Sunday, June 23, 2013

Climbing for Competence

So, way back in the 1970's, some psychologist named Noel Burch got this theory about how people learn things that he called THE FOUR STAGES OF COMPETENCE. Though two of them are actually stages of INCOMPETENCE. Whatever.

According to this theory, learning only begins when you figure out that you stink at something.

The first stage of competence, or incompetence, is what Burch called Unconscious Incompetence. You can't do something and you don't even know you can't do it. The scary thing is, unless you clue in to the fact that you can't do it, you'll be stuck in this stage forever.

The second stage is Conscious Incompetence. Now you know you're bad. Like the time I joined my daughter during free skate after her weekly skating lessons and ended up mopping the ice with my backside so many times the instructor came over to ask if I was all right. Before I got out on that ice I had no idea that I was so pathetic. After I tried it, both me and the largest muscle group in my body were very well aware of my incompetence.

Next comes Conscious Competence. At this stage, you're getting somewhere. You've studied, practiced, done whatever it takes to get out of incompetence mode. But it still requires a lot of effort to perform. You have to think, focus, and fight your way through (I, uh, never got to this stage in ice skating because I haven't put on a pair of skates since that day I hit stage two).

The final, most glorious stage is Unconscious Competence. Now you've been doing this thing for so long, it comes naturally. You don't have to think about it too much anymore, like walking, or speaking your native language.

Now I'd like to add my theory, which is called THE FOUR STAGES OF WRITING COMPETENCE (OR INCOMPETENCE).

Unconsciously incompetent writers have no idea that there's anything wrong with their writing. In fact, if you try to tell them something is wrong, they won't listen.

Consciously incompetent writers have moved up a step. Now they know they don't have the skills they want. They may feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and disillusioned.

The consciously competent writer has to work hard to produce good stuff.Writing isn't always fun, but something of quality is coming out.

Last of all, at the stage we all envy and admire, the unconsciously competent writer makes it look easy. Genius flows from their mind to their fingertips to the keyboard. They've mastered the craft, and can pop out two or three novels a year without  breaking a sweat.

And now for the point I'd really like to make. TOO MANY WRITERS ARE STUCK IN THE STAGES OF INCOMPETENCE BECAUSE THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO CLIMB TO THE NEXT LEVEL. They don't even know that they can.

I'm here to tell you that you can climb. Here's how.

First, let me clarify that all writers are at different stages when it comes to different skills. A writer might have reached unconscious competence when it comes to prose style, but still not have a clue how to create sympathetic characters.

The first step is to admit that there might be something lacking in your writing. Then go out and find out what it is. Asking other people for help at this stage is essential because remember, you can't even tell that something is wrong. You need to ask the right people for help, though. There will be plenty of friends who will tell you that your writing is all wonderful. Others might gleefully point out every flaw and make you feel stupid for trying. Pure gold is a someone who will help you see clearly what's good and what needs improvement, with the attitude that you can fix whatever is broken.

Once you've picked out some writing skill you need to work on, you've made the first leap. Now you're consciously incompetent. Congratulations! This is a great place to be. It's all up from here. But it's going to take study and work. Do some research. Read authors who have mastered the skill you seek. Ask others how they do it. Try new things. Keep at it until you get it. And you will. Trust me.

So now you've got it. But it doesn't come easy. You are consciously competent. You have to think about doing it right, or it doesn't happen. That's okay. Keep practicing. All you need to do now is keep going, and you'll eventually get to the point where this thing you're working on is a part of you.

And now at last you've made it. That thing you couldn't do at the start is as easy as breathing in and out. Guess what! Time to pick a new writing skill to work on.

The very good news is, no matter what you can't do now, you can learn to do in the future. All you have to do is realize what's missing, study and work at it, and then practice until it becomes second nature. It's a never-ending upward spiral.

Now I'm not saying you have to get EVERYTHING right before you publish. Writing fiction is such a complex process, with so many facets, there's always more to learn no matter who you are. Once you've mastered three or four major areas, you're probably ready to go. But finding success in publishing isn't only about skill. There's some luck involved too.

While you're waiting for your luck to arrive, keep climbing the stairs.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

a Baby's Life for Me and a Bottle of Milk!

I love my baby toes!

Roughly nine months ago, I decided to take a break from writing. My little one was born recently. Cute and healthy! My writing projects have taken a backseat for a bit, it has been difficult setting time aside for them.

