Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday Humbug Redux

Black Friday is upon us once again. When I first began writing this blog six years ago, one of my first posts concerned Black Friday. You might ask what Black Friday has to do with writing. Well, not a whole lot, but, then again, it could generate some interesting stories and articles.

As I prepare to give thanks for all the good things and the few true friends I have, I’m planning on what I’ll do the day after Thanksgiving. That particular day is now almost a national holiday, albeit without the blessing of Congress. Over the last six years, retailers have ramped up their sales and promotions for this one day when it seems like everyone goes shopping. But not everyone, for I have never given in to temptation. And I'm not any richer or poorer for it.

You see, I choose to stay home, avoid the crowds, and wait until a calmer time, say the day before Christmas, to do my shopping. Seriously, I shop for Christmas all year round. Why wait for the bargains on Black Friday? The stores all have them at other times. It's just that they have everyone trained to think that if they shop on the day after Thanksgiving, that something magical will happen to their pocketbook.

Today, I don’t even have to go out of my house to do my Christmas shopping. Last year, I did almost all of it online in the quiet of my home while sipping a piping hot cup of coffee. And for those of us who do use the Internet as our virtual shopping mall, Black Friday isn’t even that important. For us, Cyber Monday is the big day.

So what does this all have to do with you, the poor freelance writer? You, like me, probably can’t afford a whole lot of gifts anyway. With all the hoopla what has accompanied Black Friday in recent years—there’s always the controversy of if and when stores should open on Thanksgiving. Now let’s see, which one will open the earliest? On the local T.V. news last night, the consumer reporter presented listeners with the schedule of store openings. With all that’s happening in the world right now, how important is that?

Unlike in previous years, no store seems to be staying open all night. In fact, one group of stores promoted the idea of staying closed on Thanksgiving just so their employees could spend time with their families. Sounds great, but I’m sure that wasn’t the reason. In fact, that promotion got them more coverage than that of all the other stores combined.

Black Friday presents lots of ideas for writers, the most important of which is greed. Competition, between stores and between shoppers, is another one that offers lots of possibilities. And for those who write articles, why not find out how this whole blasted thing got started or how important is it to each store’s bottom line.

Look at Scrooge, Charles Dickens' lovable character in his story "A Christmas Carol." I think everyone shops like crazy because they don't want to be called a "Scrooge." But really that old guy was just depressed because the days got shorter and the London streets were dark, dingy, and smelly in Dickens' day. No wonder Scrooge wasn't all excited about Christmas. But through his story, Dickens does leave us with a strong message. It's not what you give, but how you give it. Remember that the next time you whip out your credit card.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

If at First You Don't Succeed

For most writers, writing a first draft of an article, short story, or book is still a lot better than going to the dentist. For some, cleaning the bathroom or folding the laundry is a lot less stressful. With a first draft you'll start from nothing and creating something, but not the finished product.

Before writing the first draft of any piece of writing, it pays to block out your idea. It makes writing an article or short story a lot simpler. But just because you block out the structure of your piece of writing, that doesn’t mean you have to stick to it religiously. Blocking helps you to think through some questions before you begin writing. If you’re writing fiction, the story, itself, can take an unexpected turn. That can change everything. Sometimes, it’s a dead end, and you’ll have your blocking to fall back on.

Think of your first draft as the clay, not the sculpture. You start out with a hunk of clay that you mold over and over. Much of it will be messy and unrefined. But don’t worry about that now. Your job is simply to get from the beginning to the end. Put down everything that comes into your head. Don’t worry about grammar. You’ll be able to correct any problems later. For now, get everything out.

Remember, no one but you should read your first draft.  Don’t show your first draft to anyone. Asking someone else to read it would be pointless and embarrassing. If you don’t know what your first draft needs, then by all means, ask for help. But just because you don’t show your first draft to anyone else doesn’t mean you can’t discuss your idea with a close friend or colleague if need be. Doing so might give you a different take on your subject.

Don’t stop to do research.  Depending on the type of writing you do, completing all your research before you start may be necessary, such as in writing an article. But if you’re writing a piece of fiction or even a book, it may be better to do some basic research—just enough to get you started—rather than doing all of it. Instead, you can insert words in uppercase letters in your first drafts to indicate where details need to be filled in later.

Set a deadline. It pays to set a deadline for your first draft. Otherwise you may be writing it for much longer than you planned. You really can't move on until you complete your first draft. And without anyone to prod you, you may not even get your first draft finished. Don’t start your next draft as soon as you finish your first one. Give it some time to rest. In the meantime, do some work on another project. When you come back to it, you’ll see the problems immediately.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dreams of an Indie Author

With the advent of digital book publishing, many beginning writers think that all they have to do is write a book and readers will rush to Amazon to buy it. Today’s indie (independent) authors have realized the sad fact that books don’t sell themselves.

Even when writers relied on print book publishers to get their books to market, the percentage of those who earned enough from royalties to make a living at book writing was relatively low. True, though royalty percentages have increased from lows of 8-10 percent of a book’s price—sometimes the net price (the amount paid by wholesalers)— to 50 percent for ebooks, the chances that they would have earned their advances were slim. While bestselling authors can make a killing—for example the author of the Harry Potter books—most only scrape by.

When writers had books published by big-name publishers, they assumed that their publisher would help promote their books. In recent years, publishers promoted most books less and less, leaving that up to the authors. Indie authors, on the other hand, must not only write their books, but promote them as well. Some spend twice as much time on promoting their books as they did writing them.

Before getting depressed and deciding not to write that book you’ve been planning, let’s take a moment to look at what you need to do to make it a success.

Write for  your readers, not yourself. While you may be writing a book on a subject that’s near and dear to you, chances are that it won’t be near and dear to your readers. Beginning writers often ignore that the reader’s interest is the most important part of the writing process. Whatever you write about, you must relate it to your readers in order for them to react to and enjoy it.

If you’re writing a memoir, don’t assume your story is of any interest to anyone but yourself, your family and your friends. Unless you are an A-list celebrity or have done something truly extraordinary that makes a stranger’s jaw drop, readers won’t buy your book.

Be sure to have someone else edit your book. Editing a book is an important part of the process, but it’s not something you can or should do. An editor sees your book with fresh eyes, not only to pinpoint grammatical problems but also problems with content and order. Find a someone who edits books rather then giving it to a friend to look over.

Start promoting on social media at least six months before you plan to launch your book. You’ll need to spend several hours each day on social media interacting with fans, building rapport by providing interesting content. Tease them with short excerpts and little-known facts about your subject. Above all, learn all you can about marketing and promotion.

Avoid writing about trending subjects. While it’s great to write about a subject that’s trending on social media, by the time you actually get your book finished, it probably won’t be trending anymore.

Don’t plan on earning a living from indie writing anytime soon. Print publishers are paying out shrinking advances, and many are only purchasing one book a year from each writer. Agents take 15 percent of that and the IRS takes 20-30 percent. What you’re left with isn’t much. In fact, indie writers without some additional sources of income will find making a living a challenge.