Is All the Hard Work Really Worth It?

One of the most common questions most of us have is, “Is all the work that goes into writing and publishing really worth it?”

Admit it. Even if you haven’t actually verbalized the question, you have asked it inwardly at least once.

I’ve gotten plenty of emails from other writers who’ve asked “is it worth it” in one form or another:

After rejection after rejection, can I really keep going?”

Is the endless waiting (on agents, editors, contracts, etc.) really worth the emotional turmoil?

Why should I work so hard only to put myself through the torture of painful feedback, criticism, and poor reviews?”

Will the writing, editing, rewriting, re-editing really help me improve? Or am I just wasting my time?

Is all the time away from family, friends, hobbies, etc. really worth it in the long run?

Is all the hard work of writing and marketing ever going to pay off?”

The above questions have crossed my mind at one time or another. It’s all too easy, especially nowadays, in the rapidly changing publishing industry to second-guess ourselves, to have a lot of doubts about what we’re doing, and to wonder if the work is really worth it.

In some ways, I guess the answer depends on what your ultimate goal is. We’re all writing for different reasons.

But no matter our personal goals, ministries, or aspirations, I think ultimately every author wants to gain some money and recognition from their writing and publishing endeavors.

Will you become the next Suzanne Collins making millions of dollars a year? Highly unlikely.

And will you gain the worldwide fame that JK Rowling now possesses? Probably not.

That kind of fortune and fame will not come to many of us. Only an elite echelon will reach epic proportions.

But chances are very good that you will achieve some measure of success as a writer . . . if you want publishing success badly enough and are willing to work hard enough for your dreams.

Just because we won’t become a household name like Collins or Rowlings doesn’t mean we can’t continue to dream big. I’m reminded of what author Debbie Macomber once said about dreaming big at a conference I attended. Her message was that if we ever want to “make it” we have to practice the power of positive thinking.

She asked us to write down five goals. The goals could be anything, even the desire to become a best-selling author or have a movie made from one of our books. She also encouraged us to write the goals on paper. When we write down our goals, our subconscious works toward them. Our heads will follow the dreams in our hearts.

However, when we fill our minds with “is this really worth it?” we’re essentially talking negatively to ourselves. While we’re wise to evaluate our situations from time to time, we can’t let those negative thoughts cloud our view—at least for long. We can’t walk around threatening to quit every time something discourages us.

Instead, we need to pull out our list of dreams, review them, and tell ourselves that if we keep working hard to reach the dreams, we’ll get there eventually.

Whenever I’m tempted to question if all the waiting and rejections and sacrifices and heartaches are really worth it, I try to remind myself of the good things about my writing journey: the love of telling stories, the friendships with other writers, the growth that’s come through trials, the miracle of completing a book, the joy that comes from a job well-done, and the pleasure of sharing my word with others.

Yes, I hope for more. I still cling to those dreams I wrote down at that conference. And I know if I want to see them come true someday, I’ll need to keep working hard. Keep the talk positive. And hold onto hope.

Whether unpublished or not, to be successful in the writing industry, we have to keep a long-term vision. Nothing happens overnight. Nothing.

I always love the saying that the writing journey is a marathon not a sprint.

So don’t give up when it seems like it’s taking too long. Those who find success are the ones who say, “Yes, it is worth it” and they keep running.

How about you? Have you ever asked yourself if all the work that goes into writing and publishing is really worth it? What negative talk is most common in your mind these days?

Why Skimping on Macro Editing Could Cost You Readers

Macro edits are critically important. (Also known as rewrites, developmental edits, substantive edits, or content edits.) This type of edit is the first a writer should make in the three stages of editing. (Read more about the three stages of editing here or here.)

I like to refer to the macro edit stage as rewriting. I think the term sufficiently sums up the entire process, which involves analyzing the big picture elements of our stories and rewriting, adding, or deleting major parts in order to make the story more appealing to readers.

Last week, my publisher sent me macro edits for my book, A Noble Groom, releasing next spring. When I saw my editor’s email pop up in my inbox, I froze.

Even though I’d been expecting the rewrite notes, I was still overcome with fear. What would I find when I opened the document? Where had I fallen short with the story?

My editor wouldn’t be sending me pages of praise. Flattery wouldn’t help me. Only the complete, honest truth about what needed improvement would benefit my story.

