Year’s Best Posts for Writers… So Far

by Mike Duran

Whether it’s finding an agent or finding your voice, the web is full of helpful tools and advice for authors. Here’s ten of my favorite articles I’ve encountered so far in 2010 and some snippets from those posts.

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Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, Rachelle Gardner — “There is no magic bullet, there’s no advice I can give you that is somehow different than what I tell everyone else. If you want to get in the game, you’re going to have to keep doing the work. When you’re getting lots of rejections with no feedback, it usually means you’re not even close. What are you going to do to change that? You can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect different results. Let go of excuses. (“They don’t like my topic” or “I’m an unknown.”) If your writing is terrific and you’re telling a compelling story, somebody is going to recognize it.”

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, The Guardian — “You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”

How Essential is an Online Presence to a Writer’s Career?, Jody Hedlund — “There are times when we writers look at the social media sites negatively—especially when they distract from quality writing time. But we can no longer stick our heads in the sand and hope Facebook, Twitter, and other social media go away. If we hope to succeed in marketing, then we MUST go to where people are congregating. And that happens to be online—in a really big way. And it’s only getting bigger.”

Do Authors Really Need to Promote Their Own Books?, Mary DeMuth — “I wish I could just be discovered by osmosis, but that has not happened. It’s a constant financial struggle to be a writer. (Most authors make about 80 cents a book.) And if I want to continue to do what God has uniquely gifted me to do, I need to sell books. Publishers won’t take further risk with me if I don’t. With all the creativity involved in penning a book, the bottom line is the bottom line. Publishing is a business. And like it or not, I am a businesswoman. Just as a company who rarely believes in their product enough to promote it will ultimately face financial difficulty, a writer who neglects promotion will usually see decline—in sales, in offered contracts.”

The “right” way to attract blog followers, Simon C. Larter — “If I were speaking to you over a couple of martinis, I’d make jokes, be sarcastic, and occasionally lapse into real literary discussions, but I sure wouldn’t be rabbiting on about Hemingway and Faulkner all the time. Who wants that? It was when I booted pretension to the curb that people started coming by my blog more often. Let the freak flag fly, I say. You’ll feel freer, and your readers will have more fun.”

The Odds of Getting Published Stinks — And Why You Shouldn’t Care, The Purple Crayon Blog — “With hard work on writing, market research, creativity, and perhaps some luck (though luck can be made. . .), a writer eventually can hope to reach that “winner’s circle” of publishable manuscripts. If done over and over again, which experienced writers can do, there will come a time when a writer’s manuscript is the one that’s selected. But is getting to 200-1 the best a writer can hope for? No, and this is why the odds truly don’t matter.”

How to Craft a Great Voice, Nathan Bransford — “At its heart, voice is about style. And not just style in the sense of punctuation and how the prose looks on the page (though that can play a role), but style in the sense of a flow, a rhythm, a cadence to the writing, a vocabulary, lexicon, and slang the author is drawing upon. A voice can be wordy (William Faulkner) or it can be spare (Cormac McCarthy). It can be stylish and magical (Jeanette Winterson) or it can be wry and gritty (Elmore Leonard). It can be tied to unique locations (Toni Morrison) or it can be almost wholly invented (Anthony Burgess). But whatever the flavor of the writing, a good voice has a recognizable style.”

Should You Create a Facebook Fan Page? (And If So, When?), Jane Friedman — “Unless your name/identity is immediately recognizable, you’ll have to coerce people into becoming a fan or ‘liking’ your page. That means asking all of your current friends to become fans, which puts you in a yucky position… It’s not as appealing to fan or like someone’s page. (Just speaking a general truth here.) It takes a higher level of dedication to sign up for what is essentially someone’s marketing page on Facebook—and most people aren’t using their fan pages very well.”

More on Critique Groups, Chip MacGregor — “A lot of potential writers are simply too sensitive. As a writer, you need a place to bad, so that you can learn to be good. So if your ego is too fragile to allow someone else to read your work, it’s time to learn this lesson. Allow yourself to be bad. Give somebody else (preferably not your mom, your spouse, or your best friend) the permission to be honest with you about your writing.”

the online art of developing your author brand molecule global microbrand thing, Justine Lee Musk — “When a key element to survival on the Web is authenticity, and when a key element to a successful brand is its level of engagement, can anybody else ultimately be responsible for defining (to the extent that it can be defined) and marketing (to the extent that it can be marketed) the brand of…you?”

