Writing

The secret to growing your blog’s audience

Every single successful blogger will happily tell you the most common question they receive. There’s a key mystery at the heart of their lives that they seem to have solved, while the rest of us are utterly bewildered:

 How do I grow my blog’s readership?

 It’s a question I heard articulated most recently by Glennon Doyle Melton on the Big Magic podcast. Melton is the New York Times bestselling author of two memoirs, plus the creator of the online community Momastery, which has millions of followers. Melton’s path to success is compelling. An former drug addict and alcoholic, Melton changed her life when she fell pregnant with her first son. Then, something crazy happened. She began blogging. But she blogged with fierce, abundant honesty. She talked about the pressures of being a mother, coping with past wounds and navigating the terror of everyday life. Her blog - gradually, over time - began to grow.

 She has the dream blogging career. These days, her memoir is promoted by Oprah and she’s touring the world.

 When people ask her about growing her blog readership, she keeps it simple. Analytics, keywords and the other guff can come and go, but the real key is pretty simple:

 Serve the audience you already have.

 If you have a dozen people reading what you write, that’s a dozen people taking time out of there day to engage with you. That’s pretty huge. That’s a responsibility, and you want to take care of them. Worry less about catching people you do have. Focus more on the people you do, and making sure to serve them. They, after all, are your biggest fans. If you look after them, they will do the marketing for you.

 Other successful bloggers such as Seth Godin and Tim Ferris point to this simple key as well. Look after the readership you do have, don’t worry about the readership you don’t. Ask yourself what your readers want from you. If you don’t know, ask.

 Jennifer McDonald’s followed a similar path with My Big Breast Adventure. The blog began as a simple exploration of her recovery from breast cancer. The full-throated honesty and conversational tone meant a dedicated audience that began to grow. Now, Jen’s looking to make the blogs a book - something she had barely considered when she began writing.

 Check out Jen’s crowd-funding campaign for My Big Breast Adventure here.

Six Sensual Suggestions for Writing Sex Scenes

Here at For Pity Sake Publishing, things are getting a little steamy. We’re preparing for the release of Diana Thompson’s new romance work Unbridled Passion, which is now available for pre-order. We’ve already spent some time with Nick the hunky vet and Jordana, his beautiful lover. Unbridled Passion may just be even raunchier than Diana’s previous work, Winterflood’s Passion (which you can buy here!), and the whole thing has got us thinking, frankly, about sex. Here are some top tips for writing sex scenes, inspired by Diana’s fantastic work.

  1. Vocabulary is everything

There’s a science to describing anatomy. The writer wants terms that are accurate but not clinical. Some romance publishers have strict suggestions on what words can and can’t be used. Variety certainly helps, as the repetition of any single word can be tiring and break the reader’s attention. But similarly, too much variety and the work borders on absurd.

  1. Don’t be afraid of their bits

Describing his ‘member’ is likely to illicit more giggles than just telling us about his ‘cock’. Describing her arousal as a ‘blossoming flower’ is more likely to have the reader rolling their eyes than just telling us that she can feel hserself beginning to become wet. So don’t be afraid to name something for what it is. Balls, breasts, butts, nipples, clits, labias, shafts…when it comes to sex scenes, metaphor and simile can sometimes get in the way of the story.

  1. What does the sex tell us about the characters?

Sex scenes aren’t just about people doin’ it. It’s also about the relationship between the two characters. Sex reveals a lot about who’s in charge, who’s feeling more playful, who’s feeling ashamed, who’s feel confident, and more. The writer can treat sex scenes as a giant metaphor for how two characters interact. Are they quick, fierce and full of passion? Or are they slow, sensual and in complete adoration of each other? Do they flirt at the edge of violence? Does he take control, or does she? Or does it shift at some point? There’s a lot to play with.

  1. Use the environment

Settings are half the fun. Don’t let the characters get so involved with each other’s bodies that you forget the environment around you. Scenes in beds are absolutely fine, but if you’re going for several sex scenes in your work, you’ll want to switch things up. Try outdoors, in different rooms of the house, or anywhere your heart (and loins) desire.

  1. No two scenes are the same

With all of the above, keep in mind that no two scenes should be the same. There’s no real point in making two scenes identical. What’s changed for the characters from one scene to the next? Where are they and how are they feeling? Consider the journey of the relationship and their comfort with each other. Are they more daring? Or more guarded?

