In fact recently I had an excruciatingly busy week that made me wonder if the insanity was worth it. I'd just received some intense line edits with a short turn around deadline. At the same time, I had essays to read and tests to grade for a composition class that I teach. Plus I had real life demands–kids to taxi to activities, a doctor's appointment, a committee meeting, etc., etc., etc.
At one point during my week as I was running myself ragged with my line editing, I couldn't keep from burying my face into my hands, groaning, and saying, "Is all of this really worth it? Am I trying to do too much? Can I really handle all the pressure?"
Of course, I whined and complained only a few minutes before I picked myself up, shook off the gloom, and promptly got right back to work. I was honestly just too busy to have a pity-party. But the experience did force me to take stock in what I'm doing and why.
Sometimes when we feel like giving up, it helps to remind ourselves of the following 4 things:
1. Remind ourselves of the truth.
There will be plenty of times when our emotions will try to rise up and take control. We may feel like giving up for any number of reasons. Because we're discouraged that the process is taking so long or is much harder than we thought it would be. Because we're overwhelmed with juggling writing and life (like I was!). Because we get too much negative feedback and never enough positive. Because we aren't making the kind of money that we'd hoped for.
Whatever our situation, it's all too easy to allow our feelings of discouragement to take over. We wallow in the despair and let it weigh us down until we're immobile, sometimes to the point of not being able to write.
When we hit those low points, we have to remind ourselves of the truth of why we write, the truth that we're story-tellers, that we're in love with the written word, that writing, like breathing, is part of us that we can't do without lest we shrivel and die.
2. Resist making decisions when discouraged.
I always tell my kids we should try not to make big decisions or resolve a huge problem right before we go to bed. Why? Well, because usually by that point in our day we're too tired and emotional to see things objectively. It's best to get a good night's sleep, give ourselves some perspective, and then come at the decision again when we're fresh.
And the same is true with our writing decisions. When we're faced with burnout, discouragement, or even overwhelmed by all of the juggling, we shouldn't make a decision to throw in the towel at our low point. Instead we should wait until we've had the chance to take a short break, take a deep breath, and gain some fresh insights.
3. Re-evaluate our goals.
There are times when we may need to do more than just get a good night's sleep. There are times when the pressure, weariness, and responsibilities may require us to re-evaluate our goals and perhaps make some changes to what we're doing.
Maybe that won't mean that we give up writing altogether. But perhaps we'll have to seriously consider whether we're in a season of life where we're ready for the demands of being a published author. Perhaps for a time, we'll have to consider the possibility that we need to take the pressure of publication off ourselves and simply write for the joy of it. In fact, there may even be times when we need an extended break from writing.
After the birth of my twin daughters, I took a seven year hiatus from writing. I didn't write a single word in all that time. Now in hindsight, I have no regrets about giving myself that time off. I can see that it rejuvenated and matured me, so that when I finally picked up the pen again, I was much more dauntless and prepared for the job.
One of the things that keeps me going through the especially discouraging times, is that I continue to nurture my story-telling nature. I feed it in countless ways, but mostly by reading. Somehow in the process of reading the stories of others, I keep my own love of story-telling alive and thriving.
I listen to a lot of audio books, try new authors, read a wide spectrum of genres, and through it all, allow myself to revel in stories. As a historical writer, I take special pleasure in reading biographies and other historical books which spark my imagination. When I read something fascinating or come across a character that grabs me, I can't keep from wondering what "really happened."
The rejuvenation helps me then to go back to my own writing with fresh energy and enthusiasm.
What about YOU? Do you ever feel like giving up? How do you keep yourself going?
During the early social media explosion about six years ago authors were everywhere doing everything on social media. I think the frenzy led to a lot of burnout. As a result, I've noticed that many authors who were once really active on social media have grown silent with perhaps an occasional tweet or FB comment. But overall, many authors have been content to return to their writing caves.
In addition to burnout, I've also seen a very strong philosophical shift in author's attitudes regarding social media. The popular consensus is that writers should focus on increasing their output of salable works. Many believe that, "Books sell more books." In other words, instead of "wasting" time on social media trying to market books, writers can better spend their energy by writing more books, pricing the books strategically, and then using those books as a marketing tool.
This "increased output" strategy may have worked well at first, but now the market is extremely flooded with free or cheap books by everyone and their brother hoping to hook in new readers.
While I agree that our main focus needs to be on creating content, I also think social media remains an important tool. Yes, it can help with marketing to a degree. For example with my latest release, An Uncertain Choice, my fabulous Launch Team spread SO much buzz around release day that my book hit several Amazon best seller lists.