Ultimately I knew that. But still, that knowledge has never made the initial rewrite experience any easier. It’s always hard to take criticism of a story you’ve carefully researched, crafted, and labored over for months.

It took me a couple of hours to work up the courage to open the email from Luke, my editor. I’m grateful he began his notes with a few words of praise and encouragement along with this sentence: "Thanks so much in advance for your hard work and willingness to revisit the manuscript, to do what you can to improve the story as much as possible for the sake of your loyal readers." (Emphasis mine)

That sentence was an incredible reminder that I’m striving to make my STORY the best it can be for the sake of my loyal readers. Readers care most about the STORY. And the macro level stage of editing is where we carefully analyze all of those story elements that can make or break a book.

For this particular book (A Noble Groom), FOUR talented Bethany House editors had read through the manuscript, made notes, and then decided which areas most needed my attention. The notes were about 6 pages long and consisted of things like:

*The hero needs to have a stronger character arc. There needs to be more at stake for him.
*The emotional (friendship) part of the hero/heroine relationship needs to be deepened.
*The villain’s threats need to be spaced more consistently.
*The ‘ticking clock’ needs to be more of a factor than it is.

Those are just a snippet of the things that all of the editors pointed out. As you can see, they’re larger story elements and won’t be easy to fix. The edits will require many weeks of chopping, pasting, adding and deleting. That’s why the term rewriting is so appropriate, because essentially that’s what I’m doing.

No matter how many times I get a set of rewrites, they always knock me off my feet. In fact, I’ve been known to have major melt-downs, to decide I’m not cut out to be a writer, then assuage my depression by eating large quantities of chocolate.

Fortunately, this time, I put on my big girl panties much faster than in the past. A further email from my editor helped lift me up. Luke said this:

I’ve learned over the years that for even the best of writers out there, almost all of their first (rough) drafts have serious issues which need to be dealt with, head-on, unflinching. In that way, writing and especially rewriting—the persistent back and forth, applying a lot of patience and love—is much like the art of sculpting. It’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual . . . as you carve, chisel, shape, sand and polish what you’ve created into something good and beautiful and truthful.”

Beautiful analogy, isn’t it?

The point is this: Without the macro-edit, I could spiff up my story, get rid of adverbs, tighten my dialog, and make sure I’ve included sensory details, etc., etc., etc. (all the things that come with line and copy edits). But what good would all of that do if I’ve neglected to shape the story itself.

If we skip the macro edits, then we’re neglecting the sculpting part of the process, the chipping away, the molding, the plying. If we move directly to the line and copy editing stages, then we’re polishing a lump of clay.

We win over our readers by a well-told story. So don’t skimp on the macro-edits. Get the big-picture feedback (particularly from people who are qualified to give it). Sculpt the story into a lovely work of art before polishing it with the other edits.

How about you? How important have macro edits been in your editing process? Are you taking enough time to shape your story before starting the polishing?

The Miracle of Completing a Book

Last week I finished writing the first draft of another book. I’ve lost count of where this book stands in the long line of books I’ve written over the years. But it’s the fifth contracted book (with Bethany House Publishers). And it’s slotted to release the fall of 2013.

During the last few days of writing the book, I knew I was getting close to the end. Of course, I never know exactly where I’ll land, but most of my books are around 100,000 words. So I knew this one would likely end up there too (give or take a few thousand).

The closer I got to the end, the faster the words flowed so that I wrote close to 6,000 words the last two days (which for a slow writer for me is an enormous accomplishment!).

The final afternoon of typing, I tried to squeeze in writing time whenever I could. I typed during my son's guitar lesson. Then I pounded the keyboard later during my youngest children’s piano lessons. I even wrote while trying to help my oldest cook dinner, with a plethora of questions, a cacophony of noise, and the other children running all around me, coming in and out of the house, needing help, and wanting my attention.

When I punched out the last few sentences and realized I was done, tears of relief and joy welled in my eyes. For a long moment, I was overcome with the awe of completing another book. It had taken me three and a half months, approximately 14 weeks of writing with an average of 7000 words per week.
Amidst the chaos of my life, I knew it was truly a miracle to complete the book.

In fact, I believe any writer who finishes writing a book has truly accomplished a feat of miraculous proportions.

