Tag Archive: non-traditional publishing


In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned that I had written seven novels the publishing industry was too myopic to see the brilliance of. Maybe you have one or two of those manuscripts hidden in your storage shed, too.

What prevented publication of these jewels? Well, don’t know about yours, but probably not over a thousand things in my case. Let’s start with what makes a reader turn pages and keep reading.

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Pretty prose and impeccable grammer will get us to the head of the class in a high school English class, but it won’t do much to get someone to read our work. Assuming we get our novel into the hands of John or Jane Q. Reader, we must interest him or her in actually reading the book if we want that person to buy any more or recommend ours to friends.

The thing that will cause someone to read our book and continue through to the end is CONFLICT. My rejected novels all started with a handsome hero or beautiful heroine who moved through the story gaining wealth or happiness without opposition. To my amazement, everybody except me considered that boring. There was no conflict.

Wait a minute. In one book, the heroine’s parents both died during the War Between the States. In another, the hero’s father was wrongly accused and found guilty of a crime. That’s conflict, isn’t it?

No, that’s not conflict. Those are BAD SITUATIONS. Sad to the characters, but boring to the reader. Conflict has to involve two characters whose objectives are at cross purposes to each other.

If my heroine had wanted to operate her father’s farm after he died and discovered another character owned mortgage papers from a loan he’d advanced her father, and if this other character wanted to repossess the land for his own purposes, there would have been the basis of a real conflict. I’d have had something that might interest a reader in turning from one page to the next.

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If my hero had tried to find evidence to exonerate his father only to run up against the criminal who had actually perpetrated the crimes his father was accused of, and that criminal worked actively to keep the father from being exonerated, I would have had a conflict that might have been worked into an interesting story. An agent of publisher might have seen some value to it.

Conflict is the driving force that keeps a reader interested and makes him or her want to read more. Without it, we’ve got a term paper or a family history or just some ramblings.

We need to have conflict in every scene—real conflict, not just bad situations. There must be an overall conflict, such as the criminal keeping my hero from finding the truth or the mortgage holder keeping my heroine from succeeding in her attempt to farm her family land successfully.

But an overall conflict is not enough. We can’t have a scene here that is driven by that conflict and then the next scene just showing a happy family eating dinner together. Each scene must involve some sort of conflict that prevents the hero from achieving some part of his goal, or at least a conflict that temporarily sidetracks the hero and keeps him too busy to pursue the goal.

How do we insure that conflict? Where does it come from? We’ll take a look at that in our next blog. Until then, keep on truckin’.

Ø Think back over the fiction you’ve written. Is it driven by real conflict, or do you just have characters going throug bad situations?

Ø Think about the novels you’ve liked best. How did the author work an overall conflict into scene-by-scene conflicts to keep you interested?

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In our last blog, we discussed goal-setting. No sense starting to write unless you know what your objective is. Now that you’ve decided you not only want to write but want to become a professional writer, what’s next?

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Unless we’re experienced columnists or reporters for newspaper or magazine, in which case we would have made the decision about becoming a professional a long time ago, we probably need some help. Very few of us were born with the knowledge of how to write, much less how to market ourselves and our writing to agents, publishers or the reading public.

Where can we get that help? If you’re a recent graduate with a teacher or professor who has real knowledge of writing and the publishing industry and with whom you have established a strong rapport, you might seek him or her out.

If your aunt happens to be Nora Roberts, or John Grisham is your brother-in-law, you might go to them. If you can catch them with the time to sit down and talk to you.

Most of us don’t happen to number people like that among our relatives and close friends. What do we do? Where can we turn for help?

How about a critique group? We can find them in most major cities—and a lot of small towns—across the country. Surely we can find one, even if we have to drive to the next town for the meetings.

But wait—are all critique groups created equal? Unfortunately, no.

So, how do we decide what group, if any, to join?

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Who is in the group? Are there any writers who are successfully getting published in the field we’re interested in? If everyone there writes poetry and we want to write novels, the group probably isn’t going to be that helpful.

Okay, here’s a group over here where everyone is working on a novel, but the only one who has one published is a guy who self-published and has sold 300 copies in the two years it’s been out. Do you think we’ll find the kind of expertise we need from that group? Somehow, I doubt it. If it’s the only group around, it may be better than nothing. We might find help editing our typos and misspellings, but that’s about it.

We need to find a group comprised of people working on the same sort of thing we want to write—preferably one where at least one member has had some success at it. If our bag is short stories, we need a group with several short story writers.

Oh, I forgot—you wanted to be a novelist. Okay. Good choice. So you need to find a group that includes knowledgeable and successful novelists with a handle not only on how to write a novel but also on how to market it.

Unfortunately, we’re not likely to find a group that includes J. K. Rowling. What should we do? One place we can start is to attend some writers’ conferences. We can Google them and find what’s available in our area. Then we can attend and rub elbows with the other attendees, asking questions about writers’ groups in our area.

We can talk to the speakers who present sessions at the conference. Most of them are friendly and willing to speak to us. See what suggestions they have to offer.

We can also friend people like Kristen Lamb (http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/) and Bob Mayer (http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/) on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Both are successful authors who understand today’s market and can offer a wealth of insight.

Kristen Lamb, my Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp co-founder, has an on-line group. She also leads our local group which meets weekly, and there’s a lot of progress being made in both groups. In fact, one of the members of the on-line group, Donna Collins Newton (www.donnanewton.wordpress.com), has been in Hollywood recently working out the details for a tv series based on her screenplay.