However, I think writers all too-often fall into the trap of thinking that social media is primarily for marketing and thus if it doesn't "work" to sell books, why bother?
Perhaps writers who are participating in social media mainly to promote their books have it backwards. I'd like to propose that social media isn't so much about marketing as it is about relating with readers.
In fact, I have to be honest. I'd much rather interact with readers on social media just for the fun of it, than to try to sell my books to everyone I meet. It's much more rewarding to relate to people than to jam a product down someone's throat. Don't misunderstand me. Social media can help spread book buzz (as I did for me recently). But that can't be our primary focus.
Instead, we need a paradigm shift. We need to think of social media as the place where readers can interact with us and our books on a deeper level.
Thus as I plan my website pages and book releases, I'm constantly thinking of ways that I can relate better with my readers. What kinds of things can I institute that would be fun for them?
Here are 8 ways writers can be more reader-friendly:
1. Have a "My Wonderful Readers" slide show for reader photos. I adore when readers take a picture of themselves with my book (or with their pets)! I let readers know that I'd love to display their picture and that they can send me the picture or tag me on Facebook. (I post the pictures on a special "My Fabulous Readers" board on Pinterest too.)
2. Display special artwork on "My Reader's Creations" on your website. Sometimes readers create graphics with quotes, draw pictures, or come up with something else creative. I make sure to give those creations special treatment on my website because I know how much time readers took to make them.
3. Make discussion questions readily available on your website. For An Uncertain Choice, I have a special 27 page Discussion Guide that I've made available for as a free download. I even have a large graphic that makes it easy to locate.
4. Have a "Readers' Board" on Pinterest. I've created a special public board for my latest book, An Uncertain Choice where readers can pin their favorite medieval pictures or post their ideas for what the characters look like. So far readers have had a lot of fun sharing pictures there.
5. Have a "Story Board" on Pinterest. I've designed story boards that give a summary of my story in a picture format so that readers can browse the boards either before or after reading for a little more information about the book.
6. Put an "Authorgraph" widget on your website. Each of my books' pages has a spot that readers can click if they'd like me to "sign" their e-copy of the book.
7. Have a downloadable "Books List." I keep a running list of all my books that readers can print out. I've found that readers really like having a printable list to take with them to the bookstore or library.
8. Do book giveaways. This year I'm giving away books on my Giveaway Page. And no it's not to promote my own books. Rather I'm giving away new releases of author friends as a way to help promote them and also as a way to say thank you to readers for supporting me.
What are some other ways that authors can be more reader-friendly? I'd love to hear YOUR ideas!
A friend came up to me at my son's basketball game last weekend and said she'd read my latest YA, An Uncertain Choice. She said she'd been curious how it compared to my adult books and seemed a bit surprised that she liked it just as much as my other books.
As we chatted, she asked, "How do you keep coming up with book ideas? I just don't understand how you can find so many different stories to write."
Since I'm smack-dab-in-the-middle of researching and plotting a future book, my friend's question really resonated. Later, I asked myself, "How can I continue to generate original ideas?"
Afterall, I don't ever want to get to a point where my well is dry, where I've sucked up every last drop and am left with a drought.
As I analyzed some of the ways I find ideas for my stories, I realized that three techniques work especially well for me:
1. Brainstorm with abandon.
While I'm researching and plotting, I spend hours upon hours brainstorming and coming up with ideas. I have a spiral notebook handy wherever I go, and I keep a running list of any and every idea that I could possibly include in my new book.
I don’t throw out anything at this point. I allow myself to list everything—even if it’s already been used, even if it sounds dumb. I scour books and biographies, and I jot down all the things that sound even the least bit interesting. I don’t hold anything back.
I unfetter my imagination and let it have free reign. I give myself permission to dream big, to see possibilities in everything, to ask "what if" with childlike abandon. Writing down one idea usually leads to another thought, and another, and another.
2. Focus on a few ideas and make them even better.
Once I have pages of ideas, I start going through my list and picking out the things I like best and narrowing down the ideas that I think might work. I try to hone in on the ideas that are more original, unique, interesting, out-of-the-ordinary, freakish, or fascinating.
I figure if some of the ideas really fascinate me (like rat torture–read about it my new YA!), then it will probably be something fun (and gross) for my readers.
After I have a narrower list, I start to say things like,
• This is wild. But what could make it wilder?
• I like this situation, but what could make it tenser?”
• What's worse than that?
• How can I make this even larger than life?
• What's more dangerous?
• What other conflict can I add?
3. Finally, just write.
At some point, we have to take what we’ve got and just start writing. Even if we think our ideas are boring, cliché, and predictable, we have to write.