There are countless people who say they’d like to write a book. Everywhere we turn, friends and family tell us they have a book inside them.

It’s easy to talk about the grand ideas and stories simmering in our heads. But it takes a little more effort to actually sit down and start working on a book. And of all the people who talk about wanting to write a book, only a fraction of them ever make it to the computer to open up a page and start typing.

Of that fraction, an even smaller number will have the determination and dedication to plow forward when the going gets tough. Anyone who’s ever started a book knows just how difficult it gets once we immerse ourselves in a story. There are hundreds of small details to remember and include, plot threads to weave together seamlessly, characters to shape, facts to accurately research—not to mention the need to build readable sentences, paragraphs, dialog, and scenes.

Add in the busyness of life. I know I’m not the only one struggling to write while multi-tasking and managing a hundred other responsibilities. Most of us are exceptionally busy and trying to squeeze writing into the little free time we have.

With those kind of daunting obstacles facing writers, it’s a wonder anyone at all can finish a book.
The reality is, only a small percentage of those who start a book will actually finish one. And only a smaller minority will write more than one book.

So, take heart. If you’ve finished a book, count it as the miracle it is. Revel in it. Enjoy the accomplishment. Have a party. Be proud of yourself. Shed tears of joy.

You’ve accomplished what many only dream of doing. You’ve managed to put into words a story from beginning to end. You’ve given birth to your imagination. You’ve done the hard work and beaten the odds stacked against you.

Your book is a miracle.

Savor it.

Then once you’re done relishing that beautiful miracle, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and prepare yourself for the hard work of making another miracle happen—the process of taking your story and turning it into something everyone will enjoy reading. Editing takes a miracle too—along with a lot of time, hard work, and outside help (but that’s the makings of another post on another day!).

So what about you? How many books have you written? How do you feel when you finish your books?

How Much Interaction Should Authors Have With Readers?

Recently, my teen daughter read a YA book that she absolutely loved. After reading the book, she went to the author’s website eager to find more books by that author. While she was browsing the site, she ran across a “contact box.”

She turned to me and said, “Mom, I’d really like to write a note to this author and tell her how much I liked her book. Would that be okay?”

And I was like, “Would that be okay?! Are you kidding! That would be fantastic! Go for it! I always love hearing from readers, and I’m sure she’d be thrilled to get a note from you.”

So my daughter typed her little email, pressed send, and then waited. Yes. She waited. Maybe not literally. But a few days later she said, “Mom, I haven’t heard back from that author yet. Do you think she’ll write back to me?”

Again, I was like, “Will she write back?! Of course she will! I always write back to readers who contact me. Why wouldn’t she write back? Just give her a few days. I'm sure she's just as busy as me.”

Well, you can probably guess where this story is going. Several more days passed and my daughter said, “It’s been a week now. I don’t think that author is going to write me back.”

Of course the dejection in her voice ruffled my mother hen feathers. I immediately wanted to write to that author myself and chew her out a bit. But I didn’t. Instead, I pushed away from my laptop where I’d been working and tried to console my daughter.

As I thought through the incident, I couldn’t keep from asking this question: How much interaction should the modern author have with readers? What’s appropriate? What constitutes too much or too little?

It really boils down to this: What does the modern reader want from the authors whose books they read and love?

Obviously, first and foremost, readers want another story they can fall in love with. My daughter sought out this YA author’s website to find out if she had any more books. If she hadn’t liked the first book, she would have put it down, and that would have been the end of that author’s connection in the life of my daughter.

But because she LOVED the book, she pursued the author further. She took that next step of seeking out more books AND a connection to an author she admired.

In a “one-click-away” social media addicted culture, we can connect with anyone, anywhere, at anytime. And once we initiate communication, we want to be acknowledged. In fact, we often expect a response. Sometimes we even think a lack of response is rude.

So, what’s an author to do? Especially when we’re already busy writing our books, marketing them, and building our platforms?

If we don’t take the time to respond to readers, I highly doubt that will stop them from going out and purchasing our next book. As I said, if they love our stories, that’s the most important thing. Even though my daughter felt slighted by the author, a few days later I heard her mention the book to one of her friends as a “favorite.” I have no doubt my daughter will bug me to buy the next book by this author once it’s released.