  1. If you’re turned on, it’s working

In fact, if you’re not turned on, something’s wrong. Trust that if it works for you, it’ll work for your reader too.

The Cost of Self-Publishing

How much money will I spend self-publishing? The short answer is: more than you expect.

Self-publishing has a lot of advantages, the biggest of which is the writer having complete and total control over his or her own product. This also means the responsibility of publishing the book is entirely on their shoulders, and that can come with a financial burden.

For many authors, self-publishing is a by-product of writing. It’s not so much the goal of writing but more a bonus side-effect. You may write something for joy, therapy or intrigue, and then put it out into the world with little care of how it succeeds. If that’s the case, you’re an incredibly rare breed of writer.

The rest of us want to know our work is being read. And we like seeing some money coming through. Many of us don’t expect to be break-out famous (you can’t expect that, it’ll ruin you), but we’d at least like to see some growth in our readership as we slowly build a career.

The trouble is, a lot of self-published writers don’t know what they’re doing. They need to act as web masters, distribution experts, publicists, marketers, cover designers, editors, accountants and more. All of this rather gets in the way of writing, which many would argue is close to a full time job in itself. There are many self-published authors who enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit that is required to grow a decent readership following. You need to have a deep lust for learning, and be patient enough to know that a huge amount of effort is unlikely to yield a significant return in the short term. You’ve got to be in it for the long game.

Trouble is, inexperienced self-published writers can put time and money into the wrong areas. The sheer volume of time it takes to learn about a lot of the skills you’ll require is mind-numbing. You’re likely to get bored and impatient. So you’ll spend money to speed the process up. You might sink a thousand dollars into a book cover design, but end up with a result you’re not happy with (because you’ve never briefed a cover designer before, and you don’t know how book covers fit into the marketplace). You can blow hundreds of dollars on building a website that doesn’t work the way you want it to and crashes every two weeks. You can put a lot of time and money into social media but have no growth in your community. And after all of this, your book may come out with typos, or struggle to be reviewed in the press, or simply float in the atmosphere, never finding a reader.

It’s enough to make you want to give up.

For Pity Sake Publishing is a sincere attempt to help writers. We’re a team of editors, marketers and publicists who can help provide you with the legitimacy and skills of a traditional publisher, while still allowing you more control than authors are used to. Yes, we will probably ask you to kick in some cash, but our belief is the cash is going to be less than what you would spend if you attempted to trek in the wilderness by yourself. In return, you get greater financial control and more say in the artistic outcome of your work. We want to give writers a platform that they can’t give themselves for less money and time than it would take to self-publish – all the while making the final product the very best it can be.

Our starting point for this is our Manuscript Appraisal Service, where you can submit your work to us, and we can open a discussion.

Three Essential Tips for Writing Memoir

Memoirs are magic. Reading the story of another person’s life brings can be some of the greatest acts of intimacy that art is capable of achieving. At their most powerful, great memoirs bring comfort, for they are often lighthouses on our own turbulent journeys through crisis. To read how someone else navigated their illness, divorce, injury or trauma can be a fundamental part of how we heal ourselves.

But of course, when we’re writing them, we don’t know that. It’s impossible to tell, from the writer’s side of the fence, just how a memoir will affect its readers. The memoirist can only compile the pieces of their story and attempt to sew them together. It’s often an emotional and difficult process.

Some of you may already have been inspired by Jennifer McDonald’s Vegetarian Vampires, which marries anecdotal memoir with a modern day secular spiritual text. Jennifer’s next book, released very soon, will be derived from her incredibly popular blog The Big Breast Adventure, which is the upfront account of how she navigated her breast cancer diagnosis. With these works in mind, we have three essential tips for writing memoir.

Don’t forget your reader
First drafts of memoir can often be over-stuffed with extraneous info. When you’re just starting to stretch your muscles and get used to the idea of telling your story, you’ll want to put in everything. Often, re-drafting a memoir is an act of cutting and re-shaping the work to keep the reader in mind. The reader won’t need to know a lot of the information that you see as an inevitable part of your story. The reader, like all readers, will want to be entertained and enthralled. So from the rough foundations of your first drafts, you’ll likely need to start thinking very differently about your story. What’s important to the reader? What’s the emotional connection? What’s funny, inspiring or revelatory? Memoir is, of course, about you, but it’s equally about the reader.