I’ve found that the process of writing is one of the biggest keys for stirring my creativity even more. No matter what ideas I come up with before the first draft, invariably once I start writing, my ideas grow and change into something so much more than I could have planned.
When we fill the page with words, when we work our writing muscles hard, when we push ourselves to get something on the paper, then we’re able to open our imagination even further. New ideas come to life that aren’t possible during the planning phase.
Summary: “You need to come up with hundreds of ideas, toss out the ones that don’t grab you, and then nurture and develop what’s left.” ~Bell (Plot & Structure)
What about YOU? How do you keep your idea well from running dry? How do you generate original ideas?
I'm constantly learning new writing lessons from the books that I read. In fact, one of the main reasons I read is to learn. Over the past two months, I've read approximately 14 books. As I read (or listen to the book through my Audible app on my phone), my mind doesn't stop analyzing.
For example, I read Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King (a story about Margaret Queen of Scotland) and soaked in the history. The medieval historical details were exquisite giving me inspiration for my own medievals. I was also impressed by the characterization; each character was distinct with traits unique to the middle ages.
And finally I took away a lesson on the subtly of developing and showing character emotions. Yes there are times when we need to name the emotions our characters are feeling. But when we have our characters behave in a certain way that subtly brings the emotion to life, it has greater power to tug the readers' hearts.
Since today is the official release of An Uncertain Choice, I asked writers who've pre-read the book to share some of the writing lessons they learned while reading it.
Tricia Mingerink said: "I learned how to handle a YA love story with multiple interests without turning it into a love triangle. You develop all three of the guys very well. Even though I had a favorite for Rosemarie, it wasn't because the other guys were undeveloped or mean. All three were nice, and I don't see that in YA books very often."
Kim Moss, author of Leaving Nelson, said: "I've learned that a love story doesn't have to just be a love story. It can include action and mystery as well. Not only that, but the character that's most right for your main character may not be the one that's necessarily perfect--but the one that's perfect for her. One that challenges her and pushes her out of her comfort zone. Along with that, I absolutely love the way you close out your chapters with some type of angst or with a word picture that makes the reader NEED to turn the page."
Jennifer Smithsaid: "One thing that stood out to me--other than the engaging plot and fun characters--was Rosemarie's likeability. I entered a contest once where one of the judges said she wasn't sure if she liked my main character or not. Ever since, I've been paying special attention to how other authors make their characters likeable."
Caitlyn Santi, author of Surrender Falls, said: "The biggest writing lesson I learned was how to better illustrate my characters' faith by showing rather than telling. I've always believed that actions speak louder than words and An Uncertain Choice taught me how to show the reader what matters most to my characters by their actions and how they treat others rather than just telling."
Joleen Graumann said: "You opened my eyes to a new perspective about writing in 1st person. A lot of times it can be difficult to express the thoughts/emotions/growth of other characters in the book solely from the heroine's POV. I loved having those few chapters with the hero's POV too--especially the 1st one when we're not sure which knight is speaking. LOVED it! Such a creative technique!"
Rachel Rittenhouse, author of Discovering Hope, said: "One writing lesson was Jody's ability to create convicting characters that can be learned from and make you want to delve into their thoughts. Rosemarie and all three of the knights had a way of drawing you in and I was almost sad when only one knight could be chosen because I formed a connection with them all!!"
My encouragement for all writers is this: Read, read, read. And while you're reading, never stop learning. Reading is the training ground for becoming a better writer. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that reading (and analyzing as you read) is one of THE most important things writers can do to grow.
Of course, voracious reading doesn't automatically turn us into brilliant writers. But there's something about exposing ourselves over and over to a wide variety of writing styles and techniques that helps us learn the components of good story-telling (and also perhaps what doesn't work).
In the life of an author, every book release is always a big day. But this book birthday is extra special because it's my first-ever YA. To celebrate the release today, I'm giving away a copy of An Uncertain Choice here on my blog! So make sure to fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win!
Also, I'd love for you to join in the Noble Knights Blog Tour over the next month for even more chances to win the book and learn about the characters and setting of An Uncertain Choice. The FIRST STOP is here! For a schedule of the rest of the blog tour, stop by my Events Page.
As I count down the days to the release to my first-ever YA book, An Uncertain Choice (published by Harper Collins), I've been really busy getting ready for the launch!
One of the major ways I prepare for every book's release is by forming a Launch Team (aka Influencers). In the publishing world, Influencer is often used to refer to a reader who signs up to help in the promotion of a book in exchange for a free copy of that book.
An Influencer doesn't just agree to write a review of the book. Although reviews are a big part of influencing, Influencers do SO much more than review. They share their enthusiasm about the book in countless ways (by recommending the book to their libraries, pinning the cover on Pinterest, taking pictures of themselves with the book, passing out bookmarks, etc., etc., etc.)