Even so, I still think we as writers can be sensitive to our readers. Here are several of my thoughts on how we can do that:

1. If an author doesn’t have the time to write back to readers, then DON'T have a Contact Box. Or at the very least, they could put a note next to the contact box explaining that while they love hearing from readers, they won’t be able to write back. At least the reader will see that up front and not be left wondering what happened.

Let's be honest. If we put a Contact Box on our website or blog, then essentially we're inviting people to connect with us. It's not there simply so that we can collect a file full of compliments about our books that make us feel better about ourselves.

2. Authors should prioritize their interactions. In the plethora of daily communications, if we’re short on time, we may have to decide to forgo chatting on Twitter or Facebook so that we can have the time to interact with our most important customers—our readers. If we’re unable to juggle everything, then we have to decide who is more important in the success of our writing career. For me, that’s readers.

Obviously the super-star, best-selling authors are in a different position than most of the rest of us. They'd likely need to hire an assistant if they wanted to respond to all of their fan mail. However, the large majority of us aren't nearly as overwhelmed by reader emails.

3. The more visible and relatable an author remains the better. Think about what happens when we’re closed off, silent, and unavailable on our social media sites. People might begin to think we’re stuck up, that we think we’re too good to talk to anyone but our closest circles of friends. Such an aura (even if it’s not true) could send out negative vibes and alienate our readers. Why take the risk? Why not remain humble, available, and responsive?

Yes, it takes some time. But, if we’re not prioritizing our interactions with readers on social media, then what’s the point of it all? Isn’t that why we’re on social media in the first place?

So how much interaction do you think authors should have with their readers? Have you ever written to an author and not heard back? How did it make you feel? How has it made you feel when an author has taken the time to respond?

Everyone Gets Jealous, Even Published Authors

Yes, I’m ashamed to admit. I get jealous of other authors. It’s ridiculous really. I couldn’t ask for a better start to my writing career. I’ve accomplished what every author hopes. I’ve earned back my advance and then some. I’ve had plenty of positive reviews on Amazon. I’ve won awards and made the CBA bestseller list. I’ve pleased my publisher enough for them to offer me another contract.

What more could I want? Especially when I’m already blessed with so much?

Apparently that ugly jealousy monster inside me isn’t easy to appease. The monster wants more, especially when it looks around and sees what others have. It stares with its green eyes and whispers, “Look what she has. Don’t you wish you had that too?”

The fact is, everyone gets jealous. I know it’s easy to think unpublished writers are the only ones with the envious eyes. I remember the days of being jealous of writers with agents, book contracts, and readers. At that stage it’s hard not to look ahead at those who are already published and to wish you could trade places.

But strangely, the jealousy doesn’t end at publication, even when you’re in a position such as mine. I was reminded of this last week when I saw another writer announce some fantastic and exciting news. And as thrilled as I was for this writer friend, I was almost literally sick with the feeling of wishing I could have her level of success.

Yes, the jealousy monster creeps after us at every stage of publication.

Before publication we get jealous of these kinds of things:

*Writers who get an agent before us.
*Writers who can easily make friends with industry professionals.
*Writers who have more followers on social media.
*Writers who place higher in a contest.
*Those who seem more popular.
*Those who can write books faster than us.

After publication we get jealous of these kinds of things:

*Writers whose sales rankings are better than ours.
*Writers who consistently make the bestseller list.
*Writers with better book contracts than ours.
*Writers whose books final in contests when ours doesn’t.
*Writers who get more attention from their agent.
*Writers whose books are optioned for movies.
*Big seller authors who get special treatment from the publisher.

So, last week when I was sick with jealousy, I had to stop myself, take a deep breath, and remind myself of a few simple things:

1. Sometimes the internet is hazardous to our mental health. The truth is, because we’re online and involved in the writing community, we end up seeing what everyone is doing. We hear all the good news and very little of the bad.

Therefore, it’s easy to be bombarded by all of the “congrats” and “hurrahs” and start to wonder why we’re missing out. I find that sometimes I need to step back, turn off the internet for a while, and remember that what I see on twitter isn’t necessarily the whole picture.

2. Remember those authors who are achieving success have worked really, really hard to get where they’re at. I only have to stop and think about how many years I studied writing, how many books I've written, and how long I struggled before I reached my current position. While those achieving success might make it look like it happened overnight, it usually involved years of hard work.

