Writer Networking

Writer networking is as important as writing time.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. By nature, the craft is best executed in a state of near meditation.

To become a successful professional writer or ghostwriter though, you’re going to need to meet other people. I’ll wait for that shock wave to wash over you… but it is true. Your story comes by reaching down into you.

But your story also comes from reaching out to others.

This weekend is the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. It’s the high holidays of my writing year, the beginning of my calendar. One of the premier writer networking gatherings on the west coast, this weekend is a golden opportunity to look at best practices on how to interact to get the most out of your time out.

Be Helpful:

People remember those who help them. Even if it’s just opening a door or helping a wayward soul find a conference room, be of assistance whenever you can.

I work volunteer for this conference for this simple reason. Sure, my time gets me a steep discount on admission, but having a task and a practical purpose helps with my anxiety.

Don’t Be “That Person”:

My favorite agent is here. So is my all time favorite producer. These are “the who” I need to know to get where I need to go.

But these folks are here working. They’re here to please their bosses and with that comes stress. Give your target people space. Let them breathe. If your tastemaker is in the lobby and they’re pondering a text, do not bombard them.

Don’t Be Starstruck:

The opposite of the above is also true… do not be intimidated by “the who” you are here to meet. They’re here to meet, mingle and make connections too. If your person is at the bar, don’t be shy. Strike up that conversation. Say hey.

Meet Everyone:

One of the key mistakes writers make is focusing ALL of their networking energy on agents and managers. Most writers forget the hundreds of other people walking around.

I work as an editor, so my fellow writers are a place to network for new business. That isn’t the extent though. The friends you make on the way up in the writing game are absolutely key. I could write a whole blog on this (and likely will) but writer networking makes it imperative to connect with your peers and make them colleagues.

To return to a previous theme. Help one another.

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Ghostwriter talks creative writing

A professional ghostwriter talks creative writing.

Don’t have the time to sit down and write this weekend? The work week got you down?

I contend that a lack of time is not the biggest obstacle to the creative temperament. The biggest obstacle is not properly feeding that imaginative urge.

Here are three things you can do that will keep the creative muscles flexed while you’re unable to write.

Ghostwriter Talks Creative Writing Tip 1: Play Hypothetical Games:

ghostwriter talks creative writing

I love this game. I call it, “What If?” I’ve been playing it since I was a teenager. Sit down in a crowded space. A cafe. An airport. A theater. Watch any person or group and create a little story about them.

What if those two are breaking up?

What if he’s just returning from a clandestine spy mission in Morocco?

What if they wrote the play?

The possibilities in this game are bounded only by your imagination. Flex those muscles. If you have to go to work or do errands instead of writing, stretch out a bit and push your boundaries.

 

Ghostwriter Talks Creative Writing Tip 2: Scenario Building

This exercise goes a bit further than the previous one. Create outlandish scenarios in everyday situations. This is an especially fun game to play with youngsters in tow.

What if the trunk of that car is full of clowns?

What if she has a parrot stashed under her jacket that’s telling her what to say?

What if that ice cream truck driver is actually an associate of James Bond? (Or Gru from Despicable Me if you’re playing with kids).

Sounds silly? It sounds silly because it is silly and that is OK.

We should never forget that, as writers, our core function is a type of play. We make up stories. And who does that better than a child at play? Watch your kid create an elaborate story line with just a toy truck at his disposal. Be like that. Be childlike.

Ghostwriter Talks Creative Writing Tip 3: Push Your Comfort Level On Judgement:

This may be difficult to stomach, but I believe a critical aspect of becoming a good writer is pushing your comfort level when it comes to judgments. You need to go a step beyond what is is easy for most.

I honed this ability over fifteen years in social work. Sometimes the scenario I encountered in the office forced me to be a tad judgmental. I had to simply say out loud, “that is not a nice person”.

I don’t think you should do it all the time and certainly not regarding people that you care about. But the rich array of characters in your story will include unseemly sorts. How best do you do that?

