Three Attributes Every Writer Needs

One thing I have learned is that every writer seems to have advice but there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules or guidance. Still, I believe there are three core attributes every writer must possess to be successful: authenticity, tenacity, and business acumen.

Authenticity
Whether fiction or non-fiction, I believe a reader can sense the genuineness of an article or book. The passion poured into the creation of the words transfers through the reader’s eyes to their heart and mind. Conversely, lack of authenticity, in my opinion, results in a substandard product.bernard-hermant-621390-unsplash

This isn’t much different from the common “write about what you know,” advice, except knowledge doesn’t equate to passion. I suppose this makes no difference when writing a textbook or Wikipedia article. But when the reader feels the author believes in their work it compels them to read more. I don’t think you can fake that.

Tenacity
Writing is easy. Writing well is difficult. I have painfully experienced, particularly with self-published works, examples published before sufficient polishing. It takes time to learn the trade. What is the oft-quoted rule of thumb, ten-thousand hours to become a master of anything? With my years of writing experience, I am unsure just how close I am to that mark.

There’s more. A huge mistake new authors (myself included) make is assuming once published the work is done. No, readers will not magically flock to your book. Writers speak of their platform, essentially their (mainly digital) reputation and exposure. It takes time and determination to build that. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Business Acumen
Writing is a business, even if it’s a hobby, and writers need to approach it as such. That begins with keeping detailed financial records, to track your expenditures and income and to generate information for tax filing if so fortunate (if you have to file income taxes based on your writing, you’re making money).

Then there’s marketing, dreaded more than rejection letters. You not only need determination to market, but you also have to market correctly. That can require trial and error and learning from mistakes, which in turn requires some business analytical skills to interpret marketing action results. Twitter ad analytics is a great example.

I’ve been writing for many years now, off and on (recent years more on) since I was in high school in the 1980s (this post’s stock photo is reminiscent of the old Smith-Corona typewriter I used back then). It’s only been about a year when I became serious about my craft beyond a fun hobby, which required the attributes above.

Incidentally, all three attributes above apply to entrepreneurship as well. I launched a small consulting firm two years ago and would not have achieved the success I enjoy today if not for authenticity, tenacity, and business acumen. In fact, extending that successful model to my writing life was an easy decision.

What about you? Do you agree with these? Any others?

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

 

 

The Value of Self-Publishing

It’s a common debate in the writing world today. Which is the better route to take, traditional (or trad) publishing or self-publish? Years ago, trad was the way, with vanity presses the only viable self-publish option. How many authors from the 80’s ended up with a garage full of a paperback that never sold, I have no idea.

Today, however, both e-books and print on demand (POD) are viable options to expose the author to the world without having to convince someone else to spend money to do so (which is what trad essentially is). There is much value in self-publishing:

  • Maintain rights
  • Maintain pricing control
  • Go to market is quicker

Maintain Rights

The self-published author retains all rights to their work. Trad publishers may require a change in story, character names and development or even cover art. The trad author cannot make changes to their works easily, if at all.

Maintain Pricing Control

Trad and some hybrid self-publishing organizations do not allow for much, if any author input on pricing. This can be a huge detriment, as I explain in a bit.

Go To Market is Quicker

An author can create a work and self-publish it over a weekend. More savvy indie authors see the value in the creation process to produce quality work, and will refine their words, invoke beta readers, and hire editors (dev, copy, and proofing for fiction). Still, as I understand (as I have no trad works), the trad route from when the manuscript leaves the author’s computer to when it appears on Amazon can be a year or longer. Indie authors can go to market with quality work in a quarter of that time.

My Experience

I wrote my first novel in 1994 and queried agents in 1995. I still have a few of the rejections and the sealed package to prove copyright (back then, the recommended practice was to mail a copy of your manuscript to yourself and keep it, unopened, if there was a dispute, the postmark bearing the timestamp). That experience almost 25 years ago turned me off from trad, but again back then there was only one other option, and I was not going to travel the vanity press route.

IngramSparkTIn 2013 I learned of IngramSpark, the self-publishing arm of Ingram, and signed up. I published as a test a short book of poems which, to my surprise, a few actually bought (it’s still available here). I found the process to be educational, not easy but I had to learn about cover design, e-book creation, print formatting, ISBN, and so on. Eventually my work from the 20th century, Forgiveness, made it to Amazon, and I was hooked on writing. A few novels later and I’m still going strong. I’m such a fan of theirs they sent me an indie pub T-shirt!

