Today’s question is: How did you build your author platform? Was it by personal effort or did you have professional help?
Last week’s discussion answered this question: If you were given the opportunity to form a book club with your favorite authors of all time, which legends or contemporary writers would you want to become a part of the club?
Amicable – definition : characterized by or showing goodwill : friendly.
Today’s word certainly describes my next interviewee, C.S. Lakin. One look at her web site will show you how generous she is with her experience and support for other authors and struggling writers. Susanne is also a prolific author in several genres.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer and why?
I’m sure most authors say this, but I’ve written since I could hold a crayon. I even “published” a neighborhood magazine back when I was about eight called “The Stone Canyon Gazette.” It was in those ancient prehistoric days before copy machines and electric typewriters. I organized a handful of neighbor kids and we hand wrote ten copies of each issue on construction paper, including drawing the same drawings ten times. We charged ten cents. The mothers complained I had too many entries in the magazine and didn’t feature the other kids enough. Already hogging the limelight! After that I helped my mother with her scripts, collating and offering ideas. I got my first rejection letter at age twelve from the producer of Woman from Uncle regarding my script idea. (I was raised in the TV industry.)
Who is your favorite author and why?
Patricia A. McKillip is my favorite author. She is an amazing fantasy writer and is a master at wordsmithing. I try to write as well and as beautifully as she does but I’m sure I fail miserably. When you read her fairy tales, you feel shifted into a different dimension of time and space. I like a lot of writers, but not any as much as her.
What has been your greatest moment as a writer?
I actually had a most exciting experience that few ever had—my book was a finalist in a big contest—the Zondervan First Novel contest at Mount Hermon in 2009. I knew I was one of three finalists, but only learned I had won when my name and book were announced in front of an audience of 400. It was very thrilling. Although Someone to Blame won, it was not the first novel I’d written. In fact, it was my sixth. Shortly after that, I contracted with AMG Publishers for my fantasy series, the first three books I’d already completed. I’m hoping there will be many more to come!
What genre do you read and why?
I’m very picky. I’d make a terrible book reviewer as I tear things apart. Being a professional copy editor and writing coach makes it hard for me not to want to redline all the books I read. And I find mistakes in almost all books, even highly acclaimed releases. I mostly read NY Times best sellers, to study what makes them popular (since that’s what I’m aiming for with all my commercial mysteries). I also read a lot of literary fiction, international authors, classics. I don’t read Romance in any form—not my thing. Otherwise I like anything from historical (not romance) to sci-fi to westerns. I’m a big fan of Walter Moers (who draws really hilarious pictures in his books), and I’d say my favorite books I read in the last year are The Art of Racing in the Rain (Stein), The City of Dreaming Books (Moers), The Thirteenth Tale (Setterfield), This Body of Death (Elizabeth George) and The Shadow of the Wind (Zafon).
What genre do you like to write in and why?
I mostly write fantasy/sci-fi and intense psychological suspense. I suppose both genres bleed a bit into each other, since my fantasy plots always contain mysteries and intense relationships, and my contemporary suspense novels often use evocative language and metaphor. I think my leaning toward literary fiction and poetry seeps into everything I write.
What do you want readers to know about your newest book?
Conundrum is 95% autobiographical. I didn’t really want to write it, but I felt compelled to explore my father’s mysterious death as well as deal with my mother’s cruel betrayal of my family. I felt it important to show that sometimes survival depends upon cutting out family members who are toxic and intent on destroying you, and that it’s the healthy thing to do. I also wanted to show a person cannot just survive but thrive by doing so, however painful. So many people tolerate family members in their lives who are like a cancer, and they feel guilty thinking about separating from them. I wanted this to be a very life-affirming story, and a heartfelt journey about a young woman trying to understand the father she never knew. In the process I felt I got to know my father a bit (he died when I was four) and as my character journeyed, so did I.
What has been your greatest challenge as an Independent Author?
I think handling over twenty years of rejections and frustration over not getting published. Not really a writing problem. I had agents that loved my writing; they just couldn’t sell my novels. As far as the craft of writing goes, I always have minor roadblocks in trying to hone the craft and push myself to be a better writer. Mostly what has helped me is prayer and waiting on God. For example, I’m working on plotting book #11, intended for Harm, a modern-day story of Jacob in a dysfunctional family. Yet, as much as I want to start digging in and writing the book, there are some key elements missing to the themes and I know God is working with me on this. I’m waiting for him to help me finalize the last bits and get that aha moment of the pieces all fitting together. Like all my books, I know there is a reason I’m meant to write it and a message it means to impart. I could just start writing, but I send his hand holding me back. Wait, he says. Not ready yet. I am thinking there is something I’m going to see, some revelation, that is going to smack me in the face and then I’ll have my green light. Writing as a believer is way different than writing when in the world. It’s all about God and what he wants out there. We want to produce much fruit, but Jesus also says without me you can do nothing. Zilch.