3. Direct the frustration into getting even better at our writing. The great thing about the writing industry is that it’s wide open. Anyone who has the will to work at improving and the desire to succeed has a chance at making it. So whenever I see someone getting the kind of success that I’d like, I challenge myself to work all the harder.

4. Don’t blame agents and editors for their inability to coddle us. Whether before publication or after, the nature of the modern publishing industry is that agents and editors don’t have the time to hold the hands of all the authors clamoring for attention. They have to prioritize, and of course, they’re going to give their best time and energy toward the bread-and-butter authors, the brand names, the bigger authors.

Recently, I experienced a twinge of jealousy when I saw that my publisher had put together a big book tour for their most popular, best-selling author Beverly Lewis. Yes, I couldn't keep from wishing that someday I'd warrant that kind of attention. But I had to remind myself that Beverly Lewis has been writing for years and has worked hard to become a household name. If not for her financial success, my publisher wouldn’t be able to take as many risks on young authors like me.

So, now that I've admitted to feeling jealous of other authors, please tell me I'm not alone! What makes you jealous? And how do you handle it?

10 Social Media Pet Peeves

In social media we’re bound to irritate each other from time to time. Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes and rub each other the wrong way.

Even so, lately on my various social media sites, I’ve been feeling bombarded by some annoying tactics. They’re the kinds of things that make me want to unfollow people.

Fortunately I’m not a rash or vindictive person, and I don’t rush off to exterminate followers at the first offense.

But here are 10 of my pet peeves—social media faux pas for writers:

Pet Peeve #1: When followers send messages asking us to “check out” something. This happens a lot with new followers asking me to visit their facebook page, website, book trailer, or amazon book page. I NEVER go “check out” those sites. Those kind of messages are spam, make a bad first impression, and could do more harm than good. Most of us don’t want to feel like people are following us to gain “business.” Instead we’d rather make a genuine connection.

Pet Peeve #2: When followers send massive Facebook messages. This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves, because of the nature of getting flooded with everyone else’s responses to that message. Those kinds of messages are impersonal and feel like spam. If we really need to do a group message, make sure to let everyone know NOT to respond to the group message but to send you a private note instead.

Pet Peeve #3: When people ask for more followers. It’s natural to get excited when we’re close to reaching certain follower milestones (i.e. 100 blog followers or 500 twitter followers). But when we make a point of asking for more followers, it makes us sound desperate. It could make people think we’re only concerned about numbers and thus cause our current followers to feel unappreciated.

Pet Peeve #4: When followers use graphic pictures. This applies mostly to Pinterest. Soon after I joined, I quickly realized I couldn’t auto follow back. I was getting some very steamy pictures in my nice “happy” homepage stream. My laptop sits on the kitchen table in plain view of my kids, and I don’t want to have to worry about what they happen to see as I browse my SM sites. Even if a writer’s brand is erotic, I still think it’s wise to be sensitive to the fact that many of us are Moms with kids running around us.

Pet Peeve #5: When followers have potty mouths. Again, many of us have kids who see our twitter streams or facebook pages. That should be reason enough for us to be careful what we say. But in addition, we need to remember that we’re trying to present ourselves as professionals. If we wouldn’t complain, swear, or talk dirty in a real life professional office job, then we probably should think twice before doing so in our online professional writer’s job.

Pet Peeve #6: When followers over-do their conversations. When we post numerous tweets, pins, or updates, we risk clogging up our followers’ streams with our chatter. I have eased this problem on twitter by having “lists” where I group my followers. Even so, I’ve occasionally had to remove someone from one of my lists because his or her “noise” became overbearing.

Pet Peeve #7: When people get on social media only to promote. Social media just doesn’t work as a traditional promotional tool. People aren’t going to care about comments that promote our book, blog post, or event . . . unless they have a connection to us. So we can’t just show up on social media when we’re ready to promote. We have to be there the rest of the time too, building connections. Then when it comes time to promote, people will listen.

Pet Peeve #8: When people ignore personal messages. I try not to overlook anyone who connects with me on a personal level. I’ve had authors ignore me, and I realized I didn’t like that. I’d expected them to acknowledge me, even if briefly. Since I didn’t like being ignored, I decided to try not to overlook those who take the time to chat with me. Sure, it’s not always easy to keep up. But I’ve made it a priority to interact.

