it easier to chat, and convey more energy.
- Try not to eat in your booth, and if you have no choice except to grab a quick bite at your table, keep the food out of sight. You don’t want to either spill something on the merchandise or have people not approach the table because they don’t want to disturb your lunch. And it doesn’t look as good to have half-eaten food sitting around, just saying.
- Make the booth attractive. Use banners and signs with your cover art. Lay out your books in neat piles, or use racks. Have your free swag, bookmarks, candy, buttons, etc. sitting out and visible. If you’re doing a drawing, make it prominent. Make your merchandise inviting to touch.
- Smile–a lot. At everyone. Catch the eye of passers-by. Invite people in. Don’t leave their approach to chance.
- Read the attendee’s nametag. Use the person’s name. Ask questions about what they like to read, how they’re enjoying the con, what they think of the weather, etc. Get them engaging with you.
- Hand them the merchandise. Studies show people are much more likely to buy something when they have handled it.
- Know when to shut up. If the person is clearly reading the back of your book, give them a moment in silence to do it. Don’t babble. But it’s perfectly ok to follow up by asking if they have any questions.
- Offer a freebie like a bookmark. Giving first creates goodwill.
- Have a way to get them to sign up for your newsletter. Drawings for anything except a copy of your book is a good incentive. Or have a perma-free short story/book that every new sign-up gets as a thank-you.
- Be at the booth as much as you can. Books don’t sell themselves. People want to meet the author, have a personal experience with you, have you sign the book.
- Have a one- or two-line snappy recap for each book. Keep it short, and make it exciting.
- Dress for the event. Show that you are part of the fandom, even if it’s your choice of jewelry, the style of clothing, the t-shirt saying, etc. Make it clear this is your tribe.
- Engage. Make eye contact. Be as charming as you’ve got it in you to be. Put your best foot forward. Be your best self. For the moment you’re interacting with that person, make them feel like the only person in the world.
- Be conversational, even when you’re giving your book pitches. Try not to sound memorized. Make each person feel like he/she is the first person you’ve talked with all day.
- Ask for the sale. ‘Would you like me to ring that up for you?’ ‘Will that be cash, check, credit card or PayPal?’
- Upsell. ‘If you buy the whole series, you save $10.’ ‘Would you like to get book 2 while you’re here? It’ll save you an extra trip!’
- If they don’t buy right then, make sure they take a card. If you are limited on stock, let them know. People can’t buy everything they want when they want it. I’ve had a lot of people buy later because they had a card/bookmark. Be nice, let them go gracefully.
- Back up your booth neighbors when they need a break.
- Approach working the booth as a game. If you’re having fun, you automatically attract people.
If you’re going to DragonCon, come see me! I’m on a dozen panels including a Broad Universe reading, and I’ll be in the booth when I’m not paneling. I’ll also have signings at Larry Smith Books and The Missing Volume. Watch my Facebook page for the full schedule.
ALSO! Modern Magic, 12 full books by 13 bestselling dark urban fantasy authors in an ebook boxed set for $1.99 is only available until 9/30! So grab it now! It’s the only place to find my Trifles and Folly collection of 10 Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories.
AND–Hath No Fury, an anthology of epic fantasy featuring kick-ass female characters from Ragnarok Publishing, is on Kickstarter through 9/7. It will feature an origin story about Kestel Falke, the courtesan/assassin/spy from the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga.
FUTHERMORE–Bloodlines is the newest Deadly Curiosities Adventure–a perfect read for the last bit of summer!
See you in Atlanta!
Back in February, in a post called “A Challenge to All — Time to Take the Plunge,” I issued a challenge to readers of Magical Words. Take that novel that you’ve been working on, the one that you know is almost done, but feel needs one final tweak, and get it ready for submission to some publisher by October 1. Remember?
Well, we’re in the dog days of summer and fall begins in less than a month. So how’s it going?
Setting goals of any sort can be a tricky business. I had goals for this year, and while I’ve met many of them, I still have several more that I’ve yet to address and, frankly, I don’t know if I’ll complete all of them before year’s end. Sometimes life gets in the way, as it has this year for me. Issues come up that we can’t possibly anticipate, family needs preempt even the best laid plans, and projects take longer to complete than we could have known they would. That’s all right. That’s part of maintaining a creative, project-driven career.
I also wrote about goals in May, around the time of the release of Shadow’s Blade, the third novel in my Case Files of Justis Fearsson series. (Which you all have been reading, right?) For me, this has been a year for thinking about goals and disappointments, achievements and unfulfilled ambitions. Such is the nature of the writing life.
