Write and silence the voices within

Write and silence the voices within

The only way to get it finished is to start it…

fire inside me

Thinking is not writing.

L'amour_Louis

How do you hit your target audience?

How do you hit your target audience?

 

hitting target

Several years ago my brother started a travel agent business and asked me to create a marketing blurb for his website. My first question to him was, “What is your target audience?” To which he replied, “Everyone. This business is for everyone.” It took us several days to come to the  agreement that marketing strategies by their very nature are targeted towards a specific group. It is not to say that your product won’t have crossover appeal but there is a core group to whom you will aim to please. The same is true with writing—whether it is fiction or non-fiction.

Focusing specifically on fiction there is a die-hard group that will devour every piece of historical fiction they can get their hands on. Some love thrillers and this is the first section they seek at the bookstore. Your book, your story will be written with an audience in mind. You will know them because either you are a part of that group or you have done your research.

Aim to get published

When you first begin to write your novel you will write from the heart. You have a story to tell and whether it is about flesh-eating zombies or nuns forsaking all for love it will come from your soul from which all questions stir. You chose this story because your imagination would not let you deny it. At the root of every story is the connection you have to it; every story you write will be a part of you in some way; it is life experiences mingled with knowledge and creative thoughts. But as you begin to go back edit and rewrite you will become more focused on your target audience. Those that say they don’t think about this because they are simply writing what they want are either not looking to get published or content with having their group of family and friends as their audience. This is not totally unheard of; William P. Young said that he only had his family and a few close friends in mind when he wrote The Shack. But they begin to share it with the world. Well, this doesn’t happen often and so our focus must be on our core group of readers. Is it the young mom who busies herself with the kids all day and then falls head over for that beautiful romance novel in the evening?  Maybe it is the ex-military officer that delves into historical fiction every chance he gets. Editors want to know who it is that you aim to please, therefore you will want to know too.

Make the book hard to put down

We write to our target audience and still make it our own—our own voice, theme, in other words our way of viewing the world. We learn the genre if it isn’t one with which we are completely familiar. We read books by authors who are doing it and doing it well. I say, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Follow the tracks of the wheels already invented and later down the road veer on your own path. Have others who love the genre read your work. They know the flow of a sci-fi novel. They can decipher if certain technicalities are off. If you are a lover of the genre, write the kind of fiction you want to read—not the forgettable kind that you read on vacation and forget the storyline altogether by the time you’ve arrived home and unpacked. Write the mind gripping, gut-wrenching stuff that has you commenting to your FB friends on how great it was. You don’t know how to write such a story you say? Read the last book that did this for you. Now read it again and this time, not for pure pleasure. Pull on the techniques—why was it so compelling? What was it about the characters that made you care about them so much? Why did you cry at the end? And why are you still thinking about it even now?

Keep the target audience before you as you rewrite. Imagine them skimming the pages of your novel. See them laughing at certain points, glued to the pages while they are preparing dinner or listening via audio on their commute to work because they simply could not wait until the weekend. See them and write for them.

Take those first steps towards writing your novel

Take those first steps towards writing your novel

So you think you want to write a novel?

I don’t think that any real writer would kid you and say that writing is an easy task. Everyone likes the look and feel of the experience; sort of like those people who love the smell of coffee but hate the taste.

But most don’t know how or where to get started and although if feels sufficient enough to simply say, just start writing, there are a few more things you may want to do to get the ball rolling.

Read like the wind

Reading really is a fundamental key to being a good writer—and that is in any genre. Reading introduces you to new words and ideas it also gives you a good sense of flow if you are writing fiction, a good sense of formatting if you are writing non-fiction. Additionally you will know what has already been written on your given subject. Now, I’ve heard people say that they want to do something different, something that has never been done before. Well, you won’t know what has been done if you aren’t reading. Reading in your genre let’s you in on what your target audience is looking for. Even if you’re bent on re-creating the wheel at least you will know what has been working and why it works.