Pet Peeve #9: When new followers are friendly to earn favors. This has happens when someone starts visiting our blogs, makes a point of being friendly, and then after a short time asks us to do something for them—even something as simple as “like” their facebook page. Those kinds of requests usually leave me feeling icky and used.

Pet Peeve #10: When people make social media all about themselves. If all we do is post about our books, our blogs, our awards, our good news, our kids, etc., eventually our followers are going to think we’re conceited, even if we’re not. And pride is a sure way to alienate followers and fans. Instead, we need to find a balance of sharing about ourselves along with looking out for the needs and interests of others.

What about you? What are your social media pet peeves? Any that you’d add to my list?

8 Reasons Not to Quit Social Media When You're Burned Out

Every so often I’m tempted to pull myself out of the social media game and sit on the sidelines. I especially feel this way when I’m focused on finishing a WIP or exhausted from my real life. At those times, I usually feel like I don’t have much to say on my social media sites. So why bother? It’s not like the world needs me in order to keep revolving.

But over the years, I’ve pushed through those times when I’m burned out and tempted to quit. And in hindsight, I’m glad I kept going.

The truth is, if we want to win the game, we have to keep playing. Sure we may strike out from time to time, or have a bad inning, or even have a losing streak (rejection from an agent, turned down by a publisher, or negative review from a reader). But we won’t give ourselves the chance to succeed if we plop onto the bench and simply watch from the sidelines.

Don’t get me wrong. We all need vacations from social media on occasion. I usually take a couple breaks during the year. It’s good for us and our families for us to unplug. And sometimes we have to evaluate our schedules and cut back the time we’re spending on social media—especially if it becomes more consuming than our actual writing.

But we can’t give up altogether, even though there will be plenty of times when we’re tempted to—especially for those who are still in the pre-publication struggles. The BEST time to lay a solid foundation for social media is BEFORE publication, not after. 

Over time, the benefits of social media begin to accumulate like money in the bank. And later, when a writer needs to cash in, then those benefits are waiting. But in order to accrue a tidy sum, writers have to keep maximizing social media, join in the writing community, develop genuine friendships, engage in conversations, and give, give, give. Did I mention give?

If we stay in the game even when we feel like dropping out, here are the numerous benefits we might reap:

1. Endorsements. Many traditional publishers require debut authors to get endorsements from established authors. When we build friendships with other writers, they’re more likely to agree to endorse us when we need it. Obviously, established authors don’t have the time for every endorsement request. But I’m more likely to read and endorse a book from friends I’ve made versus someone I don’t know.

2. Agent referrals. We never know which of our friends will get agents before us and perhaps be able to help us get a foot in the door as a result. I’ve occasionally been able to put in a good word for a writer friend when they get ready to query my agent. But that’s only because we’ve already established a relationship and I want to help them out.

3. Feedback. Often newer writers wonder how to find critique partners or get feedback on their writing. I’ve found the best way to develop trusted critique partnerships is out of evolving friendships with like-minded writers. But finding those like-minded friends takes time and effort getting to know others.

4. Influencers. During the release of our books, those early friends we make become some of our biggest supporters. They’re the ones who get genuinely excited for us, shout out the news, and help spread the buzz about our books. I’m most likely to go above and beyond spreading buzz for those friends I’ve had through thick and thin. Many of those are friends I made before publication.

5. Readers. Yes, our early writer friends often become our readers. Not only do they influence for us, but they enjoy reading our books and help pass around the book love to their families and friends.

6. Encouragement. Other writers “get” the pain, frustrations, and disappointments of the writing life in ways that non-writers can’t. In the changing writing industry, agents and editors don’t have the time to pamper and hold the hands of each of their clients. Our writing friends can fill the gap and encourage us when we most need it.

7. Resources. I have found the writing community to be a wealth of information. Because of all the connections I’ve made over the years, I’m constantly surrounded by the best and most recent happenings in the publishing industry that I couldn’t possibly have found on my own.

8. Mentors. I’ve been mentored by countless other writers—through blogs and writing books—many I wouldn’t have known about if not for the friends I’ve made online. I’ve found other writers to be some of the most generous people, willing to share all they’re learning with others.