So how do I deal with both the establishment of realistic work goals and the disappointment of not achieving all of them?
Let’s begin with the former. I try to set my work goals based on the time I know I’ll have available and the pace at which I’ve worked on similar projects in the past. That sounds basic, but you’d be amazed by the number of times early in my career I failed to do this well. I would plan out a project, confident that I could get X amount of work done in Y number of months. But I would treat those months as if they were all equal, and, of course, they weren’t. November was never going to be as productive as October, because I lost a week to Thanksgiving. July wasn’t as productive as April because my kids weren’t in school in July, and I had to drive them places and do things with them when they were home. (Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE my kids and always enjoy our time together, but when they were young, I couldn’t possibly be as productive with them around.)
I needed to be realistic about a) the number of days I would actually work, and b) the relative productivity or lack thereof for the days in question. Not all months are created equal. Not all days are created equal.
And not all projects are created equal. Writing the third book in an established series will go faster than writing book one in a new project, at least in the opening chapters, until I find a rhythm and tone for the new shiny. That’s just the way of things, at least it is for me. I’ve learned to plan accordingly, but it took a while. I write slower when working on short stories than I do working on novels. Once I’m into a novel, I can churn out ten pages a day. But that doesn’t mean I can write a twenty page short story in two days. Far from it; it’s more like two weeks for a short. And I have to take that into account when making my work schedule.
Yes, I have a work schedule. I use the calendar feature on my computer, and I assign myself blocks of time for each project. I find that incredibly helpful as I plot out my year.
But on occasion I still miss my own deadlines and fail to complete all the work I’d assigned myself. How do I deal with that? Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t do: I don’t beat myself up. First, I diagnose the problem. Was this bad planning? Did I underestimate the time required for one or more of my projects? Or did life intervene, tossing roadblocks in my way and making it impossible for me to meet those goals? I don’t do this as a way of assigning blame. I do it to learn from the misestimation.
After figuring out the problem, I get back to work. I finish what I can and reschedule the rest. I assume that if I made the project a priority when I first set the work schedule, it deserves to remain a priority. But I refuse to get down on myself. This profession has too many external difficulties; I don’t need to add my own self-flagellation to the mix, and neither should you.
So if you’re on course to meet the October deadline for the challenge we discussed in February, good for you. Keep at it. If you’re not, that’s okay. Keep working and get it done when you can. That doesn’t mean the challenge was useless; it just means it was humane. We do what we can in this business, and then we do more of what we can. Sometimes our goals and ambitions fit into our schedules; sometimes they don’t. That doesn’t make those goals any less legitimate.
I know, I promised I’d talk about mailing lists, Mailchimp, and BookFunnel, but that’s gonna have to wait a little bit.
Yep, that post title is clickbait. But it does describe what we’re going to talk about today – Writing to Market and when it’s a good idea. And when it’s brutally stupid. Because like so many things in life, the answer is “it depends.”
Some of the few questions where the answer is NEVER “it depends.” Just for a giggle before we get going –
- Should I put my finger there? The answer is almost always NO.
- Should I try this exciting new piece of sushi prepared by the student sushi chef? Again, NO. Two words – Puffer. Fish. Things you do not do with rookies – eat their sushi, let them pack your parachute, summon ghosts, build pipe bombs.
- Should I climb or jump off this? If you’re under 30, the answer is probably YES. Over 30 – NO. Your bones don’t knit as fast as they used to.
- Should I write what I love? YES.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of writing to market, give a listen to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, because it’s something they talk about quite a bit, with varying degrees of Internet Correctness (Internet Correctness is a quotient that measures how much I personally agree with something, as opposed to actual, quantifiable correctness). Regardless, I quite enjoy their podcast and get a lot out of it. It’s 100% worth a listen.
But basically, writing to market is just what it sounds like – you take a look at genres that are selling well, read fairly heavily in the bestsellers of the format, crack the formula, and churn out some books that fit the formula. It’s a way to make a pile of money in fairly short order, and if you’re looking to make a living as a writer, it’s a perfectly acceptable way to do it.
And many of us do this, to a greater or lesser degree. For myself, I write books that I want to read, but if it doesn’t sell, then I don’t write many, if any more of them. That’s why the sequel to Genesis has been delayed, and why there hasn’t been another New Knights of the Round Table novella – the first books didn’t sell very well. It’s why there are over two dozen Bubba the Monster Hunter stories, six Black Knight Chronicles novels and five Quincy Harker novellas – those books sold well. And since I do this for a living, I pay a lot of attention to what sells and what doesn’t.
