Sunday, December 28, 2014

How Does One (Honestly) Become a Writer?

As a 40-something woman at the mid-point in my career, I am often asked the one question that almost every writer hears: "How did you become a writer?" I always smile while answering them honestly, "By accident."

You see, unlike so many of the "bestselling" authors I've read about with multiple degrees in English, Literature and/or Journalism, I studied Art History in college.

That's right. Art.

Although I was talented in languages and creative writing and loved to write short stories and poems, I never got that "push" from an adult, teacher or mentor to explore my other creative side -- the one that ended up lying dormant for far too long. And while I enjoyed drawing and painting and felt comfortable sharing that side of my creativity with the world, the closet writer never broke out until I was well into adulthood. Why? Because of my own prejudices and *gulps* lack of self-esteem.

I had convinced myself that I wasn't good enough to call myself a writer. I had a hard time believing that other people could ever enjoy reading my stories -- after all, I was no expert -- I didn't have a degree in Journalism or English. I hadn't worked for a newspaper or publisher, or even a library for that matter. I wasn't talented enough to become a professional writer.

I was wrong.

For decades, the most fantastic story floated around in my head but I never took it to the next level by putting it down on paper. Why? The idea of placing my innermost thoughts and ideas on the written page was too risky. What if someone read it? What if they thought it was complete and utter garbage?

My reasons for not writing actually held those stories hostage inside my head. Not only that, but for years I operated under the false assumption that if I wanted to become a successful author, I had to write things that would please others. Wasn't that how most writers managed to land an agent -- by following the latest trends and writing the stuff that agents wanted to read? It took me a long time to realize that my misconceptions about writing were completely and utterly wrong.

Then, one fateful day in September, I decided to sit down and write. Just for me. No one would ever have to know. Each time my husband or one of my kids came through the front door, I would hit "save" and quickly close my laptop. It was my own special secret.

I pecked away at the keys, hesitating at first, but then faster with more confidence as the story flowed through my head until finally it came rushing out like a tidal wave onto the page. It began with two main characters entwined in an epic love story. They were from different worlds, but somehow they would find each other after being apart. The female protagonist didn't know she had been lost but the male protagonist knew everything.

From there, the story grew as more characters took the center stage. I could easily visualize their actions and feel their motivations as each and every one of them quickly became as real to me as any living person I had ever known. Every book I had ever read, every movie I had ever seen, and every experience I had ever lived suddenly came into play. I didn't care that vampires and werewolves were the current, popular trend -- I was writing this story for me! It was the classic story with knights, princesses, monsters -- the whole tamale but with a modern twist.

Before I knew it, not only did I have the first story, but I also had the base for a second book. I worked on bettering my craft by reading more books and recruiting the assistance of beta readers. They helped me to improve upon the story, showing me holes in the plot and pointing out grammatical errors. Slowly but surely, my writing improved to the point where I was confident enough to start submitting it selectively to agents.

That's where the momentum broke.

When I began querying, I knew that the chances of getting picked up by a literary agent were slim to none. It was equivalent to being a needle in a haystack and hoping that someone would find me amidst all the straw. Agents receive thousands of queries per year and most only take on a few new writers at any time -- sometimes not at all.

Undaunted, I knew that my story was different. It was fresh, bold, and I loved it! I headed in full-force, querying right and left, twenty agents at a time. And each day, I received email responses telling me that my story "wasn't a right fit." Half the agents didn't even bother to answer at all. But so what?!? I'd read somewhere that Stephenie Meyer received eight (8!) whole rejections before Twilight was picked up by an agent!! Now it was my turn!

After a year of querying and receiving only one request to read the full manuscript out of two hundred rejections, I was feeling extremely disappointed and discouraged. I decided to change my game plan by pulling back and working on improving the story. During the next few months, I realized that I had queried my novel too soon and there were too many lingering issues with my story. I had four kids and a full-time job, so finding time to re-write was sparse to say the least. I spent nights and weekends working on it, re-working entire chapters at a time.

When I was finally satisfied that I had taken the story as far as it could go, I made the strategic decision to self-publish. Knowing I couldn't stand the emotional roller-coaster of querying agents for the next year or two, going indie publishing for me was the only acceptable alternative. Besides, by self-pubbing, I could keep creative control over the integrity of the story while maintaining rights to the novel.