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Okay, that’s my list and I’m stickin’ to it. If you know of any exceptional posts for writers, whether they involve craft or career, please feel free to provide a link in your comments. And no shameless plugs for your own stuff ( unless it’s very good).

The Day I Faced My Failure

Marcia Lee Laycock lives and writes from Central Alberta Canada. Her devotionals have been widely published and are endorsed by Mark Buchanan, Phil Callaway and Jeanette Oke. Her novel, One Smooth Stone won her the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award in 2006. A sequel will be released soon.

This time of year makes me a bit jittery. It’s that time when people ask, “Do you garden?” I take that question personally. I guess it’s a hold-over from my Yukon days, but I always have the feeling the person is really asking, “What are you good for, anyway?” The question always makes me squirm because I’m not good at gardening. I inherited my mother’s black thumb. I’m death to fruits and vegetables.

Not that I haven’t tried. For twelve Yukon summers I dutifully planted rows of cabbage and broccoli, peas and lettuce. Once I replanted three times when late frost hit, only to have it all wilt from an early one in August. With a season of twenty-four hour sunlight, the plants that survived grew furiously but so did the weeds. A neighbour once drove by, honked and called out – “Tendin’ the weed bed, are ye?”

I wanted to give up, but at the end of each summer, I harvested what had managed to survive. I was thankful there was a grocery store in town. We surely would have starved if we’d had to live on what I could grow.

When we moved to Alberta, I anticipated the “game” would go on. When spring arrived I dutifully got out my spade and tested the ground in the back yard. But, oh, woe is me, it was full of roots! The large old cottonwood in the corner of the yard had spread its thick underground fibers far and wide. My husband took a turn at the spade but could find not a single spot suitable to till. Such a pity.

Having an excuse eased the guilt, but I feared my failure was apparent to world. When friends asked if I wanted their harvested leftovers I always said yes, with thanks, but had that nagging suspicion they were pitying me. I knew I was a failure. So did they.

Then one day, a friend asked if I’d like some potatoes. Seems she’d planted way too many and they all grew wonderfully (of course!). My family and I spent a morning digging up her potato patch. It was one of those special times – a glorious morning with the smell of earth freshened by rain and the delight of children’s voices in the crisp fall air. But the most wonderful part was the look on my friend’s face as we loaded the boxes of tubers into our vehicle.

“I just love being able to do this,” she said. “Thanks for coming out.”

The power of her words hung in the air around me for days as a simple truth sank in. There were things I loved doing that could be a blessing to others. I don’t have to be good at everything. It’s okay to be a failure at gardening.

1Peter 4:10 says – “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” My friend did a great job of that the day she invited us to her potato patch. On that day I started admiring the work of people with green thumbs, without feeling guilty. They have that gift. I have another.

I cultivate words, tilling until there are no weeds, pruning away the excess so the fruit can shine through. God’s gift to me has blessed others as, like my friend with the potato patch, I’ve administered the grace and passed it on to readers all over the world. I no longer feel guilty about my black thumb, or about the many things I can’t do that others can. I feel blessed by what I’ve been given and how God has used it to bless others.

Book Borrowing

I recently took a very brave step—I lent out all my favorite books to one person–someone I’ve never tested to see if they return books. Normally, if someone asks to borrow my books, I start them out with a volume or two that I could live without, and if I get it back, they more borrow more. If I get all my books back consistently enough, they may borrow anything.

I’m not as nice as others. Recently, someone lent me two newer hardbacks–Francine Rivers and Beth Moore. My friend said, “Return them if you if can, but if you don’t, or if you lend them to someone else, that’s okay too. They’re the Lord’s books anyway.”

How can you not love that attitude? She’s obviously learned that once it leaves your doors, you might never see them again. I suppose it easier to give permission to lose your books and hope they are doing someone good, than to feel annoyed that they never came back.

So since I’m thinking about this, I thought it would be fun to see how many books we’re currently borrowing:

An Amazing Fundraiser/Concert/Event and You’re Invited!

With names like Karen Kingsbury, Mercy Me, Amy Grant, Diamond Rio, Hawk Nelson, David Crowder Band, Point of Grace, Veggie Tales, etc. you know this is going to be an extraordinary event. Check out the website (by clicking the logo) for dates and cities. I’ll be signing copies of Crossing Oceans at the Rockingham event. Hope to see you there!

Btw, $10.00 of every ticket goes to support your favorite charity.