But I still write books that I want to read, and that I want to write.That’s really important to me, personally, because I enjoy writing. I enjoy telling stories, but I don’t enjoy writing things that I’m not into. That’s why you’ll probably never see me write a period romance, because I don’t read them. You might see me teleport Bubba into a Regency Romance, because I think Bubba in a Fabio pose on the cover of a book would be hilarious. And you’ll someday see me release a literary fiction novel, because I have one I’ve been working on forever. And someday pretty soon, I’m likely to release a near-future military sci-fi book, because I enjoy them.
So what pieces of the writing to market strategy do I think are good for creating a long-standing career and a fanbase that will stick with you across genres (you know, those True Fans I’ve been talking about a lot)? I think that once you figure out what type of story you want to write, there is some benefit in looking at the bestseller lists to see what is doing well, and understanding the pieces of the genre that make them popular. There’s a reason things become tropes – because they work. And eventually, readers come to expect some of these tropes, so if you have characters that could fit into these boxes and don’t, then readers get disappointed. And you don’t hurt the book by using these tropes.
The Jane Yellowrock books, the Thieftaker series, and The Black Knight Chronicles all check a lot of the same boxes as far as tropes used, but the books couldn’t be more different if we had tried. But they all have tortured heroes, with interesting ensembles or sidekicks, they all have protagonists with secrets or a mysterious past, they all have antagonists or secondary characters with some sexual attraction for the protagonist that we know would end badly but would still be really interesting, and they all feature magical elements in a recognizable world. And yet neither Faith, David, nor me have ever felt like one of us was lifting ideas from the other or that any of us were writing less than original books. And we were, to an extent, writing to market.
The big difference for me is that we are all still writing books that we love, and that we would love to read. We just also are writing books we love in a salable fashion. That’s a type of writing to market I can get behind.
Also, if you’re pursuing a traditional publishing path, then writing to market is useless to you. Especially if you are unagented and pursuing agents, your path from polished draft to published book is almost certainly a three year journey. At least. So if you’re writing to market very tightly, then sending it off to agents that you’re querying, you’re almost certainly going to get rejected.
Because the market changes too fast for that to work in traditional publishing. Period. Full stop. Seriously, if you’re writing to market and hoping to capitalize on current trends in book purchases, unless they are evergreen buying trends (i.e. romance sells more than anything else in the world, or blow up more stuff and you’ll sell more books), then you are 99% going to fail. You might get lucky, but even if you’re submitting to Falstaff, where we have a 4-6 week turnaround on acceptance and rejection of a manuscript, and you’re sending us a book that is completely proofed and 99% ready to go, we’re still looking at several months before a book is ready to go. Usually six months if the book is almost print-ready when we get it. At least a year from turning in the manuscript to delivery if it needs editorial.
So if you’re wanting to write to market, you must self-publish. There are lots of moving parts to that as well, and it can take as long as traditional publishing, but you can also get things going and have releases rolling out once a month after you get the hang of it. After all, I released Heaven Sent on July 29, and I’m shooting for a release of Queen of Kats 2 – Survival right before I leave for Dragon Con. And the next Bubba story is almost ready to go, so that will release before I go to ContraFlow the end of September. But I write fast, I have a source for inexpensive remade covers that fit my genre, and I have just enough Photoshop-fu to be able to knock out covers myself frequently for less than $20 and a couple hours Photoshop time.
So writing to market isn’t the be-all, end-all for writers, but it also isn’t a terrible idea, too. For me, it boils down to being able to write books that I enjoy, write them the best I can, and get them out there into the world. Admittedly, that last part is often the hardest.
Next time, I’ll break down some numbers for you and get granular on why I made all my books except The Black Knight Chronicles exclusive to Amazon! In the meantime, here’s the cover for the next Bubba novella, Midsummer, which blends Pokemon Go with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No, really.
John G. Hartness is a teller of tales, a righter of wrong, defender of ladies’ virtues, and some people call him Maurice, for he speaks of the pompatus of love. He is also the author of the EPIC-Award-winning series The Black Knight Chronicles from Bell Bridge Books, the Bubba the Monster Hunter series of short stories and novellas, the Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter novella series, and the creator and co-editor of the Big Bad anthology series, among other projects.