Today, I have published two books and am currently writing both a third and fourth book simultaneously. I am happy with my accomplishments and excited about future projects. My fan base continues to grow every week and I have learned so much about the publishing world. With the desire to spare other writers weeks and months of wasted time, I have come up with a set of tips to help wannabe writers on their own publishing journey:

Tip #1 - Whether or not you think you're a writer, you are right!

Until you can carry yourself over the mental threshold of accepting that you are a writer, you will never be in the place you need to be. For too long I told myself I could never be a writer because I didn't have the degree, the talent, or the right. Stop telling yourself this! Be like the Little Engine That Could and repeat the mantra, "I think I can, I think I can!"

Tip #2 - Write ONLY the story you would want to read!

One of the biggest mistakes I see fellow writers making is writing stories based on current trends. If the current fad books are about zombies, werewolves or other mythical creatures, don't feel you have to write about those subject just to get your foot in the door. Chances are, by the time you finally get your story done and tweaked enough to start querying agents, the fad is over and the market is already over-saturated. Be original and write about something that intrigues you. I am passionate about writing original stories that I would want to find on a bookstore shelf. Write the story that has not yet been written!

Tip #3 - Learn all you can about the craft of writing!

Don't make the mistake of thinking you already know how to write and that your style can't be improved. All writers from amateur poet to bestselling novelists go through difficult periods, but truly great writers are constantly improving themselves through practice and by reading a wide variety of books written by other authors.

Tip #4 - Don't query agents until your story is PERFECT!

Another big mistake that writers make is to query their project to agents too soon. Do yourself and the agent(s) a favor and make sure your story has been worked to death. It isn't unusual for a story to go through the editing process at least fifty times or more before it is finally ready to be pitched!

Tip #5 - A little bit of humility goes a long way!

The only difference between a talented, unknown writer and a world-famous author is a little thing called opportunity. Some of us stumble across it and some of us don't. And some of us make our own opportunities. Never let one pass you by -- it could make all the difference in the world! But no matter how successful you may wind up in your writing career, never forget the place where you started. There are millions of books out there competing with your own, so always be kind to anyone who is willing to spend precious time reading your story. Accept help from other writers and readers wherever you can get it!

Tip #6 - Know Thy Genre!

Although it seems too basic to mention, know your book's genre before pitching it to anyone. Don't make the mistake of thinking that your book is so original and spectacular that it is in a class of its own. Agents and publishers need to know how to market your book, and if it doesn't fit into one of the main book categories, you will have a very difficult time selling it to anyone. Decide who is your primary audience -- men or women? Adults or teens? Fiction or non-fiction? Is it fantasy or contemporary romance? Learn your book's genre and pitch it to the right agents who specialize in that category -- it will save you from wasting every one's time!


Tip #7 - Build Your Platform!

In order to be heard above the screaming crowd, you need something different that attracts people's attention. A successful writer uses all the tools in the toolbox to create a successful platform. There are enough articles and blog posts out there in helping a writer a build a platform, so I'm not going to get in too deep here, but sites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram -- these are all ways to make your voice be heard. But above all, you need to decide what you want your message to be, and then preach it, sister! But how do you decide what that message is? Answer this simple question and then base all your tweets, posts and photos around it --

"What do you want your writing/life/career to be known for after you're dead?"

So what is my answer to the question of how does one become a writer?

They simply do!

Has this post helped or encouraged you in your writing? I'd love to hear your comments in the section below!

Friday, April 25, 2014


Well, I've been neglecting this blog for far too long because--well, I've been doing some SERIOUS writing and editing! And today, I am so pleased an proud to reveal the beautiful new cover by Najla Qamber for The Carnelian Tyranny:


Isn't it beautiful?!? I just can't wait to share this story with you! If you would like to see more, please visit The Carnelian Legacy web site. Please tell me what you think in the comments section below!


Three months after her fateful trip through the vortex, Marisa MacCallum is struggling with the responsibilities of being a royal. And with only a few weeks left before her coronation, she begins to have doubts about her engagement to the handsome Darian Fiore.

But when palace spies uncover a secret plot to assassinate members of the royal family and eliminate the Crimson Knights, Marisa and Darian are forced to put their plans for the future on hold to prevent Savino da Rocha and his legion of warrior giants from stealing the throne.