But I don’t just encourage writers to read in the genre in which they will write—read other genres because there are structures to the story which are universal. It will expand your ideas and jolt your creativity. It will broaden your perspective of the world even beyond the profession of writing.

Read books on the craft of writing. This is quite important. When I began seriously writing fiction some years ago I went full-fledge ahead (as is the nature of my personality). After all, I was a writer and I knew how to construct sentences and paragraphs. But I learned by reading trade magazines that there is a structure and flow to fiction writing. And although it may seem like your favorite author is just writing off of the top of their head it is most likely that they are consciously aware of the structure. In some aspects it takes the struggle out of writing the book. When you write without knowing the fundamentals it is like trying to build a house just by looking at a house you admire. It just doesn’t work. And if you are looking to get published an editor will quickly recognize this major flaw.

The beginning

Join a Writer’s critique group

Writer critique groups work well for many people. It gives you the opportunity to exchange ideas and get feedback from others who are on the same path. I have never joined a critique group. I am not sure why except to say I have always received feedback in other ways—I wrote professionally before I began my journey as fulltime fiction writing. My writing was constantly being critiqued. But I do know others who have built lasting friendships with members of such groups. If you’re new to the writing I do encourage it. Sometimes members of the group can help if you are truly struggling with how to get started. I caution you to choose a group where there is a balance between published and unpublished writers. If you are all newbies it may not benefit you to get feedback from those without a clue. Likewise, if they are all experienced writers you may feel intimidated or they may not want to slow down and take the time to help you with the fundamentals (especially since you aren’t in the position to reciprocate information).

Network with other Writers

Networking in any profession has its benefits. But the thing with writers is that our job is completely freelance. There is no office to drive to where writers are sitting at their cubicles tapping out story after story (and most of us like it that way). Find other writers, authors and readers via social media:

Facebook – There are a bevy of groups here. Screen them carefully—many writers are there just to promote their work and offer no real benefit aside from this.

Google+ – This site is underused and underrated but I have found several groups that offer feedback and support for work

Tumblr – Blogs, blogs and more blogs. Again you will screen to find the ones that are most beneficial.

Be diligent

For most of us, writing a novel is not a must but a want. And it is so easy to get sidetrack with life when there is no real fundamental gap for our passion—at least to the visible eye. Others won’t consistently say, “Listen, you have to get busy writing your book.” Well, at least most of us won’t get that. But the thing is, if it is your passion, has always been your dream, you owe it to yourself to get it done. And as you do you will find it to be the most cathartic, difficult and wonderful thing you have ever done.

Nothing Lost: Live your Dream

Nothing Lost: Live your Dream

Here we are near the end of another year as 2015 awaits us. This is the time we begin to reflect on our accomplishments over the past 12 months—we either look back in wonderment at how far we’ve come, or with dismay over things not yet accomplished. The things left undone often bother us the most. Regret. It’s an evil thing. It’s big and impactful and has absolutely no benefits. And yet many of us spend much time living in that very realm.

Natchez-Trace-ParkwayII

Years back when the economy took a dive I was out of work for a very long time. As a journalist I struggled and scrambled trying to find work in my profession to no avail. And then a dear friend of mind suggested I come and work at the hotel where she working as a night auditor. It wasn’t the job for me; it was a midnight shift, the pay wasn’t great and I’d be dealing with the public. I didn’t want to deal with the public. It felt like God just didn’t like me anymore. But I did it anyway because a slim paycheck beats no paycheck any day. I work there four years. It was there I begin to sincerely write fiction. I begin with some short stories then a novel that I finished but didn’t quite flush out. Often the nights were solidly quiet and my thoughts would flow freely.