LATEST RELEASE NEWS – Check out Modern Magic, a 12-ebook box set featuring John, Gail Martin, Karen Taylor, Julie Kenner, Rick Gualtieri, Erik Asher, Stuart Jaffe & more! On sale at Amazon for only $2!
Heaven Sent is available exclusively on Amazon! Check out the latest volume in the Award-Winning Dark Fantasy Series!
Man in Black available 8/15 wherever books are sold! In book #6 of The Black Knight Chronicles, Jimmy Black is the new boss, but uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, as Shakespeare said. Monsters in the sewers, demons in the orchestra pit, vampire bikers, and Hell on Earth are just a few things Jimmy has to deal with while he tries to regain the trust of his best friend and somehow patch things up with his girlfriend. All this, and more ass-kicking than a WWE pay-per-view in Man in Black!
Every August for over a decade, I’ve walked into a classroom full of (mostly) eager freshmen and spent the next few months teaching them to write. During that time, I’ve developed a few “tips” that I tell students to help avoid a “look-I’m-new-to-college” faux pas. I was thinking (as I was editing, of course) that many of these apply not only to the relationship between professor and student but also to the relationship between editor and writer.
When you work with someone, no matter what the capacity, you are creating an unspoken contract. It’s not legally binding, I’d imagine, but it’s one of those things sort of like the “bro code” that you really don’t want to mess up. But, often we do because we don’t know any better.
So, here are my top ten things that you might learn as a freshman in college that also apply when you hire (or are assigned) an editor.
- Don’t procrastinate
- Be professional
- Be specific in what you want and/or need
- Reply to emails promptly
- Acknowledge receipt of emails
- Accept constructive criticism
- Don’t wag your tongue
- Learn to use your tools
- Follow directions
- Be gracious
I tell students this all the time. If you wait until the last minute, you’re not only creating more anxiety for yourself, you’re also going to get less quality feedback.
Let’s think about this here. If you ask your professor to look at a draft of your paper a couple hours before it’s due, you’re not going to have time to get good feedback and revise. It just won’t happen. Likewise, if you send your work to an editor days before the release date, they will probably either A) not have time to get to it at all or B) not do as good a job as they usually would because you’re rushing them. Two to three weeks is a decent turnaround time for an editor to get your manuscript back to you, unless it’s really long or full of problems. Then, expect longer.
This point really should speak for itself, but somehow, it doesn’t. When communicating with a professor or editor, be professional in the words you choose, the manner in which you present them, and how you respond.
Here’s an example of an unprofessional student email:
Yo, G, I was out today b/c I had some stuff. Wat did we do 2day?
Here’s a more professional version of the same email:
Dear Mrs. Gilbert,
Unfortunately, I missed class today because I had a flat tire and had to call AAA. I am attaching a scan of the receipt and will bring you a copy if needed. I will ask my classmates what I missed today. May I come by your office if I have questions about the material?
Likewise, sometimes I get very unprofessional emails requesting editing services. (My default answer to these emails, by the way, is “I’m not currently accepting new clients. Thank you for your interest.”)
Here’s an example of one such email:
Im looking for someone to edit my book. What do u charge? I need it by Friday.
First of all, a professional writer should use apostrophes and full words, even in a short professional email. Next, my rates are listed on my website. I really don’t mind telling you more information about what is included in those rates or even telling what they are, but if you have my email, you probably also have my website, so please look. Third, see item #1.
Be specific in what you want and/or need
If I had a dollar for each time a student asked, “Will you look at this for me?” or a writer said, “I need this edited,” I could move to my own private island and have someone serve me drinks with little umbrellas all day. This does seem to be a newbie mistake, however, because I have noticed it less with more advanced writers and upperclassmen.
What this question really means is “I have written something, and I need feedback. I am not sure what kind of feedback I need.”
I did a post a while back about the different types of editing. If you need a refresher, those posts are HERE and HERE and HERE.
If you’re seeking feedback and/or editing, be specific in what you want. Do you want holistic feedback (content editing) or do you want feedback on grammar and usage (copy editing)?
**Yes, I realize this takes practice, but if you truly aren’t sure what you need, ask for help in figuring that out!
Reply to emails promptly
I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t have time to reply in detail, at least reply and say, “I got your email and will reply in more detail as soon as I can.” This lets the person on the other end (me) know that you saw the email and a reply is coming. And for goodness sake, don’t wait a month before sending back that longer reply! (My general rule of thumb is to acknowledge the email within 24 hours and respond substantially within 48 hours, if you can’t respond right away. I don’t like things to linger.)