What’s true and what’s real
While you’re keeping the reader in mind, you may be forced to make editorial decisions that stray away from what was ‘real’. Frequently, for example, two characters may become one. Or a week of blank time may become truncated into a day. The names (or even genders and physical descriptions) of some people in your life may change when they find their way to the page. In this way, reality is altered but the truth of the story remains the same. Often these decisions come about to make your story simpler. Sometimes they can also be employed to avoid legal entanglements. This line in the sand is tricky to navigate for some. Take James Frey’s ‘A Million Little Pieces’, famously set ablaze by Oprah’s Book Club when certain scenes from the ‘memoir’ were found to have never taken place. On the other hand, you have famous works such as Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’, celebrated and sold as a piece of fiction, but which is entirely a very thin veil of his actual life.

Overall, the lesson to take away from this is to be careful with the truth. But you can be relaxed, at least a little, with what’s real. Character’s names, or locations or details may change, but the truth of the story must remain intact. Otherwise, it’s a work of fiction.

Embrace your voice
The success or failure of a memoir often relies on the author’s voice. Jen’s works, for example, are incredibly conversational and direct. One of the most famous and successful memoirists of our time, Stephen Fry, has an incredibly unique tone. We read these works not only for the story, but for the voice of the story-teller sharing it. We want to feel close to the person telling the story. We want to be an old, trusted friend, sitting at the bar with the author as they spin us a tale.

So attempts to hide your voice in impressive literary technique, or dry historical fact, are ultimately going to make your memoir limp. Think of the work as a story you would tell an old friend. Embrace your sense of humour and your pattern of speech. Your reader’s will be grateful.

 

You can purchase Vegetarian Vampires here, or read The Big Breast Adventures here. I also happen to have written a memoir, How to Be Happy, and it’s available for purchase here.

 

Five Rules for Writing Historical Fiction

With the second season of the Outlander series now gripping the world, and with the re-release of not one but two of Peter Yeldham historical fiction novels only days away, it seems fair to say that historical fiction is now very much in vogue. It seems we’ve monkey-swung from sparkly vampires (Twilight) to titillating BDSM (Fifty Shades of Grey) to re-examining our collective past. In truth, historical fiction never really went out of vogue. Technically speaking, the vast majority of Shakespeare’s works were historical fiction. It could be said even our most basic folk lore (Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, etc.) are a kind of proto-historical fiction that harkens back to a generic fairytale time tinged with nostalgia.

Still, there’s never been a better time to be a historical fiction author, and we’re thrilled to publish quite a few. But before you put pen to paper, you might want to consider a few critical tips that we’ve learned from reading our award-winning authors.

Researching and Reading Research is obviously incredibly important when writing historical fiction. There’s no quicker way to alienate a reader than to make them stop believing in the authenticity of the world you’re trying to create. So research and read. A lot. Read historical accounts of the time, and even dig into other historical fiction that’s focussed on similar eras of history.

Researching and Talking If you’re able to actually talk to living survivors of your chosen historical era, don’t be shy in asking to sit down and have a chat. A minute in conversation can illuminate areas that history books simply can’t tell you. The colour of the wallpaper, or the smell of a place, or the daily, mundane routines that shaped their (and your characters) lives.

Researching and other reading An extremely helpful tip comes from Elizabeth Gilbert, award-winning author of Eat, Pray, Love, as well as critically acclaimed historical fiction The Signature of All Things. While it’s valuable to read history books, it can be even more helpful to read documents, novels or journals that were written in the specific time period that you’re setting your work in. This will tell you so much about the lexicon of the age, along with the concerns, dialogue and details of your characters.

Know when to stop researching This is the trickiest bit. Some historical novels feel more historic than novel, and can be too dense a read to be truly pleasurable. Always remember that your novel still has to operate under the same laws as any genre, and needs to create a compelling story with intriguing characters. The research will only take you so far. If you’re on the right track, you’ll usually feel a mounting sense of excitement as you’re researching, and there will simply come a point where you’re desperate to write. So write! The research will be there when you need it, and you can always return to hunt for extra details.

Be Authentic to the Politics of the Time …while not being too offensive to modern sensibilities. This is tricky, and most complicated around gender politics. Times past are often incredibly violent places to write about, and women are often treated abhorrently. It’s important to be authentic to this, and not create a rose-tinted version of the past that readers will find too sickly sweet. On the other hand, every reader has a line, and so much of narrative is frequently about the under-dog becoming a hero. Claire in Outlander is a classic example, who is subject to the subjugation of her time, but constantly subverts the gender norms for wonderfully entertaining results. Peter Yeldham often places an under-dog at the centre of the story, who is able to see with greater moral clarity than most of his peers.

