Let’s Not Forget Craft

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling author of 27 books. She is best known for her Seatbelt Suspense®–fast-paced, character-driven suspense with myriad twists and an interwoven thread of faith. She also writes insightful contemporary novels, often laced with humor. Her awards include the ACFW Carol (three times), Inspirational Readers’ Choice, the Inspy, Christian Retailer’s Best (twice), and Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice. She loves to interact with readers on Facebook

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This year as a traditionally published author turned indie, I’ve been blogging on Novel Rocket the first Wednesday of every month. So far my posts have focused on how my switch-over has gone. (It continues to go very well, indeed.) This time I have a message for all us novelists, particularly myself and my fellow indies: let’s not forget craft.

In learning all I need to know about this new indie life, I’ve been reading blogs and joining groups of indies. These smart people have taught me a lot about pricing, and file conversion, and places to advertise, and layout, and covers, and on and on. I’ve participated in discussions on these topics and many more. But recently it hit me—I see little to no discussion on the craft of writing fiction.

Perhaps we’re all studying quietly on our own. Perhaps the blogs and groups weren’t intended to discuss craft, focusing instead on the business side of being an indie author. But I can remember not that many years ago when on my own blog, and others’ blogs, and in groups—we discussed how to write. So I do wonder if we’re losing that focus.

As an author of 25 traditionally published books, I first had to work for years to raise my fiction writing skills to a publishable level. Now that I’m an indie, I don’t want to succumb to the temptation to stop studying the craft just because I can publish whatever I want. For indies who’ve never been traditionally published it’s even harder, I think, because there were no forced years of study and rewriting. It can be all too easy to hit that publish button before the book is ready.

A few of the books I own on writing fiction.

No matter how our books are published, trad or indie, we novelists should have a thorough understanding of story structure. That’s our foundation. The protagonist’s Desire that pulls him/her through the book, the conflicts that arise against that Desire, the layout of basic three-act structure, the building of conflict toward crisis, climax, and ultimate resolution—these need to be our building blocks. We should know them backwards and forwards. Knowing them well leads to an understanding of when and how to break the pattern if the story calls for it. We also need to know dialogue (with an understanding of subtexting), and beats, and symbolism, and chapter hooks. How to use backstory effectively, and speaker attributes, and descriptions and deep characterization, and character motivation, and building one scene upon another. And on and on.

The more I’ve studied and worked at writing fiction, the more I respect the craft—and the more I realize how little I know. Writing memorable fiction isn’t easy. (Well, maybe it’s easier for you than for me. I’ve always struggled with how hard it is.) In fact, I’ve come to see that when it gets too easy, I’ve probably become lazy in my technique.

Selling well as an indie isn’t just about knowing how to market and price books. Bottom line, it’s about writing good novels that people talk about. I don’t want to let go of that focus as I work to learn everything else I need to know as an indie. And I urge all you indies out there not to lose that focus either. Keep studying the craft. If your books aren’t selling, maybe it’s not just the marketing. Maybe you need to learn more about how to write. If you are already selling well—what new techniques might you learn about writing fiction that would help you sell even better?

And trad pub authors, you’re not off the hook here either. I know your publishers are pushing you to do more and more marketing. In the midst of all you must do, don’t forget to study the craft.

If you’ve attended a helpful writers’ conference, or read a good book on writing fiction, or taken an eye-opening online course—let us know in the comments. We can all help each other on the craft side just as we do on the business side of publishing.