#1 Question Writers Ask

I was at a writing conference last weekend and had a fabulous time. The workshops were inspiring, the food was delicious, the keynote speaker’s jokes made me laugh. He had a serious message, too, as all keynote speakers do. He’d been hearing the same question all day.

“How Can I Make Money From Writing?”

Seriously, there are so many ways. And once you actually write the book, (and it should be a well-written book with a subject people want to read about it, even if they don’t know it yet) and get it published, you will find the ways that suit you. We call that marketing.


I’ve been writing a long time, with 10 published books and number 11 on its way, and what I think about that big question new writers (or maybe some not so new writers) ask is probably the wrong question. It depends, really, on your goals in writing. What do you want out of this gig? If the first answer that pops into your head is fame and fortune, you need to move to New York or L.A. and you should also be young and beautiful and work in publishing or become a celebrity. Those people get book deals all the time.

But if you write because you love the process, and the way to tell if you love it is to ask yourself “would I still write if I never got paid?” Answer yes and I can tell you how you might find your way into a happy writing career. Obviously, you’re going to need a day job. At least for awhile. That’s fine. You’ll find the right day job that will help you write better books and even help you publish and sell them. Work for a university and their press may print your books. Self-publish a book for your creative writing class and your dean might make it required reading and sell it in the bookstore. I know because that’s how I published and sold my first book in 2008. It’s in second edition and remains my best-selling title.

It takes a lot of time, though, from dreamy poet to college professor. I not only had to acquire a couple of college degrees, I became a mother. Twice. Best writing decision I ever made. My first published essay in an anthology was about being a single mom. I later wrote a novel with the same theme. But that first story was a true one, and my boys were at the center of it.

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What I’m really saying here is that the writing life–any life–is like a safe and you have to crack the code. You do that by listening like a safecracker with his ear to the combination, listening to the tumblers until you hear the click. Inspiration is a first click. Daily practice is another. Finding what brings you joy in life and going for it even if on the surface it seems to have nothing at all to do with writing is the final click that will open the door to the treasure inside. Or as the keynote speaker, Detroit poet ML Libeler, put it so well “Do what you love and the money will come.”


Evolving Character

colt3.FullSizeRender-3A blue moon ago I wrote a 17 year old girl named Lily Van Slyke into Blue Heaven. At the time, she was very troubled, but she didn’t have a gun. When Blue Heaven became the first of The Blue Lake Series, I knew I’d bring her back someday. And back she came, in book three (Spring 2015). It’s five  years later, so she’s legal and lethal. She has her reasons. And this time, she really got to me. I mean, she did before, but I was able to give her closure. This time, she didn’t want shit to do with my plans for her. She didn’t want closure, she wanted her own series. That was not going to happen; I’m still writing the Blue Lake books.

But Lily managed to almost maybe steal the book from the intended main characters. I still have to see about that. I might have to cut her down to size some. For now. Because I found myself doing odd things, like researching the kind of gun she would buy for self-protection. It’s not the vintage 38 Colt above, it’s a tiny new girly gun. 9 mm. Even though that’s my hand holding one, I don’t know much about guns. But Lily does, so I will have to learn. Got my first lesson this weekend. 1. Make sure the bullet holder thingy is empty before pointing. 2. Unlock the safety. 3. Do not put the gun up next to your eye to “sight” the target. 4. Be prepared for a loud bang and some kind of recoil that sends your arm flying up after you shoot.

But that’s with the Colt, which belonged to Al’s grandfather. He was a private investigator. That is the only job he ever had in his entire life. He was also a single dad who raised Al’s mom on his own. Quite a guy. I only just found out about him this weekend. It was like Lily was saying “See? You can do this. It’s in the family.” Well, yeah, but…

The gun was not the first thing that Lily pushed me into…she has an answer for every objection I come up with. Like the whole mystery writing thing. This summer, I signed up for a conference in Florida (I live in Michigan) for mystery writers and I kept thinking “I have until December to cancel because I am not a mystery writer.” It’s almost December. I still have not cancelled. Also, when registering for the conference, you had to choose what kind of mystery writer you were. I had no idea. So I checked off P.I.

Random? I just don’t know. I have pieces of Lily’s first book written down. Most of it is in my head. I’m not going to talk about it. I’m still waiting to see if this whole thing will blow over and I can go back to writing domestic dramas. But sometimes, characters evolve and writers have to follow.