Side note: it seems “read receipts” on email are a thing of the past — what’s taking the place of that?
Acknowledge receipt of emails
This is somewhat related to the previous email point, but here I am referring specifically to when I send you something. For example, if I sent your edits (for a writer) or whatever you’ve requested of me (for a student), please acknowledge receipt of the email and file! I can’t tell you how many times I have sent “did you get this?” emails because I want to make sure the information made it to the intended recipient. This doesn’t have to take long. A simple reply of “thank you” or “I got it” will suffice. (I don’t find those kinds of emails unprofessional, even though they’re short.)
Accept constructive criticism
Accepting feedback on your work is tough. But please remember that my job — whether as an editor or as a teacher — is to help you improve your writing. If you were perfect, we’d probably lock you in a lab somewhere to study you. (I’m kidding… mostly.)
All writers, at every stage, need feedback on their writing. And it hurts. I work very hard to give clear feedback that is written in a professional tone. I focus on the writing, not the person, to help with that.
For example, I won’t say, “Your writing sucks,” even if it does… but I will say, “This piece isn’t ready for publication, so let’s work on it to make it stronger.” Likewise, I won’t tell a student, “Your thesis is the worst thing I’ve ever read,” even if it is… but I will say, “I would like to see a stronger thesis in this essay. Let’s talk about what makes a good thesis.”
Don’t wag your tongue
Don’t bad-mouth people. Just don’t. Life’s too short. If you have a legitimate concern, address it professionally. Don’t gossip like a hen. It will likely get back to the person and can irreparably damage relationships. It’s not worth it.
Learn to use your tools
All writers (and students, actually) need to know how to use track changes and basic formatting functions in Word. I did a post about using track changes in Word for PC HERE and for Mac HERE if you need directions. I have a post planned about formatting for my next post.
For goodness sake, please read the directions and follow the directions.
I used to teach a college skills course, and one of the activities I would give students would be a list of things to do — stand with your arm in the air, write the alphabet backwards, draw a picture of a house, etc. — but in the directions, it would say to complete only #1 and #25. (#1 was write your name on the paper; #25 was turn the paper over and wait until everyone else is finished.) Usually ¾ of the students would not read the directions and do all the things listed. However, after this activity, most of the students (at least for my class) would follow the directions exactly.
What does this mean for a writer? Well, I expect files to be sent as email attachments in Microsoft Word. I expect you to use track changes. But there are lots of posts about getting rejected simply because you didn’t follow the submission guidelines. That’s the loss of a job if you’re doing this as a career. I’m not an HR person, but I’d imagine people in human resources also toss a lot of resumes that aren’t submitted how they’re supposed to be.
Finally — and this serves for all human interaction — be gracious. Use your manners. Say please and thank you. Mean it.
That’s all for today, folks. Okay, that was a lot for today, but it’s important stuff. All you out there who are returning to the classroom this month and all of you who are going through edits, I wish you strength, courage, and compassion.
As many of you who read me regularly know, I often find connections between my previous artistic career (Theatre) and my current one (Writing) and talk about it. Today will be no different EXCEPT I want your feedback! Ok? So…here we go…
I was doing Sunday brunch here in the city, as you do, and due to my company for breakfast, the conversation revolved around acting school, college, etc. This was because a good friend (we’ll call him Bob) of mine was visiting who holds an MFA in Theatre (amongst other degrees and certifications) and we’d met up with an ex-student of his (we’ll call him James) to eat before seeing Paramour. Thus, I got the honor of sitting in on their conversation. During which, something was said that sat with me hard.
James has been quite successful in the city since moving here and Bob asked him a poignant question prompted by another student of his that James knew. The question: With how all the acting classes these days tend to focus on getting an actor to become a blank canvas, did James feel as if his natural instinct as an actor had been trained out of him? The young woman who had brought this up to Bob said that she was currently working to find her natural instincts again and Bob was curious if James felt he too lost some of that through the study of the craft. He did.
In my opinion, that says to me that all those classes and teachers who had worked to break her down to be that blank slate removed something valuable in the process: the gift that had drawn her to be an actress in the first place. That natural instinct is that spark that starts your acting career, making you stand out in a crowd on stage. It’s what gets you cast when you first begin to audition. To remove that raw, emotional power of instinct in order to turn them into a carbon copy of every other actor is disturbing…though I can see why it is done…but I ask, is that really necessary?