Don’t know where to start reading? Why not try Peter Yeldham’s fantastic historical fiction around World War 2 in Above the Fold . Or if you’re in the mood for more sparkly vampires, you might be interested in Jennifer McDonald’s take on how Edward Cullen brought about a spiritual awakening in her memoir Vegetarian Vampires. Then again, you may be more into the Fifty Shades of Grey trend and want some page-turning romance. In that case, try Winterflood’s Passion by Diana Thompson.

 

Ideas

As an amateur writer, I am constantly coming up with new ideas for stories or blogs. The note section on my phone is filled with obscure one-liners and vague ideas waiting to be utilized. I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying a small notebook with me wherever I go, and dashing down whatever ideas pop into my head. Generally, they’re fairly obscure ideas that need to be heartily developed before they even come close to making sense. But sometimes, they’re massive ideas that have so much potential I can’t even believe they’ve come out of my brain. I think one of the hardest things about being a writer is accepting the fact that sometime an idea is simply lacking. It doesn’t matter how much work you may put into it, you can pour your heart and soul into a story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be any good. It’s all about the idea. The idea is the structure that has to carry your words on its back. It’s like a house, without a solid foundation it will crumble, and who can blame it?

While writing a ten-page script for my screenwriting class this semester, I discovered the importance of a strong idea. We were asked to develop the idea for our screenplays in the first few weeks of the semester, and I struggled, finding every idea I developed to be too long-winded or convoluted to fit within the word-length provided. So, I followed the simple path, choosing a more simplistic idea in the hope that I could make it both spectacular, and fit it within the guidelines (the joke was on me when it ended up being  five pages over the limit, leading me to spend a frantic three days attempting to cut it down). My story was focused on one key character, Henry. It was basically a four-day story about the terrible life of Henry, a man haunted by the criticism and hatred of his mother, struggling to make his way through his menial life. It’s not until he has a major breakdown on the train to work that he snaps and begins to be present in his own life, no longer letting bad memories of the past stop him from living.

As I said, my idea was simple. This simplicity was reflected in my feedback, where my teacher questioning the motivation for Henry’s sudden change of attitude. At first, I was insulted, I’d put almost a month’s worth of work into this ten-page fiend and my teacher is now telling me he doesn’t get it, seriously? But then I thought about it, and yeah, I put a lot of work into the assignment, and the writing was good, really good actually (not to toot my own horn, but after a month of work it had better be good, right?) but it wasn’t the writing that my teacher was commenting on, it was the idea. Henry’s story seemed unrealistic because it was. The idea itself was flawed and there was no way to fix that besides changing the entire concept.

I think there’s a kind of clarity in realising the importance of an idea. We all know that you can’t please everyone. Some people may love your work and other may hate it, but usually that can be chalked up to the fact that this world is made up of billions of people all of which have very varied opinions and preferences. For me, accepting the importance of the idea has taught me to doubt myself less. Previously, when getting bad reviews or feedback, I used to doubt my writing, spinning myself into a self-deprecating hole and telling myself that the only way to improve was to focus on the words themselves. But this isn’t necessarily true. It’s clear to me now that sometimes it doesn’t matter how brilliant the writing is if the idea is complete and utter trash.

 

Originally posted on annablackie.com 

The Art of Lying

I lied a lot as a kid. I think it stemmed from my paralysing fear of being in trouble, or disappointing others (I am a people pleaser, after all). I was usually caught out when I lied though, my downfall lay in the elaborate nature of the stories I told. I would begin with a simple enough lie, and then build on it until it was too ridiculous to be taken seriously. When I was younger, before my brother James was in the picture, I used to spend long weekends and holidays with my grandparents in Canberra. My grandpa Jim was the perfect companion for me on these trips. He was a menace, just like me. He’d entertain me by letting me play him in chess, teaching me his own unique set of rules (to this day I still play chess Jim-Blackie style).