Another valuable tool is reading blogs of other writers. We can take advantage of the experience (read mistakes) of others and make the way for smoother sailing for ourselves.

Writers used to live in caves, isolated from the rest of the world, but we no longer have to be hermits. Nowadays, we are not alone, to steal from the title of Kristen Lamb’s best-selling book, We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media. As writers seeking to break through, we need to take advantage of every opportunity for help we can find.

Ø Are you taking advantage of all the help available to assist you in reaching your own personal goals?

Ø Is there a local critique group that is right for you?

Ø Do the group members help one another with characterization, plot and so forth, or do they just critique a few pages of your prose?

Ø Interested in joining Kristen Lamb’s online group? Start following her blogs at http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/, as well as following her on Twitter and maybe friending her on FB. Then send her a DM or a FB message inquiring about joining.

They Also Serve

John Milton said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Seems like a strange thing to say. Isn’t it the movers and shakers who make all the difference in this world?

Sometimes we get to thinking that way, but is that correct? Where would Julia Roberts be if there weren’t someone on the other side of the camera filming her? Someone making sure her hair and makeup looked right?

Where would George Strait be if someone didn’t drive his bus to get him and his band to their appearances? Someone to see that the proper wardrobe was ready?

Buddy Holly was an overnight sensation back in the late 1950s. In fact, many consider him to be as big an icon of Rock and Roll music as Elvis Presley. One of the guys who stood behind him on the stage attracting little or no attention was Waylon Jennings. Waylon didn’t soar like Buddy, but he’s entering his sixth decade as a fixture in country music.

One of my favorite items in the comic pages is “Pluggers” by Gary Brookins. A plugger never jets straight to the top, but he plugs along doing his thing and working himself toward his goals.

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Some people cast very visible shadows, and others live in those shadows supporting the visible ones. Both types have their parts to play.

If your writing hasn’t brought you the level of success one of your peers has achieved, or if it hasn’t improved as rapidly as you thought it would, don’t despair. Just keep plugging along, learning all you can about your craft and incorporating it into your writing.

Those of you who read my entry last week, “My First Blog,” are aware that Kristen Lamb (http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/) and I co-founded Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp. We met numerous times discussing whether or not to step away from the comfort of an existing writers’ group.

As is human nature, we both had a certain fear of venturing out. Sure, there were things about the group we were in that we both thought kept us from progressing as writers and leading others to progress, but the group was familiar. We frequently hold onto our own darkness rather than venture out into an unknown light.

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Kristen would tell you I had to push her and stand behind her and prop her up before she was ready to take that step into the unknown. Once we made the decision to do so, we began meeting to discuss what we would do, how we would go about accomplishing what we wanted to accomplish. I don’t even know how many hours we spent and how many cups of coffee we drank working up our agenda.

In retrospect, a lot of our agonizing over what to do and how to do it proved pointless, because we soon began to junk parts of our agenda and replace them with newer and better thoughts that came along only as we got our feet wet. Before long, we hardly recognized the baby we’d created.

Somewhere along the way as the group began to jell, the ideas for what we should be doing began to crystallize in her mind, while my mind seemed to hang back where we began. She seemed to know instinctively—actually, it had a lot more to do with how much she read and her contacts with Bob Mayer (http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/) than with instincts—what we needed to do and where we needed to go.

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Before long, I found myself a follower rather than a co-leader. I began to feel like a non-contributing failure. I should have been helping Kristen teach our group, but instead I found myself not even understanding or at least being very slow to apply what she was teaching.

Every time I said something about how I’d lagged behind her, she would remind me that there would be no Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp—and likely no We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media if I hadn’t pushed her and supported her in the beginning. I still sometimes feel like a dunce compared to the progress she’s made in the last two years.

Last summer I wrote a few blogs which were read by about three members of my own family. I didn’t understand Twitter—still barely do—and I didn’t understand putting tags in my blogs so someone could actually find them. With no one reading what I’d written, I just quit writing. I’ve remained an active part of WWBC, attending meetings regularly and adding what I can, but no writing.

It wasn’t until Kristen sent me the manuscript for Are You There – It’s Me, Writer, her followup to We Are Not Alone . . . that I began to put some things into perspective with regard to my own writing. I made up my mind that I would begin blogging regularly and effectively. I’m even determined to learn how to use Twitter effectively. After all, I have a true expert available for help.

You may have a young and nimble mind that immediately grasps these things. Like Kristen, you may grow in your craft by leaps and bounds. But there are also some out there like me who were born far too long ago to pick up, adapt to, and use all the new things available to writers.

The good news is that there’s a place for us, too. We may not be the stars who shoot to the top of the best-seller lists, but we can plug along and work at our craft and become good at it. In time, we may even be able to join our more fleet-footed acquaintances on that best-seller list.

Meanwhile, we can learn from and support those around us. I don’t kid myself that I’m responsible for Kristen’s success, but I do take joy in her success—and maybe just a tiny bit of pride. I’d love to see every member of our group become a successful, best-selling author. Some of it might rub off on me, but even if it doesn’t, I can rejoice in the success of others I love and care about.

Ø Are you the rock star soaring to success or the plugger trudging along the way?

Ø What do you do when you get discouraged with the pace of your progress?

Ø How does your writers’ group help you or intimidate you?