We all know how powerful word-of-mouth can be in marketing a book. Influencers are strategic in getting the “talk” going and can help the marketing efforts at the time of a book's release.
In gathering Influencers for past books, I've always had an open policy--as long as I have room on my list and as long as the Influencer agrees to promote the book (in a few specific ways that I ask), then I add them to my list.
For my new YA book, however, I knew I needed to narrow down my list a bit more to those who were either teens or had a circle of influence with teens. So this time, I developed an online application that potential Influencers could fill out by a specified deadline.
After going through the applications and narrowing down those who had the largest reach to teens, I emailed them a letter explaining my expectations for Influencers. If they were in agreement, then I signed them up.
Once they were signed up, I invited them to a special Facebook Group I created specifically for Influencers of An Uncertain Choice. In this "secret" group, I can communicate with everyone easily and effortlessly about promotional ideas, etc.
I have to say that this particular group has been very fun and enthusiastic! They've jumped right into the group and shared personal information, pictures, pins, reviews, and lots more. They have truly become an encouragement and blessing to me in ways I never imagined!
However, inevitably there are always those who join my group of Influencers who end up not liking my book. Obviously, readers can't predict whether they'll like a book when they sign up and agree to be an Influencer. So for those who end up not liking my book, I ask that they do two things:
1. Give their copy of the book to someone they think might enjoy it.
2. Share at least one of the other positive reviews or blog posts regarding the book.
They don't have to lie or say good things about a book they don't like. Usually they just opt not to say anything at all rather than hurt the author’s marketing efforts. I ask them to follow the old adage taught to them by their mother: "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all."
That saying is THE key difference between Influencers and Book Reviewers.
Many Book Reviewers also get a free copy of the book (either through Net Galley or the publisher's book review program). Unlike my Influencer list which I control, I have no sway in who gets a review copy of my book.
A Book Reviewer may or may not be a fan of the author.Most often their intention is to provide a helpful review for other readers. They aren't agreeing to promote the book or author, although indirectly that can happen, particularly if they really liked the book and get excited about it. They may write a stellar review and recommend the book to others.
But a Book Reviewer can also rip the book to shreds if they don't like it. Their job is to provide a helpful and honest review. They're often asked to share that review in a number of different places (online bookstores, a blog, Goodreads, etc.).
In other words, a Book Reviewer's goal is to help the reader make wise reading choices. An Influencer's goal is to help the author with promotion.
A BIG thank you to my current launch team for being such an awesome group!
What about YOU? As writers, have you ever formed a launch team? What are some things that have worked well? What hasn't worked so well?
Reviews are starting to roll in for my new YA novella, THE VOW, published by Harper Collins.
Considering the length constraints of a novella, developing real, likeable, and deep characters can be a challenge. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that the characters have resonated with readers so far:
"I loved how Jody Hedlund developed her characters so quickly." (Velva B.)
"The characters are real and fresh." (Emilee D)
"The Vow's crisp prose and pitch-perfect characterization quickly immersed me in the romance, pageantry, and courtliness of Hedlund's medieval world." (Ruth)
"The characters are fleshed out with their own unique personalities." (Caitlin)
Let's face it making our characters REAL is difficult in a full length novel much less one a quarter of the size (as is the case of a novella). So how can we accomplish such a feat?
As I analyzed how I was able to bring the characters in my novella to life so quickly and realistically, I realized one very important thing: I wrote the full length novel (which is the heroine's main story) BEFORE I penned the novella.
No, I'm not proposing that all novellas be written after the tie-in novel. Rather, my point is that as I sat down to write the novella, I ALREADY thoroughly knew my heroine inside and out. She was alive and fresh and vibrant in my mind because I'd spent weeks developing her character during my pre-writing plotting phase, and then I also got to know her even better while I wrote the full length novel.
The whole experience reminded me of just how imperative it is for writers to know their characters. In fact, if we want to have characters that come alive in our readers' minds, the characters must intimately come alive in our minds first.
Whether we're a plotter or pantser (seat-of-the-pants writer), all of us can benefit from fleshing out our characters BEFORE we start writing our first drafts.
Here are some areas I explore with my main characters:
(I describe exactly how they look; I even go as far as finding a picture of them online from among actors and actresses, models, or famous people.)
• Body type (including weight and height)
• Their unique scent
• Texture of hands, skin
• Eye color (along with synonyms and metaphors)
• Hair color and style (along with synonyms and metaphors)
• Unique physical traits/tags specific to only that characters
• Clothing (style, frequently worn clothes, etc.)
