Tuesday, October 17, 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.

Or follow me on twitter by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tag Tackles Genres. Again.

I’ve talked about genres before on this blog, but a conversation with my friend Wonderdog led to tackle it again.

Wonderdog was marvelling over my ability to write many different genres, and I said my books were all similar types of story, just with a different genre focus. I mentioned one book I was struggling with, since I couldn’t decide if it should be fantasy or romance. We then got to talking about what I would need to change to make it fit into one category or the other.

Firstly, it is worth covering what genre is:

Simply speaking, genre is the primary emotion of the book. It is also a label that allows booksellers and librarians to easily shelve your book so it can be found by readers who will enjoy reading it.

So, what do I mean by the primary emotion? Well, the primary emotion you should feel while reading a horror novel is fear. The primary emotion you want to experience while reading a romance novel is love or infatuation. Action is excitement. Thriller is tension. Drama is often nostalgia. Fantasy is wonder. Obviously, most novels will have a range of emotions. It’s very difficult to make someone feel an emotion strongly without contrast. To have high highs, you need low lows.

However, in most cases, the primary emotion is going to correspond with the genre.

And when people go looking for a book, what they are really looking for is how that book will make them feel. Good, sad, intelligent, whatever. Which is why you should want to be grouped in the correct genre in bookstores. If you are grouped in the wrong genre, then people are not going to get what they want, and they are going to be disappointed.

Not knowing your genre doesn’t make you cool, special or different. It just makes it hard for your book to find readers, and tells me it has no strong emotional impact.

Have you stopped bragging about defying genre now? Good. Let’s go on.

Next Topic: What Makes A Story One Genre Or Another?

Quite simply, it’s the focus and word use. In a previous post, I talked about atmosphere and gave three descriptions of the same room. I used those examples to demonstrate how you can take the same information and, in the way your present it, completely change the reader’s perception.

Genre is basically the same. It’s not the content itself, but how you present it. Take for example a man with a sword. In a fantasy, I might introduce him like this:

He was big, brutish. The sword at his side had seen a lot of use. He moved like a fighter, light on his feet and much too alert to be the simple merchant he claimed.

However, in a romance, he might look a bit more like this:

He was tall, roguish. The sword at his side had seen a lot of use. He moved like a dancer, light on his feet, his bright blue eyes alert and attentive. He looked much too capable to be the simple merchant he claimed.

Instead of big and brutish, he becomes tall and roguish. Why? Because big and brutish are not sexy, but tall and roguish sounds like the sort of man women would like to meet. In both cases, he is light on his feet. However, in one he is compared to a fighter, in the other, a dancer. With the added bonus of alert blue eyes.

To go back to the setting and place blog post examples:

Safe and exciting:
The den was lit with cheery, jumping candlelight. Two overstuffed leather couches would be perfect for reading in on cold winter days. The bookshelf was overflowing with titles, new and old, and the TV was so big, it took up half the wall, almost as good as a movie theatre.

Tense and scary:
The den was cold and sallow in the flickering candlelight. Two overstuffed couches stood hulking on opposite sides of the room, like sagging, bloated monsters about to fight. The dusty bookshelf, spilled over with books, both forgotten and abandoned. The TV was the worst of all, a vast yawning blackness that took up almost the entire wall.

I would consider the first example to be suitable for a YA action or even romance, and the second to be a horror or thriller.

How Does The Reader Feel?

At the RWA conference last weekend I was talking to some awesome fellow writers about my psychology degree and if I thought it was better than a writing degree. The short answer is ‘yes’. However, that is true for me, and might not be true for everyone else. It depends on your skill and temperament.

I quickly realised the ladies I was speaking to thought psychology was important to learn how to write characters. Which it is. However, you get a lot more out of psychology when you apply it to readers.

There is a joke in competition judging: The story that makes you cry the most wins.

Think about best-selling books. People are passionate about them. They felt something strongly while reading them. Same with blockbuster movies. What about big budget movies that fail? When was the last time you watched a big budget movie that tanked? How did it make you feel? Sort of meh? Like, it was okay, just… meh?


When you are writing a horror, you want the reader to feel afraid. When you are writing a romance, you want the reader to feel caught up in the character’s infatuation. For some of us, this just happens. We can do this innately, by writing things that make us feel those things.

However, you can often have a lot more emotional impact if you consciously think about what you want the reader to feel. Research how to make them feel that way. Both by learning about psychology, and reading fantastic books and studying how other people do it.

Make sure your book is delivering on the promise of its genre.

And if you aren’t already, follow me on twitter. I always link back to new blog posts and often post really cute pictures of my cats. What more could you ask for?