Be bold in your observations.

A writer needs to create realistic characters. People are disagreeable, devious and often unreliable… among a trove of other nasty traits. I don’t advocate cruelty or unfairness but when you’re crafting realistic characters, you may need to get to a level of judgment that feels uncomfortable.

That place beyond comfort is precisely what you’re looking seeking. Without it, fiction is flat.

Need more tips? Still feeling stuck? Give me a call. Together we can work out a strategy to get you back on track.

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Will My Book Sell?

Will My Book Sell?

One of the constant struggles that writers find themselves embroiled in is the clash between craft and marketability. Often preliminary discussions about a manuscript, whether in the edit or ghostwriting phase, arrives at that very important question: After all of this work, will my book sell?

Any ghostwriter who pretends to have an easy answer to that question is sorely mistaken (or they’re overselling their abilities, we’ll tackle that later on). Even casual observers these days are armed with more marketing numbers and analytics than ever before, but still, we can never tell.

The element of surprise remains a strong part of the publishing game. No one knows what will hit and, consequently, no one can predict a miss either.

What I like to tell clients is that with a properly executed plan for their manuscript, we can narrow the wide range of outcomes. You wouldn’t build a house without an architect. You wouldn’t prepare a top shelf cut of meat without knowing cook temps and times.

Why would you attack your book publishing endeavor without a plan?

One of the pillars of a successful book is a properly handled manuscript. You simply cannot fool readers. Here is where the craft versus marketability argument becomes absurd.

These are not mutually exclusive. These two aspects are actually symbiotic. Attention to craft is the first and most critical element of marketability.

The second pillar I believe is defining your audience. It isn’t enough to say, my book is for “readers” or “fiction lovers”. I would go so far to say that simply targeting “fantasy” fans isn’t enough.

The book market is a buyers market and readers are savvy — very savvy. Everyone who buys off of Amazon or browses the shelves knows their search terms. Your reader knows the difference between “high fantasy” and “urban fantasy” and there is no way around this reality: you need to know it too.

The last pillar of a successful plan is to think in terms of quality and not quantity. I know a publisher out there (that will remain nameless) and they sell themselves as an all in one book publisher and marketer. How do they market their client’s books? Everyone that has worked with them tells the same story: they send out a single email blast that reaches a few hundred cold emails (and probably gets a few undeliverable kick backs too).

This never works. Never works. A few hundred cold emails is (almost) as worthless as sitting on your book. Just like readers, buyers know exactly what they want. If your dream editor isn’t taking submissions, there is no point in sending them a query email. It’s just annoying.

Similarly, if an editor is looking for “romance” and your “high fantasy” novel only peripherally involves love, don’t send them a query. You will only make them curse you.

Believe me. Go get a drink with a submissions editor and ask them their pet peeves. Blanket submissions are close to, if not the top of that list.

So to the question – Will my book sell? – to give yourself the best shot at success, have a plan. Be realistic. You’ are not the only person out there with a great book. Be the only one out there marketing their great book smartly.

Another thing you can do to increase your chances is to let a professional like me help guide you through the process. Experience counts so don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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How to edit your manuscript

How to edit your manuscript

Or not?

Recently, I wrote a post cautioning authors against the temptation to self edit your manuscript.

Although I stand by the idea that self-editing cannot replace the well executed professional development and content edit phase, I do think that the process plays an important role in the development of a successful manuscript. While you cannot fully develop a manuscript alone, you’re also working uphill if you choose to send material in without giving it your own critical read. Development is a matter of balance.

Here are a few tips on how you can self edit your manuscript to your best advantage.

Be Wise With Time:

This advice applies to every stage of the writing process, but none more so than here. A writer has to be wise with how they use their time. You need to make time to write. You also need time away from writing.

There is an important balance at play.

If your plan is to self edit your manuscript then take time away from it. Don’t edit a chapter the day after writing it. Don’t edit it a week after. Instead, allow the work time to breathe. Stand a step back.