I wrote a second novel. Night after night, page after page I wrote. And yet, it seemed I’d never get a real job. God really didn’t like me. But several years later that novel was published. It was then I realized that those four years dealing with complaining guests, working weekends and holidays, sleeping during the day so that I could be awake and perky at night, I was able to accomplish much on the backend of my dream. I was there in the solitude of the night that I put in the work, honed the craft and figured it out. I was there in long stretches of quiet that ideas flowed. It was during those four years that I learned how to deal with people (a necessary skill at some point in every writer’s life). Before that job I had not been focused on writing. I wrote when I could carve out some time and that was practically never.  But there at the desk, 4:00 am, every morning without fail, I wrote. It was a good friend who helped me to realize that those years had not been wasted. Nothing had been lost.

Every time I wanted to look back on those days and feel sorry for myself I remembered that God’s will and timing is purposeful and perfect.  He doesn’t piddle or mismanage time; he doesn’t get off course or sidetracked. Nothing lost.

Those times in our lives when it feels as if nothing is happening may be the very crux of our destiny. The next time you feel like time has been wasted or you’ve lost ground I encourage you to ask yourself, what was the lesson in this? What was accomplished? Often time accomplishments are internal changes—a shift in the way we think or feel about a matter. Sometimes internally we are developing the groundwork for something bigger. Therefore it is not time wasted, but time well spent.
 

 

How to best benefit at writers’ conferences

How to best benefit at writers’ conferences

You learn early that writing can be a very isolated and sometimes lonely process. Days at a time in a room with nothing but your computer and your thoughts can get start climbing the walls and dare you to join them. Perhaps that is why social media can be such a gem to writers. (It can also be the bane to your success if you aren’t careful.)

To be involved, to network and to learn your craft takes concentrated effort. Writer workshops and conferences can be a perfect resource for all of the above. Workshops and conferences not only offer a reprieve from the isolation and the “butt-in-chair” experience, but so much valuable and useful information can be gleaned if you go with the right attitude and expectations. Below are some points to keep in mind in order to get the most out of writers’ workshops and conferences.

Set your goals

As I’ve said, mingling and networking can definitely be achieved at these gatherings. But what else do you want to achieve? Are you looking to tighten a particular skill(s)? Are you looking to talk with an editor or agent? Know what goals you have in mind and that way you can make the most out of your time. There will most likely be a bevy of seminars and events happening simultaneously. Your key will be to focus on what you need for that particular time in your writing career.

Be realistic about your expectations

Hoping to sell a manuscript or land an-on-the-spot commitment is not only lofty, but also unlikely. These are not realistic goals for a conference—neither agents nor editors make snap judgments at such gatherings. Most likely you will be able to meet and talk with agents for a short period of time. You may also be able to find out what type of material they are looking for and follow-up with a query if you are invited to do so. Remember everyone is clamoring to sell their work. It may not happen on the spot, but a meeting-even a brief one-with an editor or agent may be the start you need.

Choose the conference based on your needs

If you are a Christian Fiction writer, attending a murder mystery writing weekend will probably not be profitable to you. Likewise, if you are looking to talk with editors and agents look for conferences that specifically indicate you will have that type of opportunity. If you are a beginning writer, trudging through your first few chapters focus on workshops geared toward beginning writers.

If you are in a position where you cannot get away for a conference consider other opportunities like online conferences. The panels and workshops all take place in a virtual setting. You can learn skills and even network in your PJs and slippers. It is completely interactive and can often be much more intimate. Also asking questions may be a lot less intimidating.


 SORMAG Conference registration

Come Prepared

You won’t leave empty-hand, but don’t come empty-handed either. Bring your business cards or copies of your manuscript. Bring pens and notepads or even your tablet. Be prepared to write down questions and take notes. Have your “elevator pitch” in your head so that you aren’t bumbling when it is time to spout a short blurb about your current project. Come prepared to get as much out of the writers’ conference or workshop as you can. And what you don’t learn from this one, you can get it from the next one.

Join me online at the SORMAG Readers and Writers’ Conference, November 1-3.