I did manage to update my website with a handful of books coming soon! I created the covers for them (below). Can you see my daughter and her friend in Hidden? It was fun taking it! As for RockStar and Eros, those took me about 3 house a piece. Kursed was also accepted by PDMI Publishing--the cover which I created a few weeks ago took me over 12 hours as I had documented it for prosperity's sake! I will reveal that soon!

PDMI has also hired me as their in-house illustrator! Yay! So excited. Also wondering how I'll manage to keep up with a new baby ...

My current project is to finish my YA inspirational, Baby's Breath (I plan to use my baby and teengirl as covermodels!)--about a young girl who finds herself  unexpectedly pregnant. She hides her growing belly and becomes terrified as desperation blinds her. My love for babies has spurred me to write this and it is my intention for my royalties to assist Project Cuddle in their goal for rescuing unwanted babies. I'm really excited about this and hope to find time to write this in between baby and hyper kids at home before the upcoming school year arrives!

What are your projects? I'd love to hear how you accommodate your love of writing!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Blog Tours and How To Screw Them Up Pt. 2

A quick moment of self promotion: I've got another book out! Love in Darkness, the sequel to Castles on the Sand is out and $.99 this week.
Alex had everything when he was with Madison. But the darkness within him wouldn't go away. After two years apart, he returns to Pelican Bluffs and to the girl he never wanted to leave. 
Madison wants to give their love another chance, but Alex can't fight fate. He is what he is. Ruined. Crazy like his mother. And Madison deserves so much more. When his secrets spill out into their small town, Alex has a choice to make. Hide away in the darkness forever, or let love in.
Head on over to any major book retailer for your copy!

And now on to the second installment in my series about how not to treat book bloggers or conduct a blog tour. Part One is here. Again, I'll use the same outline as my friend, noted book blogger, Ritesh Kala, used in his I'm a Blogger... series. Today I'll go over the points he made in I'm a Blogger... pt. 2.

In this post, Ritesh gets a little more general about what to do when publicizing a book anywhere, so it's got a broader focus than just blog tours, but nevertheless, the advice applies to blog tours as well.

6. Put Out A Good Book: Everyone, not just book bloggers, is tired of slogging through badly written, badly edited books. For this, let me take a business person's perspective. As far as the arts goes, novels and publishing are one of THE CHEAPEST types of venture. Think about it. Would you try to produce a film without getting the right camera, the right editing equipment, and putting your best foot forward to film festivals? Even with all the advances in digital filmmaking, it's pricey. Consider painting, or music, or quilting, or... well, you name it. In comparison publishing is pretty darn affordable. Do not try to break in for free. Invest in yourself, and I'd suggest setting aside a budget of $1,500 to spend on 1) editing 2) copyediting 3) cover design 4) formatting 5) publicity and marketing. If that dollar figure makes you choke, then indie publishing isn't for you. If you don't think you can sell enough books to make that money back, then your book isn't ready for prime time.

A publisher would spend upwards of $15,000 or more on a novel, and that's a novel they aren't investing much in, to be honest. There the author got almost no advance. So if you're into indie publishing to be more cost effective, that can work. If you're into it because you refuse to part with any money, you're not in indie publishing. You're in vanity publishing. All you will gain is the right to say you have a book out. Period.

I'll add one caveat, you can do this for cheaper if you train yourself, but that means a serious training investment. I've got the full Adobe Creative Suite on my computer and have studied Photoshop and InDesign pretty extensively. Thus, I'm as qualified a cover designer and interior formatter as most people who hang a shingle out, and starting next month, I will have a shingle out as a book designer. People have started coming to me to ask how I make my interiors as pretty as they are because I don't just do it competently, I do it better than most, and that was my aim when I decided to do it in-house. Two of the three novel covers I've designed have made it to the top #300 books on Amazon. Another good example is Colleen Hoover who had very little money, couldn't afford a cover designer, but spent twelve hour days blogging and interacting online to do her own publicity. She compensated for what she couldn't afford in cash by investing vast amounts of time. That can work too.