For my most recent novel, Leaving Darkness I opted to leverage a hybrid self-publisher, Westbow. Westbow is the self-publishing division of Thomas Nelson, a well-known Christian book publisher. I (perhaps a bit naively) thought that if I went with Westbow that surely the sales would be good enough to prompt Thomas Nelson to at least take a look at bringing my title into the trad world.

That never happened because of a few reasons, the first of which all authors understand – marketing is hard and takes much effort. I’m still learning the marketing dance – it’s part science, part skill, part luck, and part magic. Regardless of indie or trad, though, the author bears the marketing weight. Many first-time novelists don’t understand that.

Westbow also priced Leaving Darkness too high. The e-book is at $3.99 and the print (softcover) $19.95. It’s a $14.95 book, if that. Westbow offers the option to reduce the price for 30 days to $0.99 as part of a promo package. However, at over $2,000, the cost is, well, unreasonable.

I asked the marketing rep what would stop an author from putting the work up on Amazon themselves, and he said nothing, the author owns the rights (see above). He advised against it because it would cause “confusion.” I’m not sure what that means, sounds like sales talk to convince me otherwise.

Anyway, relaunching the e-book version of Leaving Darkness leveraging my relationship with IngramSpark is exactly what I just did. To ensure I didn’t step on Westbow’s toes, I used only the materials I had prepared for them, and not their layout and cover. For an e-book, the layout doesn’t matter much, and the cover photo I provided, they just added the title and my name. Easy to do myself (thanks Photoscape).

You may have noticed that I didn’t hyperlink Leaving Darkness. I will add the links when my copy is available on Amazon. I’m keeping, for now, the Westbow version there at $3.99 because of the good reviews it has. (Note 5/8/2019 – I added the link to the special edition.)

This experience has taught me that I want to stick with IngramSpark for my publishing needs. That means, likely, never pursuing the trad route again. I may change my mind if the situation is right, but so far as I’m concerned today, indie is the way, and total indie – no more hybrid self-publishers.

 

 

 

It Takes a Community

Whatever endeavor in life, community multiplies the efforts providing results that cannot be achieved alone. Yesterday, this smacked me in the face – hard.

Because of a calendar mistake I made six months ago, I nearly missed an event I was supposed to be at – in this case, a technology conference (that began at 7:30) for which I was manning the booth for our company. Well, it was at 9:59 AM when I received a text from a colleague that asked if I was fine because as he wrote, “I see you did not make it today.” I texted back within a minute “Make it where?” and right after I sent it, I realized with horror what he referred to.

I had mixed up the days.

I thought the vendor portion of the conference was the second day, not the first.

I had blown it.

IMG_7563I called my colleague and he assured me he thought it would be fine to set up so long as it was before lunch. The conference center hosting the event was about a 40-minute drive – add in driving home from the office to change, I made it onsite in just over an hour and set up in a few minutes. As it turned out, the planned morning break for attendees to visit the vendor area never really materialized. In the end, I missed very little.

Had I not been active in my professional community, I would not have built up the relationships whereby someone would have noticed my absence and reached out. If I had played the game alone, I would have only realized my error by arriving the next day and finding the vendor area empty.

IMG_7568After the conference day ended I returned to my office, dimmed the lights in the common area, grabbed a beer left over from the afternoon networking event, and enjoyed the view of the old town square – all while realizing just how blessed I was to be an active participant in community.

Writing is the same. We cannot create literary masterpieces without input from colleagues, editors, and beta readers. We need each other as we hone our craft and our works, else we never reach our author potential.

Manuscript Critiques

I’ve begun to work with a critique group with the American Christian Fiction Writers to both help find issues in my WIP and to assist others. Often when we write we become blind from familiarity to both simple and not-so-simple mistakes that others may pick up on. We are burdened by the entire vision of the story in our minds, and if we don’t successfully translate that vision to words, we haven’t succeeded in our goal. That’s where a critique group provides value.patrick-tomasso-71909-unsplash.jpg

This is the most formal such group I’ve participated in to date. All undergo a week of training to ensure that there is complete understanding of the processes and expectations. After that the critiques begin – first the writer critiques others’ submissions, then they submit.