Then when you’re ready, jump back in and make changes.

(Don’t) Be Hard On Your Work:

What I’m trying to get at is a measure of honesty. Be honest about the work. If your gut says it works, don’t overthink it and vice-versa. Trust your gut. If it doesn’t work on the page it’s likely time to make changes.

Again, it’s all about balance. Seems like we keep coming back to that theme.

If It’s Broken (Don’t) Try And Fix It:

This can be tricky for anyone. Creative people are born problem solvers.

The hope is that a proper self-edit will lead to the identification of problems. What do you do when you find a glaring plot hole in the story?

You fix it, of course. Get in there and get it done…

Not so fast though. Being hasty can aggravate a manuscript’s underlying problems. A quick fix is often just that. A gimmick. When your reader sits down with the book, they’ll be able to see a patch job.

Just because you identify the problem doesn’t mean you see the solution. These two are not necessarily linked items. Sometimes the solution takes a substantial amount of time to develop.

Give yourself that time. It’s worth it.

And when you’re ready, get in touch. You’ll be relieved that you followed all the right steps ahead of time.

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Good Ghostwriting Habits

ghostwriter

Bad Idea

Writing requires a lot of discipline. Good work comes out of practice and solid habits. One of the keys to a successful ghostwriting practice is to keep focused on what works.

Sometimes however, this can be easier said than done.

By necessity, ghostwriting assignments come with outside constraints. On your project, it’s easy to take time to imagine and develop. Good ideas come from staring out windows.

In ghostwriting though, someone else is handing you the story. Often all that wondering has already been done for you. It is the nature of the ghostwriter’s role to deliver.

Assignments come with strings attached. Word count benchmarks. Time constraints. I have been hired numerous times over the years, and never once was I handed an assignment based on my ability to daydream. I get hired because I can write and deliver.

Accepting these realities going into ghostwriting assignments is critical to success. It keeps your client’s work squarely on the front burner. It prevents unnecessary marathons. If there are, for example, five thousand words due in a week, it’s best to move forward in digestible chunks. No one wants to be stuck with all that in a single sitting.

It’s tough. And odds are if you’re put in that position, the writing will suffer.

Creating bad habits undermine good writing. They won’t allow you to deliver a good book. Rather than search for the right word and proper turn of phrase, you’re looking at the bottom right of your Word program. You’re doing a dreaded word count down.

You may get by delivering a manuscript that is merely competent. Is that what you want though? Is that what your client hired you for?

Good habits won’t go out the window because you scrambled for the finish line. It happens. But it can be dangerously easy to lose your discipline and break creative momentum.

Bad writing habits can too easily form in a ghostwriting scenario, if you aren’t careful. And if you’re working on your own project side by side, you’re doubly polluting your craft.

Place realistic word benchmarks in your contract. Set mindful time constraints. Create a map and do your best to work forward. Communicate the need for extra time, if necessary. That extra week is nothing compared to undoing lazy, uninspired text.

Looking to hire a ghostwriter? Contact me for a FREE consultation on your project.

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North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part III

Click on these links to read part one and part two of this blog series.

img_0307My name is fourth on the open mic list. At the podium, my voice shudders as I read. “What I’m Thinking About When You Describe How A Beehive Works.”

An open mic reading is an apropos end. I see many hand scribbled notes, poems and excerpts make it to the microphone. Shedding the polish from art feels good.

Ken Lethko announces the conference’s end. His voice is riddled with melancholy. This too feels refreshing. This was a labor of love for those who put the event on. Leaving for the weekend is difficult, which feels corny. I keep walking back in, looking for things I may have left behind.

img_0319I see the part of Crescent City that graces travel books. Down on Pebble Beach Drive at five on a September afternoon, the tattered coast begs for a confession. It wants me to mark the moment, so I take a selfie facing left. Then I take another facing right.

The bartender at Seaquake Brewing says I look like a writer to her. I search frantically for a wrinkle or stain on my shirt. All of her dinner recommendations are out of town, twenty or thirty minutes. One is an hour. More interesting than my dinner of Pad Thai and fishcakes is the ad hoc therapy session taking place in the booth next to me. I write a few choice moments in my notebook.

By 9AM I’m an hour down the road at the bartender’s favorite spot in Cave Junction. Already back in Oregon. Taylor’s a butcher shop/restaurant and for $5 my scrambled eggs, fresh sausage and toast are immaculate. I buy peach jam to bring home. I save raspberry for my next trip through. I need to figure out a way to thank that bartender for her recommendation.

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North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part II

To read the first of this three part blog series, click here.

img_0307Out of town conferences are to the writer what a local tour is for musicians. Time for strange beds. An occasion to sample of foreign delights.

My old man preached local. Ignore homogenized experience. I learned many of my travel habits from a few summer business trips with him as a twelve and thirteen year old.

My Air B&B room is in a house recently been ravaged by a fire. Mary is trying to put everything back together again. The only coffee in Crescent City at 6:00AM is a Starbucks. I look for singularity and settle on a man pacing back and forth in the half-empty strip mall parking lot wearing sweats while smoking a cigar.

The Writer’s Path is the theme for the 16th Annual North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference. As I glance around the library to the satellite campus of The College of the Redwoods, I count sixty other intrepid scribes who chose to blaze a path to this lazy intersection of lost coast and civilization.

img_0312I chose this conference because it seemed different. I don’t mind cattle calls and pitch events but it is nice to schedule time to explore the craft. None of the participants are here to sell a manuscript. This is about voice. Rather than how to, this conference is oriented toward why.

My first two courses are with Marsha de la O. Poetics of journey. The influence of landscape. Between classes is breezy. We tell bear stories. California black bear. I try to crack the code on Gary Snyder’s “Riprap” with a girl whose life travels are limited to a woman’s camp an hour east of Reno. We debate a sense of place. We scribble the definition of palimpsest.

Our lunch table discusses ghostwriting and poetry and the politics of craft beer. After our meal, I sit down to talk travel writing with Dahlynn McKowen. She’s been everywhere. She’s resourceful. My imagination drifts. Conferences are about sorting writing out. Subjects are cast out while others brought closer. You see how your writing path lays out. You follow it.

“Every day is a Wednesday,” McKowen says. “Get used to it.”

I love and hate this characterization. Then I write a few ideas, things I can see myself writing about on a bleary eyed Wednesday ten, twenty and thirty years from now.

The list is long. It winds down the page, crooked and navigable. Where I’m going is no straighter line than where I’ve been.

 

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North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part I

The Sandy Creek Bridge off Highway 42This was supposed to be the year I would branch out. So was last year.

No wonder September arrives before I eventually strike out for the North Coast Redwood Writer’s Conference.

The succession of rivers I cross runs from familiar banks where I was born, to more obscure names. Some sound made up. The Willamette. The Umpqua. The McKenzie. The Mighty Pudding River.

South of Eugene, Oregon, I break with I-5 out toward the coast on Highway 42. It is the Coquille River now, the many forks of which I cross on a sawtooth course southwest.

The same pale blue and gold lettered Jesus sign appears roadside every couple of miles. It feels as though a single, proselytizing soul was responsible for each one. My attention diverts. I look for one high enough on a hill to represent the original.

After thirty miles, the road branches onto Highway 42S and they’re gone.

Three classical music stations come in crystal clear in Bandon. I know I’m far from home when the Classical and Christian talk outlets are in a one-to-one ratio. Combined, they outnumber every other option.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, “I Hate Myself For Loving You” comes on as I pull into Tony’s Crab Shack along the half mile stretch of bayside, downtown parking. The line is long. The wait is longer. When my crab and shrimp melt on Texas toast arrives, I cannot complain.