Content is Queen

My heart sank a little at last weekend’s conference when Chuck Sambuchino, the keynote speaker, said he’d been writing, and steadily climbing the publishing ladder, for ten years.

I was first published in the ’80s, so that’s, uh, longer.

But Chuck did say something valuable, something I’d forgotten. He talked about how there is so much about being a writer we can’t control. We can’t control how our writing will be received by agents, editors, publishers, or reviewers. We can’t control rejection. We can’t control bad reviews. Novelists, unless they’re indie, can’t even control the cover that appears on their books. Bloggers can’t control page views or Google ratings or spammers or negative commenters.

The good news from Chuck is that there is ONE thing writers can control and it is the most valuable thing of all: our writing. We control the words on the page and there is no more heady feeling than that. We also control IF we decide to write. IF we put our butts in chairs and do it without getting distracted by Twitter. (Or is that just me?)

I took heart with Chuck’s words and as I revise my novel-in-progress, I vow to make those words the very best I can, because if they are good words, and good stories, people will notice. Content is Queen. It’s all we’ve got and it’s under our control.

Marketing for Introverts & Other People

print.booksAre you an introvert? Many writers are. I know I am. Therefore I’ve made a list of easy things shy writers can do to help sell their work. As I said in yesterday’s post, if  you publish, you need to market as well. So here’s what you can do to improve your visibility as a writer:

1. Join a writer’s group. I did. It’s easy. Go to meetings and listen. I became a member of Detroit Working Writers several years ago and the organization continues to inspire me. DWW started with a dozen women in 1900. We’re still going strong. You don’t have to be published to join.

2. Go to a conference. The workshop leaders and keynote speaker do almost all of the talking. They bring you news from the world of publishing. DWW’s annual conference this year is May 17, 2014 at the Clinton-Macomb Public Library. You can sign up early and get a discount.

3. Enter a writing competition. At our conference, we conclude by announcing the winners of our writing competition. First prize in all five categories is $100, so check it out. You do not have to attend the conference to enter the writing competition, but it would be fun, right?

4. Start a blog and begin to build your platform. If you don’t know what a platform is, you can ask anybody in DWW. Seasoned writers are available to mentor beginners. And blogging, heck, you do this alone in your writing room. What could be easier? I love Word Press but Blogger is also user-friendly.

If you do these four things for your writing self, you will succeed. When I joined DWW several years ago, I had self-published one book, a non-fiction writer’s manual. Since becoming a member of DWW and joining in some of the many networking and critique groups they offer, I’ve published four novels. Proof, to me at least, of the value of stepping out of the shy box.


This Writer’s Worth

I just returned from a writer’s conference and the news is not good. Writers, say the workshop leaders, will not make much money. They need to keep their day jobs. Another item in the negative column is this: writers must do their own promotion. This means we need to learn how to market our work if we want anyone but our mother to read it.

These are two things I already knew. I have been writing for a long time and I’ve witnessed the landscape change. I remember one long-ago workshop leader saying that the culture rewards writers in some incredible ways. Well, those days are gone. Everyone now has the opportunity to publish their writing. The variety of ways to do this would take a weekend workshop. I’d attend that one, because I suck at marketing.

I have often moaned on this very blog that I’m a writer, damn it, and I just wanna write. Well, if the conference this weekend did nothing else for me, it made me realize that I have to stop thinking that way. I can hire someone to market for me, or I can do it myself. But do it I must. Because I do want more than just my mother (who is scandalized by the sexy bits) to read my work. And I would like to make money. Readers=money.

My publisher did a little marketing thing with Amazon Kindle’s “free” days for me a month or so back. I tried to help by hiring Book Bub to advertise my “free” book, plus tweeting and writing Facebook posts. Hell, I took my business card to lunch and passed it out to ten women I hardly knew, saying “hey it’s free!” People love free.

I looked at my numbers after that. I gave away 45,000 books. I also made it to #1 on the top Amazon lists. All books. All romance novels. All contemporary novels. I was #1 on the free list for all of those. And I stayed on the paid lists for a while. I made some  money, which is what marketing is all about. Selling books, making profit. The month I partnered with my publisher to market this way, I made more money than I had in any quarter at any time with any of my five books.

I know I’d still write if I didn’t get paid. I might write and decide not to market. I write, not just for money, (although money is nice) but because it helps me make sense of both myself and the world spinning around me. I feel lucky to have this thing in me that needs to write, no matter what. It has enriched my life in ways too numerous to mention. And that is the real worth to this writer.