7. Help the Blogs in Return: Bloggers and authors should have a mutually beneficial relationship because they're after compatible goals. The author wants to sell more books. The blogger wants more traffic to their site. Hence, you want to drive people to the blogger's site, and the blogger will in turn drive them towards the sales listings of your books. There are some very simple things you can do to show proper gratitude:

1) Tweet, FB link, and link the review from your blog. I link the reviews a couple of times because this creates backlinks, which helps the blogger's blog rise in search engine results. With twitter, I tweet the review regularly; right now given how many reviews and content about my books is out on the web, you'll see the same tweet about a review every 10 days or so, and I intend to keep doing that regularly for a very long time. Thus, bloggers who reviewed you two years ago still get a little residual traffic trickling in and will be more likely to feature you in the future.

2) When on a blog tour, make a Twitter list of all the blogs participating and RT their tweets for the duration of the tour. Make them like hosting you because you drive people to their site.

3) And most importantly, when a blogger features a guest post by you or an interview of you, keep that page open in your browser for a week and refresh it a couple of times a day. Answer any comments that come through, again creating interaction and thus more hits on the page. The blogger has given you a forum to interact with new potential fans. The appropriate thing to do is to make use of the opportunity, and I let me tell you, this can earn you big brownie points with a blogger.

8. Don't Demand Reviews: Bloggers are, like anyone else, people with lives. They have dayjobs and families and lots of books they want to read. It's not unusual for a new book blogger to bite off more than they can chew and end up unable to read and review all the books they take on. Always show some class in this situation. Understand that this isn't them bailing out on you, this is them trying to help everyone and getting overwhelmed. There are only good motives here. Also, here's a chance to learn something important: Was your book one of the ones they got to no matter what? The top selling books are the ones that were, and that has more to do with your writing and your book than you may want to admit. If your book wasn't that book this time around, note the ones that did make the cut and get glowing reviews and learn a little more about the market for your next project.

There are enough rude writers out there, that being a polite one will yield results. Not everyone I've followed up with has reviewed my book immediately, but some sure have. When they realize that I'm not seething or about to snap at them, they want to work with me. They know I won't do something diva-ish and offensive. Unfortunately, that does make me stand out from the crowd, and it'll work for you too.

9. Price Competitively: This is just marketing advice. Know your market and know the price points. Know where you are in the grand scheme of it all. I'm more established as a writer now than I was a year ago, but I still need to keep a book or two at $.99, because that's the kind of clout I have. It's limited. I may be "Amazon bestselling" thanks to the day one of my novels spent on the Kindle Top 100, but that alone doesn't make people flock to my books. Most people have never heard of me and hence are taking a chance. I need to make that easy for them, and that's just the way it goes. People who set their prices high will attract fewer readers curious to try something new.

A book blogger doesn't want to advertise books that their readers won't buy. It's a wasted post for them if they write up a review and get a bunch of comments that say things like, "$7.99?!? No way!!!" And a book blogger can't afford negative reviews any more than a writer can. If they're not blogging about books their readers will go out and buy, they aren't successful. You need to help them be successful.

10. Don't Go To War: There have been a few flame wars that got so big the parties to them are famous, so I don't know why people take so long to learn this. Do not fight back against reviewers or readers. There's one simple truth here: they don't work for you. They work for other readers. You try to push them around? They don't care, or they just get annoyed. They are entitled to their opinion and have a right to broadcast it. Fight with them and you appear petty and small and worth avoiding at all costs. Even if it's a positive interaction, be VERY careful about responding to a review. I'll respond to someone who asks about when a sequel's coming out, sometimes. Once someone posted a very apologetic negative review and I replied to say they had nothing to apologize for and I appreciated them being honest. Even that is walking veeeeery close to the line. Readers and reader reactions are not something you should try to influence in any way other than shoring up your writing skills and doing a better job on the next book.

Needless to say, book bloggers will not work with authors who start a flame war. It makes the site look bad and gives the blogger more headache than anyone deserves. This includes calls to fans to downvote bad reviews and upvote good ones on Amazon and appeals for "white knighting," which is when someone else goes to bat for the writer and takes on negative reviewers. As sweet as this may seem, if you catch it happening, try to put a stop to it. Express gratitude, but invite the person to take the high road. It's too easy for people to assume that's a fake account you made, or a friend or family member behaving unprofessionally.

The link to Ritesh's post, again, is here. I'll be back when it's my turn to post next with more on this series.

And again, Love in Darknessthe sequel to Castles on the Sand, is now out and is $.99 this week. Go check it out!