• Physical imperfections or something they would most like to change
• Admirable personality traits
• Negative personality traits
• Quirks or eccentricities
• Off-beat manners of behavior, dress, or speech that distinguishes them from others
• Things that make them angry (along with method of handling anger)
• Things that embarrass them (along with method of handling embarrassment)
• Things that make them afraid (along with method handling fear)
• Pet peeves or gripes
• Sense of humor
• Philosophy of life
• Favorites (foods, books, colors, places, etc.)
• Item(s) special to them
• Person/friend close to them
• Years of schooling
• Occupations (past and present)
• Skills, abilities, talents
• Brief family history
• Description of home, home life, economic status
• Most painful experiences in their past
• Happiest memories from their past
• Relationships with father or mother (or another family member)
• Other important relationships that affected them
• Any other significant events from the past
• What is their biggest dream or main goal in life?
• Why do they have that dream/goal (what happened in their past to give them that dream)?
• What is keeping them from reaching their dream/goal?
Yes, I know the above lists can look a little overwhelming! But I don't tackle the list all at once. In
fact, some of it I don't even fill in until I start writing the story. I usually get to know my characters on a much deeper level AS the story unfolds.
Even so, I always start with a basic framework. I bring my characters to life BEFORE I start writing. It's because the characters are ALREADY alive and fleshed out that I'm THEN able to go much deeper as I write the story.
Writers, if we want to develop deep, realistic characters that readers will love and care about, then follow this writerly commandment: "Know Thy Characters."
What about YOU? What are some other areas you explore with your characters to bring them to life?
Most writers who've been writing for any length of time learn the mantra, "Persevere, persevere, persevere."
In fact, you've probably heard statistics like these about famous writers who persevered long and hard before getting published:
• Agatha Christie went through FIVE years of continual rejection before landing a publishing deal; her book sales are now over $2 billion.
• Louis L’Amour garnered 200 rejections before a publisher decided to take a chance on him; his book sales are now over $330 million.
• Janet Evanovich wrote for TEN years before getting published; she now makes millions every year.
Yes, we all know we need to persevere. That's a given in the publishing industry.
Sometimes we have to persevere because WEaren't ready. Our writing techniques lag, our story-telling skills aren't honed, and we simply need to improve.
Other times the INDUSTRYisn't quite ready for us. Agents and editors have varying tastes, needs, and constraints. And sometimes it just takes time for our book to land in the hands of someone who loves it and wants to champion it.
There are even times when the READING PUBLIC isn't ready for us. Perhaps our genre or niche isn't commercially appealing, yet. The public doesn't see the value in what we're writing since they're still in love with the current trends.
Whatever the reason, many published authors can attest to the years of waiting before getting their big breaks. I wrote for about seven or eight years before I broke in to traditional publication. I had written at least seven books by the time I landed my first publishing deal.
In addition to persevering, most of us also know that we need to continue to write while we're waiting. It does us no good to pour our lives into one book and then sit back and wait for something to happen to our darling. We must keep on writing.
Continuing to write takes our mind off the waiting (mostly!). And it gives us more practice along with more books to potentially sell when we finally garner attention.
Yes. Persevere. And write, write, write. As I said, most writers get that.
However, I think there's one thing many writers neglect to do while waiting and writing . . . and it could be a factor for why some writers end up waiting for so long. They forget to MAXIMIZE practice time.
You see, it's not enough just to write. Anyone can continually write and have an enormous quantity. But quantity doesn't equate improved quality.
I liken the writing process to running (which I attempt to do with some regularity). I try to run every day at the same pace and the same number of miles. Over the past couple of years, I've accumulated quite a lot of miles on my Nike Running App. Such a regime means that I'm not getting worse, but it also means I'm never getting any better. I'm certainly not ready for any competitive races. If I really want to improve, I'd need to challenge myself to run a little faster or consciously push myself in small increments to go a longer distance.
The same is true of our writing. Yes, we need to keep steadily writing. But if we want to improve, we have to consciously challenge ourselves to take small steps forward by being intentional, incremental, and inspirational.
Analyze our words and sentences. Examine our weaknesses. Let others point them out to us (through critiques, contests, or writing partners). Then look for "coaches" either via writing books, blogs, or mentors who can help us improve our techniques.
Make a plan to implement new techniques in our writing. Take those small incremental steps to try something different. Practice with conscious effort (whether that's improving dialog or eliminating over-telling or any number of weaknesses).
At first we may have to go slower as we catch our mistakes and retrain ourselves to write differently. The process may feel cumbersome. But eventually, we'll find ourselves utilizing that new technique smoothly and even effortlessly.