I have found this to be an extremely helpful and supportive group. I have so far critiqued six submissions and received five for my first submission. All comments provided value for which I am appreciative. While I was unsure at first, now I am eager to submit more.

Perhaps too eager.

At lunch I prepared my next submission, chapter two of my novelette Childhood. The feedback from chapter one influenced my review, as it should. I made changes, small at first, then more significant, then to the point of splitting chapter two into two chapters. Finally, I stopped, removed my fingers from the keyboard, and leaned back in my office chair.

I was rushing the process, and the writing suffered.

I was reminded of a small yet significant lesson today – don’t rush for the sake of an artificial timeline. I would like to finish the novelette in a month, but a rushed lackluster manuscript is much worse than a polished one that took three times as long to complete. I’m not racing against anyone but myself. My goal is quality, not quickness, so the next submission will have to wait – be it a day, two days, or longer, whatever it takes.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

The Balance of Power

Yesterday I saw a tweet in the #writingcommunity that asked about abandoned writing concepts. I do have one that has sort of haunted me for 30-plus years. Maybe haunted isn’t the right word, but I feel as if I haven’t finished something. I touched on it last month, a novel titled The Balance of Power. That was my most significant abandoned writing concept, one I may return to.

As I have several projects in various stages (a novelette nearing completion, a novel that pc7rRgyRiI have just begun, and a relaunch of possibly two titles), taking on another project now would be foolhardy. Yet I am drawn to find the scraps of loose leaf and spiral notebook paper that comprised this improbable tale of a Soviet takeover of the United States. I think I know why, as well. The Balance of Power was my first complete manuscript.

I never tried to find a publisher or an agent for the manuscript for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to go through the hassle of typing it up, though I did try a few times. Once was using a product called Electric Desk, a very early word processing (and I think spreadsheet) software package. Even if I could find those files and the original software (on 5.25 floppies), they would be useless. I have no way to read the ancient media (not that I have any confidence that after 30-plus years the data would still be intact on floppies).

Bur what I do have are the original penned scenes. Many hours of labor when I was in my mid-teens still exists beneath my house in some basement box, abandoned.

Maybe it’s time to revisit it.

I don’t know what the quality of the writing is – my expectations are low. But what I do know is that, for my personal history, The Balance of Power represents a milestone in my writing career, though I could not have recognized it at the time. For that reason, and for me, alone, I think I need to return to that manuscript. It has been on my mind for the last month, and the tweet just confirmed that I have become interested in revisiting the past. A crappy, unsophisticated story? Probably. But it’s mine. Perhaps, in today’s world of self-publishing ease, I shall fulfill my 16-year-old self’s dream and publish The Balance of Power. No one may read it, but it will be there for all to see – as the Greg of 35 years ago dreamed about.

Hammer and Sickle image from http://clipart-library.com/sickle-and-star.html

Today is the Day!

This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24 New King James Version (NKJV)

Today is the day! It is the day the Lord has made! We only have today – yesterday has passed and tomorrow has not yet come. Embrace today!

This is one of my favorite snippets of scripture. The abundance conveyed in sixteen words is incredible. For within directs both our gift and our purpose for all of our lives, because our life is a long string of individual days.IMG_7520.jpeg

Human nature is to fail. We are not perfect, and never can be. Yet our sins must never distract our focus on serving the Lord every day as a gift to Him for providing the day for us. Mistakes and bad decisions are forgiven therefore we shouldn’t dwell on them. We should rejoice!

The pre-sunrise early morning speaks of the promise of the day. Everything is new and fresh. We have not yet addressed the stresses of the workday. I am guilty of often jumping from bed to shower to car to work without stopping to give thanks for this day and to promise that I will utilize the talents also gifted to me to serve. That’s a primary reason why I tweet the #8AMPrayer every workday, to remind myself not to forget my purpose here.

Obviously, that extends to writing. I recently read a tweet that promoted the idea that fiction should entertain and not contain a message or a lesson. That seems like a waste of a great opportunity – why not strive for both? The written word is a powerful influencer, a tool a gift from God. For me, I choose to offer it back as a gift in my writing, be it an 80,000 word novel, a 10,000 word novelette, or a 140 (or 280 now) character tweet.

