Saturday, December 3, 2011

Flying By The Seat of My Pants at 200 Miles Per Hour

Before I begin, I would like to make it perfectly clear that I am
completely unqualified to give advice to anybody at any time about anything.

I finished my first manuscript recently and entered the "marketing phase" of my endeavor. It has been exciting, depressing, discouraging, frustrating, and a whole lot of other -ings. But most of all revealing. In the course of trying to figure out what in the H-E-double-toothpicks I'm doing, I've made some errors and I've done a few things right (although that remains to be seen, I suppose).

In a nutshell, I'm out here flying by the seat of my pants at two-hundred miles per hour without a map.  So far I've skinned my knees a few times, but I've managed to avoid colliding with any large, immovable objects. I share the following nuggets o' wisdom gleaned from my journey thus far. 

First thing I did right: I read. A lot. 
I read blogs by my favorite authors, inhaled advice posted on literary agent sites, poured over articles in writing magazines, studied news about trends in romantic fiction, market share within genres, traditional vs. indie publishing. I bought books about the craft of writing romances, The First Five PagesThe Joy of Writing Sex (wow!) and tomes on character development, as well as the "Smart Bitches" very funny and illuminating book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms
Lesson Learned: Reading is good.

First thing I did wrong: I read. A lot. 
Statistics can really make you question the wisdom of writing word one. The sheer number of novels written each year is staggering. The comparatively tiny number that ever get published is depressing. Some agents receive thousands of queries each month. How in the world can they give each one a thorough reading? The answer: they can't. Not really. They have become adept at weeding out the obvious rubbish and marginal ideas quickly (since I didn't hear back from quite a few, I fear perhaps...) THEN they rely on instinct and finely honed merde detectors to sort through the rest. Apparently you have to grab 'em and grab 'em quick. Excellent concept + excellent query + excellent luck = "I might be interested, send me the first thirty pages."  And that's if you're talented and lucky! How do I know this?  See "First Thing I Did Right" above.  And, even if you win the lottery and catch the interest of das wunderkind agent who reels in a wildly enthusiastic publisher, there's still no guarantee you'll end up on the French Riviera quaffing champagne with Jacques, the stud-muffin who serves cocktails on the lido deck.  His washboard abs glistening with sweat under the hot Mediterranean sun, his firm...  Wait, what was I talking about...?
Lesson Learned: Break out your rose-colored glasses, think positive, and write for the love of it, 'cause there might not be any money waiting at the end of the rainbow.  

Second thing I did right: My own marketing
I'm pretty good with design, so I put together my own website using Dreamweaver. I love that program! There are quite a few good web authoring programs out there, and I'm not familiar with enough of them to say with any confidence that Dreamweaver is the best, but I personally love it and find it easy to use. My copy was included with the Adobe CS bundle which includes Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat Pro. I also designed my own book covers, logo, and blog with blogspot's user-friendly authoring tools. If I can do it, you can do it. Trust me, anybody who knows me will enthusiastically tell you I'm no genius.
Lesson Learned: Not having to pay for services while there is no money coming in is good. If you can't do it, recruit a teenager.  Kids today begin learning this stuff in elementary school.

My garden after frost collapse.
Second thing I did wrong: My own marketing
(Do you see a pattern developing?)
I'm pretty good with design, so I put together my own website, book covers, logos, etc.  I hoped to dazzle prospective agents and/or publishers with my ability to assist them in marketing my work when the time comes. I have gotten some negative feedback on this, however, primarily that I am "misrepresenting" myself. I gather that an unpublished writer should avoid any misconception that they are a published writer.  So I ratcheted back the build-it-and-they-will-come optimism of my first site draft, and toned down the Oprah-Secret-Style approach of sending good thoughts into the Universe.  I'm still sending good thoughts into the Universe, just not as strongly from my site. Other advice I was given: don't highlight other author's books or have anything that directs traffic away from your site.  Another consensus: Write about gardening and what you did on the weekend so your fans will get to know you. I'm not sold completely on this one.  I'm reasonably confident I don't have any fans yet, and I didn't do anything this weekend. And truth be told, my garden was a disgrace this year. By the end of July I had to hose the kids down with Raid and send them in with flashlights, breadcrumbs, and antivenin to search for lingering legumes hidden among the horse nettle and burrs.
Lesson Learned: I haven't the foggiest.

Third thing I did right: Joined WRW, RWA, and VRW
There is marvelous esprit de corps among romance writers. WRW's yahoo chat group is great. It serves as a cheering section, industry news disseminator, social networking site, and more. Members congratulate and commiserate.  It's nice. I'm going to make a meeting in person one day soon.  All I have to do is find something to wear besides pajamas and flip flops.  I wonder... is it good ton to wear plaid flannel to the Christmas party?
Lesson Learned: It's motivating to hear from people on the same journey.

Next week, I'll go over a few interesting questions an agent asked me.  To my chagrin, I hemmed and hawed and was woefully unprepared to answer them.  I felt foolish.  Undoubtedly sounded foolish, too.  Ah, well... 'Tis the story of my life. I'm going to help you cheat by giving you the test ahead of time.

Feedback encouragement questions of the week:
1) Did you enjoy my blog?
2) Do you have anything to add?  If so, please do.
3) Is your garden a perennial disgrace like mine?

Beyond Heaving Bosoms book cover, Courtesy my bookshelf
Frostbitten Weeds Photo, Courtesy my yard

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The Promise is available at Amazon at the following links: