Home > Writing > Overcoming Random Writing Pitfalls

Overcoming Random Writing Pitfalls

It occurred to me that I’ve been blogging for a while now and the value of my blogs to my fellow writers might not have been as helpful as it has been in the past. Oh sure, I’m trying to share what I learn as I fight my way into the industry, but I’m contacted fairly regularly by people who are at the beginning phases and are desperate for help in trying to achieve their dreams.

First a disclaimer: I’m still reaching for my dreams, I’m not there yet. What are my dreams? Making writing my day job. I know some people who have reached that point though, and without exception they are stand up people that I’d be happy to spend time with. I’m working on it though and to that point I’ve made my way up to over 150 books sold a month, including some wonderful people in Europe. So take my advice as my opinions only. These tricks and tips work for me, but maybe the won’t for you. Even if they don’t I encourage you to read them with an open mind and see if maybe they might spawn some out of the box idea that will help you when you’re in a bind. With that said, on to the questions:

I want to write a book about such-and-such, but I don’t know how to start it!

This is an easy one for me. Make yourself the main character. Sure, it can be a little awkward if the main character is significantly different from yourself, but I’m not suggesting you dress like the character or anything. Just put yourself in that character’s shoes. Once you’ve accomplished that, figure out what the character is going to be doing at any given point and then start writing about it. Ideally your story should start with an explosion. Not necessarily a literal one, but some event or scene with instant excitement that has the reader hooked as quickly as possible. As an example, a book I’m editing right now (Traitor, the sequel to The Lost Girls) starts with my main character out shopping with a friend when she spots a suspicious couple. She trails them, convinced that the girl is under duress and the guy is going to do something particularly nasty to her. This is confirmed when she discovers they’ve slipped into a restricted section of the mall behind a locked door. Out comes the badge and the gun – my main character’s in her prime now, this is what she lives for.

I’ve been working on a story but I’m stuck!

This happens to me too. I deal with it in different ways. Some times I need to shelve the book for a little bit and work on something else. My subconscious keeps working on it though and at some point it forces its way back into the foreground and says, “Since you can’t figure this out, I did it for you – now write this!”

Other times I need to reread it and revise it. My original plans for Wanted involved a lot more happening in that first book. There was supposed to be one character running away from the others who then got “rescued” by a scary group of people. Convinced he needed to win their trust he’d try to become one of them and betray his former companions, all the while that former group would be searching for him. I got stuck though – it didn’t make sense and I couldn’t figure out a way around it. Rather than load it full of BS that I wouldn’t buy I took a step back and then realized I had the perfect solution. It required me blowing away over 8,000 words of the story, then rewriting it so that it ended a lot sooner than I’d first planned. It was a much better story at that point though. Readers agree – Wanted outsells every other book I have by at least a ratio of 4:1 and I regularly get feedback praising the book. In fact, I got so much positive feedback I was compelled to write a sequel called Ice Princess.

So my advice for this is to make sure you’re not forcing something that doesn’t work. Rather than trying to pound that square peg in a round hole see if maybe you should change things so that it fits better. It might not be what you wanted, but if you keep an open mind you’ll probably be a lot happier with the finished product.

I wrote a book, but it’s unpublished and I don’t know what to do with it!

It used to be that was the case of a lot of people with good stories to tell. These days publishing is changing. A lot. I’ve been trying to get people to read my stuff via the Internet since the early 90s – unfortunately I didn’t know how to write back then so it was a crap shoot at best for me. These days I’m a much better writer and there are all sorts of opportunities for people who are willing to publish both digitally and via print. A few print on demand companies exist that are affordable, if you feel you must see your book in print (Createspace, Lightning Source, Lulu, and others). I use Createspace myself, though I often get angry when doing so for a variety of reasons I won’t go into. To be honest, those reasons are likely to be my own quirks as much as they are problems with the company. Worth mentioning is that I only get the print version of the books for either giveaways or for gifts to those who aren’t interested in an e-reader.

Ebooks, on the other hand, are the way of the future. Print books will never go away, but they have been showing steady declines in sales compared to their digital counterparts. Likewise using a POD service will most likely not get you through the doors and into major bookstore retailers. With an ebook that is not the case! Amazon and Barnes and Nobles both have massive online presence catering to their ereaders. I prefer the Kindle myself, but that’s only because I haven’t played with the Nook. I have friends who prefer the Nook from Barnes and Noble. In either case, as a writer you can self-publish your work via Amazon’s KDP site or the Barnes and Noble PubIt website. Alternatively there’s Smashwords, another great epublishing site that will also reach out to both Amazon and Barnes and Nobles, as well as many other distribution channels. Only problem with Smashwords is the delay in getting royalties from the downstream e-tailers.

That’s all there is to it – just self-publish and watch the success come rolling in!

Or wait, maybe it’s not so simple. What about cover art for the book? Editing? Marketing and promotion? Yeah, it’s a lot more complicated than I’d ever realized. That’s one of the backbones of my blog, my exploration into the trials of publishing. It can be done on your own and it can be done at very low cost. Or if you want some help you can try to find one of the many publishing companies that have sprung up recently. I’ve got one too that I co-own with a friend and fellow writer. She’s also a wickedly good editor, with added emphasis on the “wicked”. She wields that red pen like a scythe some days. Anyhow, if you think you’ve got a good enough book and want to send it our way, stop by our website at http://www.novelconceptpublishing.com and click on submissions. We focus on filling in the holes we experienced with other publishers – bad communication, poor business intelligence info, infrequent royalty payments, and a lack of marketing / promotion to say the least. Oh, and the author keeps 70% – 75% of the royalties. We’re here to help each other out, not to get rich off of someone else’s hard work.

Those are the three big questions I see the most – at least among questions not centered around me or my own work. And since this isn’t about me, there’s no reason to bother anyone with that Q & A. I’m happy to field more questions though! If you’ve got them post them as a comment or send me an email (jason@booksbyjason.com). I love helping other writers out – it helps me out just as much.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

  1. October 31, 2011 at 12:36

    What do you think of putting an add on facebook? Any advice or do you know anyone who has? Is there a way of placing an add that really is worth the money?

    • October 31, 2011 at 12:45

      My only experience with ads at this point is on Goodreads. I believe that was a HUGE waste of money. I only dropped $50, but definitely not worth it.

      I don’t know about Facebook, but I’ve read from a few others that it is also wasteful. Personally, I’m very ad-resistant and I know that I completely ignore any ads I see on Facebook. Sometimes, in fact, I am so crotchety that I may even personally boycott a product I see advertised there. But then again I’ve also yet to see a decent product advertised on Facebook, so I think people may consider them a bad thing like I do.

  2. October 31, 2011 at 12:38

    Also, is it self distruction to write in more than one genre?

    • October 31, 2011 at 12:51

      I sure hope not! I’ve written science fiction, fantasy, romance, and mystery / detective! I’d be shooting myself in the foot if I felt that way. Sure, most (not all) of my stories have some cross-over, but people read stories / genres they like first, authors they like second. My take on that is that people may like my sci-fi stuff and will continue to read sci-fi stuff. They won’t hold it against me that I wrote a fantasy book – in fact they may even try it out because I wrote it.

      They key to remember is that with a new genre you’ve also got a new target audience. Trying to ram your new book down the throat of an existing reader base may not get you much return. Finding a new audience that is interested, however, will get you the interest you want AND probably expose new people to your writing, which mighty get them looking into your other genre books.

      I strongly believe in diversification, both in managing finances as well as in writing!

  1. November 1, 2011 at 08:28

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