How do you come up with your titles? Do you have your title first or the story first?
Most of the time I already have a title in mind, since I start with a basic plot idea and theme. Often I just have the title, and that inspires the entire book, as was the case with Conundrum, Someone to Blame, and Intended for Harm (which comes from the Bible: Genesis 50:20).
As writers and authors we have to be aware of how we present ourselves not only on a face to face basis but also on social media. An extreme political or religious view, either on the vast array of media sites or in person, can seriously harm how we are perceived. If we are disrespectful, arrogant or act aloof our prospective and current readers opinion of us will alter negatively and more than likely stop them buying our books, following us in cyber space or attending author readings. Be aware of the links and comments you make and ‘like’. If something is too extreme you may chose not just to hide it but unfriend or block the person responsible.
It is also best to be circumspect on the types of ‘friends’ you are adding. If someone is politically bias, posting foul language, pornography or has extreme religious views, their opinions could be a interpreted as your own. Utilizing the settings on your particular media is a good way to ensure your professional image is not damaged, as is separating personal and professional pages or sites. Try to view your ‘virtual’ presence as a stranger would to make sure it is reflecting you positively.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule and being a member of a particular group could be advantageous for your genre or novel. However, if you are a multi-genre author you have the option to use different sites specific to each one or write under pen names.
Gossip can be a good thing if it is in regard to how wonderful someone found your latest novel or how marvellous you were at a local book signing. Maintain a professional but friendly demeanour whether in the real world or the cyber one. Engaging with your fans, or prospective ones to discuss your novel’s characters, the plot or your creative processes is a great way to entice a greater readership. Nonetheless remember to keep a balance between your professional life and your personal one.
Have you experienced any negative feedback?
negative feedback system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Inept – Definition: 1) not suited for the occasion: inappropriate 2) lacking in skill or ability: incompetent
No matter at which point we are in our writing journeys, feelings of being inept plaque us. We can all make a long list of insecurities and worries about our style, skill level and current Work in Progress. My question is – if we didn’t have these uncertainties would we be a ‘better’ writer or not?
Striving for perfection can easily become an obsession and our work will suffer for it. There is a fine balance between a polished piece of work and a ‘ruined’ one. On the other hand expecting an agent or publisher to over-look editing and grammatical errors because we feel our manuscript is unique is a major flaw. Reading as a professional would, is the key, although this in itself is a difficult task after spending months if not years creating our story. We are engaged with the characters and their conflicts and struggles. They have become ‘real’ to us and the story runs in our minds rather than on the page. This is the crux of the problem – are we actually reading the words or playing out the story?
The Internet is full of writing tips as we all know but some recurring ones on tightening up a manuscript have commonalities.
Leave the manuscript unread for a period of time.
Read the story from back to front – chapter by chapter.
Focus on one aspect of editing at a time. i.e. grammar, plot lines etc. (I’ve even heard of one author printing her manuscripts on different colored paper for each revision!)
Have other people read it and critique (honestly).
Send a section to a professional editor.
Take advantage of a local Writer in Residence for feedback.
Read a section out loud to your writer’s circle and ask for comments.
However, feelings of being inept are not just limited to our written work. Are you confident in public speaking? It is one thing reading to a group of people you know but what about in the public domain? Author readings are a great way to present your work and create interest in your stories.
Practice the piece you are going to read in front of a mirror.
Take care in your selection of clothing, depending on the venue and audience age.
Choose a section or chapter with lots of action or intrigue.
Remember to look up at your audience and gesticulate.
Project your voice and don’t mumble.
Don’t rush – this is the hardest!
Be prepared to answer questions at the end.
The above tips work well for live interviews as well, either on radio or television. You may have some flexibility with these if they are not ‘live’ and can re-take the whole interview or a part of it.
Social media is another avenue of uncertainty for many writers and authors. Cherishing your work in a desk drawer is great but if you are serious about releasing it into the public domain you need to invest some time into this resource.
Research what type of social media, authors in the same genre are using.
Carefully investigate the multitude of options available. There is not a ‘one fits all’.
Pick the sites that best suit your level of commitment. (How much time you are willingly to put into them as it can take over your life if you let it!)
A blog is a useful tool to increase your profile. Decide on what theme, style, subject and frequency you can fulfill.
Link to similar genre writers on web sites such as Twitter.
Utilize ‘sharing’ sites, such as Networked Blogs and options on other web sites. i.e. WordPress.com links to face book, twitter and Google +
Conquer your feelings of ineptitude with your ‘writing’ support system, whatever that entails. Whether a writing circle, close friends or family that encourage you or virtual supporters – reach out – you’ll be surprised. Remember to offer support back too – it is not only very rewarding but expands your writing ‘community’.