I stated this before – a Christian fiction writer has a responsibility to advance His kingdom. That goes beyond entertaining. Today is the day He has made – I rejoice in the opportunity to help others through writing this day!

Bible quote from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Picture by Greg Schaffer

Why I Quit My Job So I Could Write More

Heh – when I logged onto WordPress this evening, I had no idea what I was going to write about, then saw I had saved this title two weeks ago. Present Greg thanks Past Greg!

It’s true, in a way – I quit my job so I could write more, but that was one part of the equation (yay, a cliche and I’m only on the second paragraph). I was in charge of information security for a decently sized community bank and I could have remained in the position for many more years beyond the five-and-a-half I had already served – maybe even to retirement. It was a comfortable existence. But God had other plans for me.rye-jessen-1145106-unsplash.jpg

On the professional side, the message I received was that while I was using my talents well, I could apply them more effectively. Small and midsized businesses don’t have access to the information expertise Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) bring, so we provide part-time virtual CISO services that fit their budget and risk tolerance. I’m using my talents more for service while still earning a living.

On the writing side, I am called to write Christian fiction novels, as I’ve mentioned before, but it wasn’t always that way. My first two novels are more fantasy with some Christian elements and some non-Christian ones. I struggled to find writing time, and quitting my job was supposed to provide more bandwidth to write.

Here’s the odd part of all of this. I am working harder in my professional field than I ever have before, and yet I have more time for writing. How is that possible? My making this move, I’ve eliminated several time-wasters:

Commute – I cannot begin to calculate how much time I’ve wasted in traffic. Podcasts and audio books can only go so far. For awhile, I rode a commuter bus to work and was able to then write during the commute, but the conditions were not ideal.

Now, my drive is less than five miles each way in light traffic. I could have kept my home office and reduced my commute to zero, but I found that I accomplish much more outside the home office.

Meetings – It’s a fact of corporate existence – meetings. Meetings to discuss meetings. Meetings to examine output from meetings. Meetings just to hold regular meetings. Meetings that you don’t need to be in. Sure there are productive meetings, but in hindsight looking back on my career probably 50% of the time I spent in meetings was wholly unproductive. Now all of my meetings are productive, because my clients pay by the hour.

Low-Value Projects – This relates to meetings, as all projects hold meetings to discuss progress. But when those projects are not significantly advancing the core reasons why you’re employed, all activities associated with the projects, including meetings, become an exercise in checking boxes. I once sat through a series of meetings on designing policy templates, including the type and size of font. Is that really an efficient use of a senior executive’s time? See the “pay by the hour” comment above.

Nine-To-Five – I have the flexibility to create my schedule as I see fit. This means that often I start the workday at 5:30, take a writing break from 7-8:30, and work until 3:30, then go to the gym, ride my bike, or whatever. When inspiration hits, I can stop what I’m doing (for the most part) and write. You can’t do that on corporate time.

The takeaway? God has given me the opportunity to use my time efficiently. It’s up to me to do so for His glory.

Photo by Rye Jessen on Unsplash

Ethics in Leadership

No, this is not the title of my next novel (though I kind of like it). Today I’m scheduled to speak to students at Middle Tennessee State University on ethics in leadership. I’ve been thinking about what to say – often when I give these types of talks, I don’t prepare a “script” but rather go with what is on my mind. It may sound like the wrong method, but in an intimate classroom setting I prefer the discussion approach rather than following a stiff presentation march (with potential Death by PowerPoint).ian-schneider-66374-unsplash

Still, thinking about ethics in leadership has led me to certain points in my life when, in hindsight (and often at the time), I chose the ethical leadership decision. I’ve come to realize the reason for that. In reality, thee is no such thing as unethical leadership.

A leader is not someone who oversees people, a department, a squadron, and so on. Those who approach successful completion of a mission by relying solely on chain of command are not leaders, they are managers. Leaders may or may not be someone’s superior in an organizational chart. In fact, most likely not.

Leadership is about service. Conversely, true service is leadership. Ethical leadership involves using our positions of influence to achieve positive results for others. If one’s motives inherently are self-serving, how can that be leadership? One may argue that both can exist – a person may lead out of service but also desire to reap the benefits – and I would agree. But if the primary motivator is self and not others, that is not ethical leadership (and there is no such thing as unethical leadership, in my opinion).