Summary: If you’re ever tempted to pull yourself out of the social media game, think long and hard before you do. Those early relationships are foundational for success in the modern writer’s career.

Have you ever grown exhausted by social media and been tempted to pull out of the game? What are some of the benefits that have kept you on the playing field?

4 Ways to Hook Your Readers & Keep Them Wanting More

My kids and I recently finished reading The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood. At first my kids weren’t really into the Elizabethan period. They’d just shake their heads at me and say, “Oh, Mom” whenever I oohed and ahhed over the time period details and history Blackwood was weaving in so seamlessly.

But there came a point in the story where my kids begged for “just one more chapter, please.” And while they weren’t fascinated by life in 1600’s London, the STORY hooked them and they didn’t want to stop reading.

As I analyzed The Shakespeare Stealer (which I invariably do to most books I read), I realized Blackwood utilized several techniques very well, techniques that help turn our stories into the kind readers can’t put down.

Here are 4 ways we can hook our readers and keep them wanting more:

1. Get your readers caring right away.

Most of us try to start our stories by putting our characters into an immediate conflict (especially in a romance when we have the hero and heroine clash over something). Along with immediate conflict, we’re also striving to create a strong but flawed hero/heroine.

But in creating strong characters who jump into conflict, we run the risk of them coming across as abrasive, too independent, cold, or uncaring. The trick is to find ways to make our characters likable right away, even with all of their flaws.

One way to do that is to put them in situations where the reader can’t help but feel sorry for them (which is what Blackwood did in The Shakespeare Stealer). Or we can have our character do something compassionate for someone else.

Whatever we choose to do to build reader empathy, we should do within the first few pages. The situations don’t have to be enormous but should be enough to make our readers begin to really like the character.

2. Layer on the conflict.

If our readers don’t yet have some empathy for the characters, then when the character encounters problems, our readers won’t care. If they don’t already have an emotional connection, then they won’t root for them through the conflicts we pile on them.

But once we develop reader-empathy, then we can start to heap the problems upon our characters in various levels. In The Shakespeare Stealer, Blackwood put his character into the-harmed-if-I-do and the-harmed-if-I-don’t situation. The main character was torn in what seemed like an impossible situation of having to chose to save himself or the friends he cared about. Blackwood kept layering the conflict chapter after chapter, making the decision increasingly difficult.

I’ve always liked the way writing guru, James Scott Bell, summarizes plot: Put your character up in a tree and throw stones at them and then find a way to get them down again.

We can throw physical stones, emotional, and relational—preferably all three in increasingly harder and more painful blows, so that we arrive at a black moment, and our readers don’t know how our character is going to survive and get down that tree.

3. Make every scene count.

Most of us know we should write by scenes. But the trouble is picking which scenes to include. We obviously can’t write all of them or we’d have WAY too much in our book.

When I’m deciding which scenes to bring to life, I try to have numerous (usually ten or more) reasons why I need the scene. I want to pack it full, integrating the maximum potential for each of my three plot strands (external, internal, and relational). And I also want to layer in (foreshadow) the problems that are yet to come.

When our scenes are loaded, we’re able to sock the reader, making it more difficult for them to close the book.

4. End each chapter with a hook.

Leave your readers on the edge of their seat at the end of every chapter. And if your chapters have more than one scene try to close each scene with some dangling, unsolved conflict thread for one of the three plot strands I mentioned above.

Blackwood is a master at this in The Shakespeare Stealer. Almost every chapter ends with something bad about to happen to the characters.

Not every chapter will end with our character about to be pushed off a cliff. But we can still have them dangling over an emotional abyss. Not every chapter will end with a knife at the throat of our main character. But we can put the knife in the relationship they desire.

Summary: Aren’t we all striving to write books that have readers saying “just one more chapter” but they can’t stop until the last page? Don’t we want them to say “I’m only going to read for ten more minutes” but then when they look at the clock an hour has passed?

I want to have a book like that, a book readers can’t put down no matter how hard they try.

How about you? Are you striving to write books that readers can't put down? What techniques do you utilize to make that happen? As a reader, what keeps you turning the pages long past bedtime?

