Self-Publishing Overview

This week I'm recommending the tips and news portion of the year end Sell More Books Show. It's an overview of what's been happening in publishing and self publishing over the last year. If you're new to marketing your own work or thinking of self publishing at some point, it also serves as a great introduction to both.

The Sell More Books Show podcast issues every Wednesday. Between the two of them, the hosts write and sell fiction and have extensive experience in copywriting and digital commerce. The show typically starts with listeners' answers to the previous question of the week and some ad reads for patrons of the show. I like hearing the ads because it helps me evaluate what sorts of tag lines for books do and don't catch my interest.

The meat of the show comes it two parts — tips of the week and news of the week. The former are tips from various authors and self publishers, culled from blogs and other shows, on writing and marketing. The news portion covers developments in the publishing industry as a whole, both indie and traditional publishing. The word “news” is interpreted fairly broadly, as it sometimes includes musings from authors in on-line communities that strike me more as commentary and conjecture than fact (okay, I admit it, I'm old enough to still think of news as information that's vetted and fact-checked and separate from commentary).

On my first listen of this podcast, some of the sound effects (such as burbling when there's what's called a lab segment) and the hosts' nicknames (“Jazzy Jim Kukral” and the “Bad Man Bryan Cohen”) put me off, as I thought there might not be much substance. But I find I typically listen to the entire show when I tune in, though it's often almost an hour, as there is plenty of helpful information with just enough chatting and joking to get a feel for who the hosts are.

Click here for the episode. (Scroll down half a page or so to get to the Play button.) If you want to skip the preliminaries, move the counter to 9:50 to start with the tips.

Best wishes for a good weekend and a happy, safe, and peaceful New Year.

L. M. Lilly

Three By Three: Creating A Writing Space

Whatever it looks like and however it fits with the rest of your life, it's important to have a space where you feel good and where you can write. This is especially so if you have another demanding career or profession. If you don't have a physical space set aside in your life for writing, it will be hard to make space in a figurative sense.

Two years ago I got rid of the pull-out sofa in my second bedroom and created a home office. Before that, I had a nice antique desk in that room, but it was too high for comfortable keyboarding, and the overall space was cramped. That desk is still there with a monitor on it, and my law firm laptop sits on a tray below it. (You can see it on the left side of the photo.) I have a standing writing area for my fiction writing. I also have a third desk that I moved home from my law office. That is where I sit when I'm hand-revising printed manuscripts or am grading my law students' papers.

This is the first time in my life I have had such a large area devoted to my writing. But there were pluses to my other writing spaces over the years, however small. I have had anything from one corner of the dining table, to a drafting table, to a spare room at my parents’ house.

Below are some things to think about when choosing your writing space. There are basically three choices for location: somewhere in your home, somewhere in your “other” workspace, or somewhere in public. And there are three major factors that affect how well those spaces work for you: what else you do there, who else is there, and your fiction writing work style.

What else do you do there?

If you are someone who feels the need to do laundry if it's in front of you, load the dishwasher as soon as you finished eating, or sweep the floor after every meal, first, come to my house. I will write while you do those things. Second, working at home might pose challenges for you. It's all too easy to decide to throw in a load of laundry before you start writing. It seems like it won’t take much time. But in about half an hour, you’ll need to switch it to the dryer. In another hour, you’ll need to take it out and fold it. Now if you were lucky enough to set aside two hours to write, you’ve spent about twenty minutes of it on laundry. With a little practice, you can get past this, but if you find that chores at home interrupt your writing every time, you should probably find a writing space somewhere else.

This is where writing in public is particularly helpful. The barista at Starbucks is not going to ask you to clean the cappuccino machine, and the librarian will not expect you to reshelve books. Put your phone on silent, leave books and ear buds at home, and don't connect to the Internet. There will be nothing for you to do but write.

If you have an office for your other career or profession, you may want to try writing there. (More on that below.) A few recommendations if you try it:

  • Set aside some small space in that office where you put your notes on your writing project and anything else that relates to writing. That way you won’t waste time digging it out or organizing it.
  • Unless it's impossible to do for your profession, turn off email notifications, forward your phone to voicemail, and block off the time on your calendar. (If the only way you can find time to write is to be available for emails or telephone calls, try ignoring them for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, then checking in. Odds are, you can be away for that amount of time, and if there’s no emergency, proceed for another 15 or 20 minutes.)
  • Even if you’re paid for results or tasks, not by the hour, it's probably best not to tell people at work that you are writing while you're there. They will view you as “not working” and feel free to interrupt you to chat. They also may start to imagine you’re not as attentive as you should be even if you are.
Who else is there?

If you live with other people or pets, give some thought to how that affects your writing. The obvious answer might be that you should have complete isolation and quiet. But I found that now that I have that, at least once a week or so I take my laptop or a notebook and go to a local Starbucks to write. I like the energy and noise around me. Sometimes, it actually helps me focus. There also are times when I want to write in my living room with the television on or my parakeet chirping away in his cage. (I rarely let him out while I write, as he usually jumps on the keys or bites the tip of the pen.)

Joss gives me a rare moment of peace.

Despite what I said above, if you have children, a significant other, or pets whom you’ll feel as if you are wrong to ignore no matter how much you want to write, it's better to make arrangements to be away so you can write somewhere else. Asking others to carve out writing space and time for you almost never works. It has to be a priority for you first, equal with your other work, or it will never be one for anyone else. This is why I simply don’t answer email or phone calls when I’m writing unless I have a break scheduled already.

What if your spouse also is a writer or also has work to do at home? Some couples I know both work from home. This arrangement seems most successful when the workspaces are in two separate rooms. This makes sense to me. If you like each other and enjoy each other's company, there will be a lot of temptation to pause what you're doing and chat. If you're not getting along, the negative energy will likely make it difficult to concentrate.