Because this disturbed me, it stuck with me all day, and the next day, and the next…so here we are and I’m talking it out. It bothers me for three reasons. First off, I was an actor for twenty years, in both professional and amateur productions, and the idea of losing my instinct terrifies me. Secondly, because I studied acting from multiple people and schools and I can see what she is talking about and I wonder about what level I’d reached. Thirdly, like most things in my life, I wondered, “Does this question relate to writing?”
That question spurned another: Can you take too many classes/workshops or read too many ‘how to’ books (or bogs posts for that matter, mine included) that tell you ‘how to succeed as a writer’ that you lose your instinct? Or what about: Do you get so overwhelmed with what is the right way and the technical aspects of it that you either freeze up or find your creativity begin to dry up?
I want to know your thoughts on this!
Me personally? I see both sides of the coin here. On one hand, you need training or you write stuff that is embarrassingly bad (no, I’m not going to name any, you have your list and I have mine, LOL!) but can you get so caught up in that training and worrying about following all the rules that you leave that instinct behind you, losing your flow and flare? I think that can happen. I think we as writers need to learn but I think we also need to create. I find I have a hard time these days because I’m feeling the pressure to put out something amazing. Why? Because I have friends who are putting out things that are amazing and I know I have it in me…but I feel I’m so much less intelligent then they are.
But is that true? In some instances, sure! But here’s the thing: I’m me and they are them and I can’t be them, they already filled that job position. So I have to be me. That settled, how do I let go of that pressure to be smart, funny, and punny (I know that’s not a real word, but go with me here) so as to write works of art with characters that feel real and worlds that pull a reader in and snuggle them so they never want to leave? Study more!? Read more books on how to!? Read more in my genre!? Read out of my genre!? Jeez, I’m tired just writing all that.
Look, you need to do all of that but man, if you get tied up in all the rules of what you think sells or what you’ve been told won’t sell or how you can’t do _______, you could lose that instinct that made you want to tell stories in the first place.
In my opinion I think we can get so wrapped up in the rules and focused on the logistics that we forget to follow our instincts and write what we love to read. Yes, you need training. Yes, you should learn what sells. Yes, you should have an editor you listen to. Yes, you should never stop learning and reading…but you can’t forget to let your imagination out to play. I think that’s been a problem of mine lately. I’m so caught up in trying to be better that I’ve forgotten how to be me.
The rules are there for a reason and sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes that reason is for them to be broken. *cough cough* Hamilton *cough cough* (Just to name something VERY out of the box that I’m sure people scoffed at).
Seeing as I brought it up, I’ll end with a quote I found in a new book of mine about the show. It’s by Lin-Manuel Miranda about writing: “Be open to accidents as you write.”
He says this about the song, Dear Theodosia, in regards to the music he wrote for a section of it. I’ll let him tell the rest:
“This bridge came about because while playing back a section in Logic Pro, I accidentally looped a random fragment of a measure in the verse. I liked how it sounded so much that I isolated it and wrote these words over it. I am so moved by, “My father wasn’t around.” He goes on to discuss why, talking about parents and how they try their best. But it was the last part that also grabbed me: “The time I spent on my own was when I learned to keep my own company and pursue my own creative endeavors, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, despite any loneliness I might have felt at the time.”
So please, go to the comments and tell me what you think of this modified version of the question:
With all the writing classes, blogs, conventions, books, and so on these days pulling you this way and that, telling you what sells and what doesn’t, do you feel that some (if not all) of your natural instinct has been taught/trained out of you? Or maybe more rightly put, has it been shoved aside for rules, ambition, sales, and trying to live up to your own high expectations?
If so, how did that occur?
If not, how did you keep that instinct alive?
And overall, what do you think about this concept/question in general?
That’s it for me this time around…write hard, bathe in imagination, and don’t forget to keep a solid hold on your instincts…let your creativity take flight!
BIO: Originally from Michigan, Tamsin L. Silver is the creator/writer of two YA Urban Fantasy Series, Windfire and The Sabrina Grayson Novels, as well as the Web Series, Skye of the Damned. She graduated from Winthrop University with a BA in Theatre/Secondary Education and a minor in Creative Writing/Shakespeare. She has taught both middle school and high school theatre and run two successful theater companies, one of which in the place she currently lives: New York City. You can learn more about her and find links to all her things at www.tamsinsilver.com