I think the best example of my outrageous lying revealed itself on one of my trips to Canberra. Grandma had made one of her specialty chocolate cakes; it had sat on the table all afternoon, staring at me tantalizingly.  Grandma had made me promise not to touch the cake until after dinner, but Grandpa and I were struggling to keep our promise. Finally, we convinced each other to have a slice, hoping that maybe Grandma wouldn’t notice. Of course, later, when Grandma came into the kitchen and found almost half the cake missing, she knew exactly who the culprits were. When she asked me who had eaten it, I told her, ‘It was the Brown Bear’. I explained that a giant brown bear had found its way out of the forest across the road from my Grandparents home, broken in through the back window, come into the kitchen and eaten half the cake, then stopped as the bear didn’t want to ruin his figure. After this the Brown Bear became a fixture in my grandparents’ home, whenever something was broken or went missing, the bear would be to blame.

I think my propensity for long-running, elaborate lies was part of the reason I started writing. Once you get a story down on the page it’s a lot easier to see where its flaws are. After many, many years of writing terrible, unrealistic stories, I finally learnt how to control a plot without letting it get completely out of control. For me I think lying was a fundamental tool in exploring my creativity. It allowed me to create stories before I even really knew I was doing it.

 

 

Originally Posted on The Musings of a Blackie on the 15th of June, 2015. 

Is it a thing?

I see a lot of manuscripts. Even when I don’t advertise myself as an editor, just being in the general publishing/writing business means people search you out for an opinion. This means I’ve read a great deal of ‘draft zeroes’. Draft zeroes are the drafts that don’t usually see the light of day. They’re a sketch, an idea, a whisper - and for most professional writers extremely private. I consider it a great honour to read these very early drafts, although it’s really none of my business. At that early stage, the work is a private conversation between the writer and the ephemeral creative genius. Editors should stay out of it. Nevertheless, an emerging writer will often venture a draft zero out into the cold light of day because they have questions. It’s the most common question I’ve ever been asked in an editorial capacity. The answer to this question can utterly demolish or make a career. It’s harder to think of a more important question.

‘Is it a thing?’

Now, what does that even mean? ‘A thing’? When a writer asks you this what they’re really asking is, ‘is it good enough to be real’?

Is it legitimate? Is it valid?

Well let me go ahead and spoil this question for you right now. I’ve never ever in my life been asked this question and said ‘no, it’s not a thing’. Ever. And I don’t anticipate I ever will. I’ve only ever said ‘yes’.

This is not because I’ve only ever read genius manuscripts. I haven’t. I’ve read some truly awful work. Really, just plain terrible. But that’s a value judgement on my part. And value judgements have no place in a draft zero. It’s entirely the writer’s business. Most of my draft zeroes are awful. All draft zeroes are not great - of course they’re not! They’re the hot fevered writing of someone in the grips of an exciting idea. That doesn’t rule it out as a valid gateway to your publishing career.

The fact of the matter is, the weird Fairy Godmother of whatever creative spirit came down and whispered in your ear, and demanded enough of your attention to actually get you to write something down. That means it’s a thing. Of course it’s worthy. Of course it’s real. Of course you can join the club if you want to. It came to you, it’s yours!

Now whether it will be published, heavily edited, anthologised or shift medium is a different thing entirely. Writing is a journey, most often a longer one than you expect. It can be rewarding, but it’s hard work. But the most common obstacle isn’t the hard work. The hard editing work is surprisingly thrilling for a lot of writers. The main obstacle is that people don’t just keep going with their draft zero. They get afraid, or convince themselves that they’re too busy, and the ‘special creative project I’ll return to one day’ sits in a drawer for years gathering dust.

The point is keep going. Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, it’s valid. Don’t doubt yourself or scare yourself off. Keep going. Seriously, listen to me. I can’t emphasise this enough. Just keep going. Writing is a marathon, and your biggest obstacle is yourself.

I say all of this because there was a time at university where I showed a few pages to a friend. I asked ‘Is it a thing?’

And she said, ‘Yes!’

And that’s pretty much how I started wanting to write professionally.

It wasn’t until five or so years later when I  actually believed in myself enough to not show people draft zero. I had enough confidence to keep me going through the draft zero process to the other side, where I would begin to mould and sculpt the weird creative mess I had created - THEN I would show people. And the question wasn’t ‘Is this a thing?’ because I knew it was. The questions were far more interesting and useful like, ‘Do I have too many characters?’ or ‘Am I losing momentum in the second act?’ or ‘Is my intention as clear as it can be?’

The only reason anyone ever got published is because they believed in their writing enough to know it was a thing.

So take it from me. It’s a thing. Go write.

 

Want to read more like this? Check out Dave's blog: http://www.daveburton.com.au/