A fog rolls off the coast as I approach Brookings. This is the last Oregon town before the border. Road construction forces traffic to stop over Taylor Creek. Suddenly, the DJ breaks in over Edgar Winter to talk about the local police blotter. He reads a list of petty crimes, so many more than when he started on-air eighteen years ago.

I wonder why. I turn the radio up. I am hopeful he’ll come to a conclusion, which turns out to be his idea that we all just need to say “yes ma’am” and “no sir” when we’re pulled over. As I pull away and change the station, I think, “This is the first fog I’ve seen since spring.”

Past the border, California 101 amounts to a casino followed by Pelican Bay State Penitentiary. A sign reads Crescent City 8 miles as the electrified fence angles back from the road, vanishing into the scrub pine.

On a map, an unvisited city is full of opportunity. As I pull into Crescent City though, a town I have not visited since a midnight romp through years ago, it feels odd. It’s a tired place that yearned to be more than a prison town. Yet, decades later, the deluge of tourists never arrived. All the coast art shacks faded and dusty. Fifty percent off.

Crescent City California is easy to navigate. After a couple of turns from the highway to the main road, I’m standing at a hair salon. It’s Lady Gaga at 4:14 PM.

“Who are you looking for?”

The hairdresser waits as I read the address and tell her a name.

“Oh, Mary?”

The woman in the stylist’s chair knowingly smiles.

“Yeah,” I reply. “She’s my Air B&B host for the night.”

“She don’t live here,” the hairdresser says, returning to work. “She’s next door.”

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Tips For Writing Conference Networking

No Matter Your Writer Goals, Behavior Dictates Success

Willamette Writer's ConferenceLast weekend was the 50th Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. I have attended this particular conference for going on eight years and I am consistently shocked by the way writers behave when they find themselves in confined spaces.

Some people get it. A majority do, actually. Others clearly don’t though. Four days in a hotel with your colleagues can be stressful even terror inducing. Don’t let it get to you.

Here are five tips to keep in mind before you attend your next conference.

Be Friendly

I’m always shocked at how the tried and true axiom “treat others the way you want to be treated” flies out the door in professional scenarios. It absolutely should not. These should be the moments this trait needs to come out to shine.

Talent is great. It’s enviable. People you meet have to want to work with you though. Are you acting like the kind of person who they’re going to want to call?

That impression begins the moment you walk into the conference room.

Don’t Be Over Polite

The flip side? Try and remain genuine. No one likes someone going over the top into phony. Holding doors and other obsequious behavior may get you into trouble.

Brand Yourself as Friendly & Helpful

While attending the Willamette Writer’s Conference I volunteer. Consequently, people associate me with some inner knowledge about the conference’s inner workings.

Even when my shifts are complete and I’m attending classes, people seek me out to ask questions. I don’t have to help but I do. Once again, it goes back to that age old axiom.

Don’t Get Star Struck

My father once said something very important to me when I was young and I keep it close to me now. Everyone you meet is just another person doing their job.

How I translate that in the conference scenario is, treat those agents and producers (and hotel staff pouring your drinks) like you would anyone else you encounter during your day.

That guy might be the perfect agent for your book but you know something? He’s probably thinking about the wife and dog he left at home. Or he’s just struggling to reach five o’clock.

Keep Your Mind Open

Remember your goal is connection. You may have your sights focused on signed with an agent or manager but you never know how that connection will happen.

It may not be during your assigned pitch session. Your long worked for break may come via someone you shared small talk with in a classroom.

Keep yourself open minded.

Subscribe to my blog today for more tips and pointers on the writer’s life.

Get in touch with me today for 20% off of your manuscript consultation. Just let me know how you found me in your first email!

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Manuscript Makeover

Ways To Love Re-Writing Your Novel

If you’re like most writers, completing your novel’s first draft is a cathartic experience. From story inspiration up through meticulous plot and character development and execution, story creation is a special act, regardless of level of experience.

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Erick MertzManuscript Makeover
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