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Why Writers Need to Seriously Consider Pinterest

I wasn’t planning to write a post about Pinterest. But after hearing some grumbling about this up-and-coming social media site, I felt compelled to share my evolving thoughts about it.

I know writers fear over-commitment to social media. We’re already stretched thin between Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Tumblr, and Blogging.

“I just don’t have the time to add one more thing,” I’ve heard plenty of writers say.

I’m a tad busy too. But I’m making the time for Pinterest. In fact, if need be, I’ll subtract a little bit of time from some of the other social media sites so that I can interact on Pinterest.

Here are several reasons why I think Pinterest is important for writers:

Pinterest isn’t a passing fad. Last week I read an infographic by TalkingFinger. Here are just a few statistics the infographic cited about Pinterest that show how important it’s becoming:

• It has 1.36 million users DAILY.
• It generates more traffic to websites than Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube combined.
• There is a 145% daily user increase since the beginning of 2012.
• Over one-fifth of connected Facebook users are on Pinterest daily (which amounts to over 2 million people).

And here's another insightful infographic: Interest in Pinterest Reaches a Fever Pitch.

Pinterest provides key visual stimuli. I personally think that visuals attract people to our products more than any other type of marketing. Pictures are engaging, spark interest, and draw attention. In our culture of short-attention spans, the quick visual is sometimes all the time we have to garner someone’s interest. Just last week I was attracted to two different books as a result of pins on Pinterest. I’m sure if those pins grabbed my attention, they did others as well.

A recent study shows that Pinterest drives more revenue per click than Twitter or Facebook. The study said: "Pinterest is the first social network that’s delivering not only lots of traffic but also real revenue and lots of new customers."

Pinterest puts us into contact with more people than our followers. Currently with the way Pinterest is set up, every time you pin something that is “categorized” it will show up in that particular category under the “Everything” list which anyone can access. That means your pin has the potential to reach more than your followers. In fact, it can go viral. One of my inspirational pins got over 200 repins mostly by non-followers.

Pinterest allows us to connect with readers in a unique way. I connect with writers and industry professionals through Twitter and Blogging. But I’ve connected with readers mostly on Facebook. And since Pinterest is a female dominated site (so far 68.2% of Pinterest users are women), I have no doubt a large majority of my readers (women) will gravitate there at some point in the near future if they’re not already there. I want to be there waiting to welcome them.

On Pinterest, readers will get a better picture of my interests as well as my books (through my story boards). Recently, one follower on Pinterest said she decided to read my book as a result of my active presence on Pinterest. (Read what she said here.)

My summary:

For those who are dragging their feet about joining a new social media site, just remember the hesitancies you had with Twitter or that Facebook Page when you first started. They seemed a little intimidating at first, and you didn’t really “get” the point of them.

But once you jumped in and tried them, they began to grow on you, right?

It’s the same with Pinterest. Don’t let fear or other excuses stop you. As modern writers, we have to stay flexible and willing to change with the times.

Pinterest is only growing in popularity every day. Once you take part in the pinning fun, you’ll begin to see why it’s becoming so popular. And you’ll realize what a valuable new tool it can be to add to your writer’s toolbox.

Several cautions:

Pinterest is NOT a place to spam our books. Like any of the social media sites, Pinterest is SOCIAL. It works best if we pin/repin a variety of pictures that can entertain, encourage, and inspire others.

Pinterest needs to reflect YOU. One of the coolest things about Pinterest is that you can tailor your site to reflect your BRAND and who you are as a writer. For example, my boards display not only my novels, but also my love of writing, reading, coffee, and chocolate. I invite you to take a look and get some ideas from what I'm doing. But you shouldn't try to imitate me or anyone else. Figure out your brand and what is uniquely YOU.

Pinterest also needs to be for our readers. While it’s fun to have all kinds of random boards of things we like (i.e. hairstyles, kitchen remodeling,etc.), we need to keep the primary focus on having boards and pins that will appeal to our consumers. I think Random House and Penguin Books do a fabulous job with their boards. Both are promoting their books but at the same time appealing to their target audience in creative ways.

So, if you’re not using Pinterest, did I convince you of its worth? *grin* If not, why not? What’s holding you back? If you’re using Pinterest, what are some things you’ve learned about the site that can help other writers who are getting started on it?

*Image via: 18 stats to sell your boss on Pinterest

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