Christian writers, fiction and non-fiction, take on a tremendous responsibility that I am not sure is often realized. As a Christian, I have the responsibility to advance His kingdom through my words (written and spoken). Yes, book sales and reputation and name recognition are important because we want encouragement that we are making a difference. But they cannot be prime motivators for creating works – He must always be first.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

When Not Writing is Writing

I have not put any effort into my WIP today, nor do I plan to. But that’s not to say that I haven’t been writing. No, by my estimation, I have laid down about 2500 words today. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of the day writing and editing and formatting, just not Christian fiction.

A backstory is in order (yes, I know, never in chapter one, or in the blog case, paragraph one I suppose – this is paragraph two, so I’m good). A little less than two years ago, I left the corporate word to start my own information security executive consulting company, vCISO Services, LLC. We provide executive information security consulting – part-time Chief Information Security Officer services.

I love what I do, which is servingCover2 small and midsized businesses with access to quality, experienced CISO talent. Business has been solid, and we have clients nationwide. I enjoy helping businesses, plus it is a calling – check this video for my short testimony from 2017 explaining that.

However, running a business is more than working for clients. Another aspect is working to find clients to work for. Yes, that dreaded marketing aspect that is a difficult part of being an indie writer exists in all businesses. Thus, at times I have to turn off the client side and focus on marketing. Today was that type of day.

I finished the first edition of a small guide to information security for small and midsized businesses, drawing on my two years as a consultant. What I tried to do was explain the issues that most books or websites don’t address – pragmatic advice for those who need it. At about 6500 words, it’s not a long read, but it’s enough for a giveaway in return for a newsletter list sign up.

This is where my fiction writing experience helps. I’m currently running a BookFunnel promo for my first novel to build my writing email list. This will serve the same purpose for my company list (substantially larger than my author list at the moment but growth is always good). I would not have opened a BookFunnel account if it weren’t for my fiction marketing needs. Nor would I have known about Calibre if I didn’t have a need to convert my first novel to ebook.

So – no WIP writing but much writing activity. Still sounds like a productive day.

 

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block – does such exist? I can say for sure that when I finally found a moment this morning to sit down and create today’s blog post I stared at the blank wall behind my computer, then the concrete support pillar next to my office desk, then at the desk itself, then I checked email, Twitter, the weather…road-closed-sign-2079685_1920

Nothing.

Then the revelation – I’ll discuss this block thing. It’s not a topic I like to address, because you can really only do so once. Kind of like using the Go to Go card in Monopoly. You won’t have it available the next time you need to bypass your adversary’s hotel-laden Boardwalk and Park Place.

I had several topics in mind last night, a few of which I remember:

  • Information security and writing – we need to keep our IP (Intellectual Property) secure. We also need to keep our email lists secure (particularly if they contain any European Union personal data – see the GDPR). But I work in information security all day. I love what I do, but writing is supposed to be a break from infosec. Perhaps another day.
  • Bike riding – I’ve begun to ride my bike to work each day, about 5 miles each way. The threat of rain this afternoon nixed that idea. No one wants to be on a road bike on he road when it’s pouring.
  • Word count fixation – It just hit me as I began the third bullet, at 227 then and I aim for 300-500. I strive for 1000 per day for my WIP but that’s not practical some days (remember, I have a full-time job). I didn’t hit that goal yesterday, we will see what today brings.
  • Morning prayer – I’m trying to intentionally invite God into my work life by Tweeting a prayer every morning at (or around) 8AM. It helps me, and maybe it may help others. Whether it’s an ask or a praise, it is important to keep God central in my life. I use the hashtag #8AMPrayer. Actually, that is a nice topic, but maybe for tomorrow since my word count fixation just informed me I’m well past the self-imposed 300 minimum.

Pounding out this blog has presented two revelations. First, when at the writer’s block wall, just write. Babble on the keyboard on an endless stream of consciousness. The first moments of exercising when having been inactive for an unusually long period can be difficult, but eventually the expertise will flow, just like riding a bike. I needed to get a cliche in.

Second, and more important, how blessed is it to have writer’s block as my primary problem at the moment. For me, it’s time for another prayer, this of thanks, for blessings. True, it’s not 8 AM (10:51 Central at the moment), but prayer is great 24x7x365.

For the 8AM Prayer and other great content, follow me on Twitter @newtnoise – and say hello when you do!

Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay