Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Confidence: Selling Yourself

Last week I addressed what I think is the biggest cause of insecurity in writers: a lack of knowledge. This week, I am going to talk about marketing yourself, when you feel like you don't deserve people's attention.

Again, this is an area where I am talking about a problem I don't really have. So while I strongly advise you at least try my methods, take this blog post with a grain of salt.

It can be very hard to promote yourself and your writing. I am super confident when it comes to talking about myself, but I am not the sort of person who pushes sales or hounds people to read my work. However, I am happy to talk about it and I do love it when people read my work. That is, after all, the goal. A lot of people seem to really struggle with this though. They feel if they talk about their own work, they are being narcissistic and will risk boring people. However so much of being an author these days is about promoting yourself. There is a lot of competition in the market and you're crazy if you just leave discoverability to chance. So without further ado:

Promote Yourself As If You Are Your Favourite Author.

How many times have you encouraged friends to read a book you love? Hopefully a lot, since word of mouth is the most powerful success tool for books. If you want your favourite author to keep writing, recommend them to people, so they can quit their day job and write for you full time.

Remember the passion and excitement you expressed? You're not sharing a book you love for selfish reasons, you're sharing it because you are hoping it will bring your friend the same joy it brought you. You are recommending it, because you think they will like it.

And how awesome is it when a friend recommends a book to you and it's AMAZING? And you love it. And you recommend it to everyone else?

When you are promoting your book, I want you to pretend you are promoting a book by someone else. It's an author you love, a story you love. And if you use the same sort of language in promoting your own book as you do promoting other people's books, you'll have more success.

How do you usually recommend a book to someone? Usually with one or two lines that summarise the key appeal (or key sparkly, but more on that in another blog post). I'll give you some examples of me pitching novels I love to my friends:

'Three words. Gay slave prince. Its trashy, and angsty and fantastic. Its every guilty pleasure you ever wanted in one super gay fantasy trilogy.' (Captive Prince – C.S Pacat)

'It's grimdark, subversive, really intelligent political fantasy and one of the characters is a disabled asshole and I love him.' (The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie)

'It's world war one, but the Germans have mecha and the British have genetically modified animals and there is a girl dressed as a boy who runs away to join the air force and it is everything I ever wanted.' (Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld

How would you describe your book in one to two enthusiastic sentences? What are the key elements that would appeal to readers? Work it out, memorise it, and next time someone asks what you book is about, that's all you need to say. Pitch your book as you would your favourite book. Even pretend it was written by someone else if that helps. It will make a difference.

Be Aware Of What You Are Offering.

Obviously if you are going to pitch your story to people the same way you would your favourite book, you must be aware of what you are offering. If you have no idea, go back to stuff you love and write down why you love it. Just the basic, simple things. It's entertaining, you like the characters, you're hooked on the romance—whatever it is. Be honest. You don't have to be ashamed of what you like. You don't have to like things for high-brow reasons.

Now, it's more than likely, you write similar things to what you like. You're going to have similar elements in your books to the elements you love in other books. This is where you might get caught up thinking 'but I don't do it as well as my favourite author'.

If you ask 10 people what their favourite book is, you'll probably get ten different answers. If you ask ten people who their favourite character is, you'll get ten different answers. Opinions vary. A lot of my friends do not like one of my favourite authors. They find him elitist and inaccessible. And boring. They prefer my style of writing to his. He is inarguably richer and more famous, but if they had to choose between one of my books and one of his, mine would win every time. But I IDOLISE this guy. I think preferring my books over his is crazy. I think he writes like he was touched by God.

You can't really compare your tastes to everyone else's tastes. There are people out there who think your favourite author is crap dusted on a crap sandwich. So don't think just because you think you are terrible when comparing yourself to your idols, that everyone else does too.

It's egotistical to think your opinion on what is good and what is bad is more valid than everyone else's. Tell people what you love about your writing and then let them make up their own minds. Some people will like it and some people won't, just like they do with your favourite author. Which brings me to:

Love What You Have Written.

A friend of mine was looking for people to review his work on amazon. I said sure, and to toss me a copy. He didn't. I messaged him, a little confused, to ask why not. You can never have enough reviews, after all. Had he reached a quota? No. He confessed he didn't want me to read his book because he 'cared about my opinion'.

I was baffled. Completely stunned. I would PAY to have people I respect read my books. Nothing in the world would make me happier than having someone I respect ask for a copy of one of my books. I would deliver it to them on a unicorn with banners and a marching band.

Why? Because I love my books. I am proud of my books. What I want, more than money and fame and a harem of gorgeous polymaths is for people to read my books. Want to impress me? Want to get on my good side? Want me to ADORE you? Read my books. Tell other people to read my books. Talk to me about my books.

I don't want to be an asshole, but why would you spend hundreds of hours writing and editing a manuscript if you didn't want anyone to read it? Isn't that a huge waste of time? Or do you just want stupid, boring people to read it and praise you? It's good enough for the people you don't give a shit about, but not the ones you respect? That sounds pretty dicky to me.

Don't let anyone tell you you're not allowed to be proud of the things you create. Imagine if someone said: "Oh, you're proud of your daughter? I don't think you should be. She's not that great."

Would you let someone talk to you like that about your child? About your partner? About your parents? I wouldn't. I'd punch someone in the fucking mouth if they said that to me. Try me. Tell me I shouldn't be proud of my friends. I will fight you.

Your creative work is the same. You are the same. You are allowed to be proud of yourself and your creations. Just like you are your children. You created them too.

No more bullshit. I am giving you all permission to be proud and talk about your books with enthusiasm. Be excited to share them.

And if you still can't bring yourself to do it, be excited to share mine. They're awesome.

For more updates on how awesome I am, follow me on twitter.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Confidence: Faith In Your Writing

When I ask people what stops them from writing, the first thing they say is always time. Which I handled already over a five-post series, which was then made into this book.

However, the people who have enough time to write tell me what stops them is low confidence. I hesitated to address this for a long time, because as anyone who has met me in person knows, I am a confident person. I have been since I was a very small child. So, I feel a little like me telling you how to be confident, is like a trust fund kid telling you how to be rich.

You can't just go back and be born confident, anymore than you can go back and be born to rich parents. The problem with anyone who has a natural talent is they don't know how they do it, they just do.

Nonetheless, I am going to talk about confidence anyway. Because I see a lot of things insecure people do, which they don't notice, because they're too busy being insecure.

The Biggest Difference Between Me And Insecure Writers:

There is one huge difference I always notice between myself and insecure writers, and that is research and information.

I decided I wanted to be an author when I was thirteen and the first thing I did was go to the library and borrow every book they had on writing. Including all the books on writing scripts, poetry and children's books. There was about thirty of them, and I read every single one of them, cover to cover.

The next thing I did was research all the publishers who were near me, and I had my mother call the closest one—a small indie press place—to ask if I could visit. They were having a workshop about a month later, and I went to that. Everyone else was over 45. I was, as I said, 13.

I had no interest in studying creative writing at university or TAFE, however I signed up to a lot of newsletters from libraries, writing groups, publishing houses and local council initiatives, and I went to all the free or cheap workshops, seminars and classes I could.

All of them.

By the time I was 20, most of the material in them was old news to me. However, we moved a lot, and in each new area I would join all the new mailing lists, go to all the classes, and read any new books on publishing at the new library. Even though I might only gain one tiny new bit of information from each one, and most of it was stuff I already knew.

Alex Adsett, the literary agent, does a great talk on contracts and copyright. I've seen it four times. She's banned me from coming again, but in truth, I would happily keep going and probably keep picking up new information each time. A new question asked by someone in the audience, an update to a law or a new court case that changed things slightly. That is valuable stuff to me.

I am signed up to about six newsletters that deliver bulk links on publishing news, writing tips and writing competitions 1-3 times a week. I follow about a dozen blogs that do the same. I spent probably about an hour a day, staying up to date with industry news and writing tips.

It's very easy for me to feel confident talking about writing, and the act of writing itself, because I know a lot about it. I know all the advice back to front, I know what publishers a looking for, I know publishing isn't just 'luck' as everyone says, but a set of skills that need to be developed. I know what those skills are. I know how to develop them.

As the industry evolves, I am on top of changes. I never feel left behind. I am secure in my knowledge. And I know there are thousands of people who know much more than me: authors, editors, agents, marketing personal, for me to continue to learn new things from. I have never, not even once, deluded myself into thinking I know 'enough'. I will never know enough, because some of what I knew yesterday is now obsolete. And even if publishing was static, there is still too much to know for a single person to learn in their lifetime.

I am confident not only in what I know, but that I will never know everything. And that excites me. I enjoy learning new things about writing and publishing every day.

"But I Look At The Page And Feel Existential Dread!" You Say.

Or 'I worry I'll never be good enough!' or 'I worry people are going to think my stories are stupid!'.

Well, you probably wouldn't worry people were going to think your book was stupid, if you knew how big the market for that sort of story was. There's a market for white supremacist bigfoot porn. It's not big, but it's there. So, there is probably a market for whatever you are writing. However, if you have no idea what that market size is, how to find it, how to market it, where to sell it, or what your earnings will be when you do, then, yeah, that's pretty scary.

Or maybe your goal is traditional, commercial publishing and you aren't skilled enough to write at that level yet. You don't know how to identify the problems in your writing, you don't know how to fix them when you have identified them. Also scary.

The problem, as near as I can tell, is not the lack of confidence, but the lack of information.

If you knew exactly how to edit your manuscript to be a best seller, then how to write a query letter that would attract an offer from the world's best publisher, would you still lack confidence? Or would you be eager to get started?

You're Going To Fail. Welcome The Club. It's Called 'Everyone'.

When you read a certain motivational genre, they tend to tell you, you should act as if you can't fail. They ask, what would you do tomorrow if you knew you would succeed? Ask out that person you like? Start your own business? Open an orphanage?

You know what is really shitty advice? Telling people who know jack shit about running an orphanage to go open an orphanage.

Pro tip: You're going to fail. The first few times, you're going to get it wrong. Particularly in writing and publishing.

However, the information you need to succeed is readily available online. Its available at your library. Its available in free classes and workshops. Just go and read it. Take notes. Ask questions.

The first book I wrote for Harlequin I KNEW would sell to them. I researched what they were publishing by reading all their new titles that year, I looked at their submission calls, I followed the blogs of their editors. I had zero doubt they would buy my book. And they did. Of course they did. Because I tailored it to their needs and the market.

I'd racked up a hell of a lot of rejections for other titles first.

So remember, you're not lacking in confidence because you're a bad writer.

You're lacking in confidence because you don't know how to be a better writer.

I assume. What do I know? I used to force strangers to listen to my stories when I was three. I was very pushy for someone yet to master colouring inside the lines.

Tune in this week for part two of this series, which includes my tips on marketing and promoting yourself while your confidence is busy rolling around in the gutter with my sense of propriety.

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