After narrowly escaping an attempt on her life, she is left to defend the stronghold of Crocetta while Darian marches to war. But when Savino strikes at the heart of the kingdom with supernatural powers of darkness, Marisa becomes entangled in a spiritual battle with the power to destroy her family and forever end the Fiore dynasty.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Reviews, Blogzillas & Oscar The Grouch

As a kid, I grew up watching Sesame Street, and I have to admit that my least favorite character was always Oscar The Grouch. I just didn't understand what that little green monster had to be snarky about all the time. Especially when all those cool, friendly neighbors came around to visit him every day.

Now that I'm older, I have learned from experience that there is always at least one pessimist around, poking his head out of somewhere. With the explosion of the internet, these grouchy people are popping up more and more in unexpected places, offering their unfiltered opinions in places they're not wanted while using caffeine withdrawal as their primary excuse for their elevated level of bitchiness.

At some point in their careers, authors who have either traditionally-published or self-published their work will encounter what I like to refer to as "Blogzilla." This is a self-proclaimed book critic who does not even require a website or blog to meticulously dissect an authors work, or in some cases, completely hack it to pieces with a machete, but will instead implement popular online platforms such as Goodreads and Amazon on which to post their dirty work. However, as it would be highly uncharacteristic for Blogzilla not to have his/her own cutesy-titled blog where he/she/it can conveniently park rants at a moment's notice, most of them do have their own.

Upon closer study, one will discover that these Blogzillas are quite often wannabe authors who, after being exposed to the dog-eat-dog world of the publishing business, try to make themselves feel better about their unpublished state by stomping all over the work of others. Their take no prisoners attitude propels "snarkiness-to-strangers" to a whole new level. The technical word for this unprovoked persecution is called "trash talking." If your mother raised you correctly, you will immediately recognize this method of communication as the one that got you grounded, butt-whooped, or your phone taken away, depending on the generation in which you were raised.
In addition to creating their very own rant site book review blog, Blogzillas also haunt book-sharing sites such as Goodreads and Amazon where they can broadcast their oh-so-clever condescension to a wider audience before finally publishing it to Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media sites. These "friend-based" platforms provide Blogzilla with the added bonus of appearing to be a literary subject matter expert to their family, neighbors, colleagues, and (of course) fellow book club members.

If at this point you still don't know what I am referring to, go to Goodreads and/or Amazon and select any book with at least 50 ratings/reviews. Reviews vary widely depending on the book, author and genre, but even on the most beloved book pages of our generation (or previous generations) you are bound to find those depressing 1-star reviews. Because these book rating sites decided to create a ranking system by which one star is the lowest possible rating, the meaning behind that one star can vary between a general dislike of the book to "this-was-the-worst-book-in-the-history-of-the-planet-and-the-author-should-be-taken-out-and-shot-to-prevent-him-from-ever-writing-again."

Let's face it -- with seven billion people on the planet, you are going to have seven billion different opinions on the necessity or obscurity of just a single book. And while each individual has the right to award one-star to a book they did not enjoy reading, there is a vast difference between the average reader who just gives it the thumbs down and Blogzilla, who turns a simple book review into their own personal vendetta against the author by escalating into name-calling and "shelving" the book under a most undesirable name with the intention of scaring off potential readers. (You know the ones I'm talking about, right?)

The good news is that most people perusing these sites can see through the negative reviews and recognize them for what they are. There is a definite line that is crossed when a book review suddenly turns into a rant seemingly written by someone from the psycho ward, and the average reader can pick this out fairly well. It is at this point that Blogzilla loses all credibility and that one star rating is taken with a grain of salt.
So what are we to do with these negative reviews?
For any writer, author, artist, or other person whose work requires them to release their blood, sweat and tears into the public domain, professionalism dictates that these perpetrators of perpetual Oscar the Grouchism simply be ignored. Which isn't easy when the author has poured his/her heart and soul onto the page in the hopes of entertaining just a few hopeless souls in desperate need of escapism. But by not responding to or engaging with these killjoys of society, the author creates the opportunity to display a level of dignity and grace not seen since before the invention of the internet, otherwise known as "taking the high road." How refreshing.
What about you? Have you ever been witness to the rants of Blogzilla? Tell me about your experiences in the comments section below.