You may also choose to write in the workspace for your other career or profession if that’s an option. If you have an office and can shut your door when you choose and be undisturbed, and it's compatible with your work schedule, you might write for a set time, say 30 minutes a day twice a week, during your usual workday. What probably will work better, though, is to come in early or leave late. Then even if you don’t have an office, if no one else is around, you may be able to write at your desk, in an open conference room, or in the work kitchen. These types of spaces can be wonderful if they are deserted.

Public spaces can also be a great option if, as I sometimes do, you like the bustle of people around you, but you don’t want to interact. Depending upon where you live, the following can be good places:

  • a coffee shop
  • a library
  • a restaurant in off hours
  • open seating areas in a college or university
  • a park in good weather
  • the back room of a friend who owns a business
When and how do you do your best writing?

I am most productive, and feel the best, when I can set aside large chunks of time to work on a single fiction project in peace and quiet. I take periodic breaks, but I love to immerse myself in the fictional world and focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. Sometimes I do that with a lot of noise around me, and that's fine, but what I don't want are interruptions. Other people like to shift from task to task and feel antsy or frustrated when they spend hours on one project.

Temperature, sleep, and food also matter. I need to be physically warm. If I am shivering, I find it too hard to think. I also work best when I have had a lot of rest and have eaten. Some people get an edge from pushing themselves beyond fatigue and from working through meals. I just get edgy. And angry, and irritable. (So you probably don't want to come hang out with me if I have just put in a 12-hour work day.)

All of these types of factors affect where your best writing space is. If you prefer not to be interrupted, choose the place where that is least likely. As I mentioned, that may be at a public place, or it could be at your workplace before anyone else comes in or after they leave. If noise bothers you, you might need to write when you're alone, or buy a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

It also matters whether it helps you or makes it harder for you to need to go to a different place to write. It’s a lot like exercise. If you are someone who exercises more if you must go to a specific place to do so, a health club membership is a great deal. For me, a 10-minute walk to the gym means I never get there, but I roll out my yoga mat every morning at home. Likewise, I write the most when I have a nice writing space at home, despite occasionally liking to write elsewhere.

Don't worry

Whatever space you choose to write in, every once in a while, try something different. For one thing, you may not know for sure yet where you do your best work or where you feel happiest writing. It may take some experimenting. Also, as your life changes, where you prefer to write will change as well. So if you can't find the ideal place right now, don't worry about it. Pick the best place out of your options, and keep in mind that change always happens.

If you'd like to email me a photo of your writing space, send it to [email protected] and let me know if it's okay to share it.

Best wishes for a productive, not-too-stressful week.

Best,

L. M. Lilly

Self-Editing For Fiction Writers

Whether you plan to submit your writing to a publisher or agent or to publish it yourself, you need to know how to line edit your work. That goes beyond basics such as correct spelling and grammar. For your writing to be clear and strong, you'll need to use active voice most of the time, avoid repeating the same words, and replace weak verbs with strong ones, among other things.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is the best book I've ever read on how to review and edit your own writing to make it shine. It's easy to read and easy to apply the points the authors make.

Have a peaceful, wonderful weekend (and holiday if you're celebrating one).

Best,

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Even if you plan to hire an editor and proofreader to review your manuscript, you still need to know what a properly edited piece of fiction looks like. If you don't, you'll run the risk of paying a significant amount to a poor editor, only to find out after you hit publish and see reader reviews that your novel is filled with typos and grammar mistakes.

Six Ways To Get Beyond The Myth of Writer’s Block

I don't believe in writer's block. Before you tell me I'm wrong because you're suffering from it right now, let me explain.

Most of what gets labelled as “writer's block” isn't what's actually stopping you from writing.

Barring physical or mental illness or injury (which I talk about more in Writing When Injured Or Not Well), if someone pointed a gun at you and insisted you write something, anything, unless you have a death wish you'd write.

Beyond that, if ordered to at gunpoint, you'd write a short story, even if you've never written one before. It might not be a good short story. It might lack conflict, or have a cardboard cut out for a main character, or have a terrible ending or no ending at all, but you'd write it.

Likewise, if you've ever had a job you didn't like (and if you haven't, kudos to you), my guess is most workdays when you were well enough (and possibly sometimes when you weren't) you got up and went to that job anyway. You worked whether you felt like it or not, whether you were inspired or not, and whether you wished you were doing anything but going to work or not. Because you couldn't call in sick with bricklayer's block or office clerk's block or middle manager's block.

If you're reading this blog, you like writing more than you liked that job. If you could do that job despite everything else, you can write.

Dealing With The Issues Behind The Label

So what is writer's block?

It's a label that can be used for a variety of issues, making them sound insurmountable when most of them are not.

Here are six issues that once you've identified you can address so you can start (or continue) writing:

Generating an idea

You want to write a novel or a short story, but you don't know what to write about. So you sit in front of a screen or page and do nothing.

The problem here is not inability to output or write.

It's lacking enough input. You likely need to feed or nourish your creative mind or spirit.

Listen to music that you love or hate, either live or in person. Visit a museum and stare at the most compelling paintings. Walk in nature if you're usually in the city or take a train from a rural area to a city and watch the landscape change along the way. Read novels of a type you don't normally read or read a non-fiction book that catches your interest. All these things stimulate your mind. While you do any of them, don't search your mind for ideas. Just immerse yourself in the experience.

Once you've done that for a while, ideas will form.

If you still need a jumpstart, use specific writing prompts. Buy a deck of Tarot cards, choose one at random, set a timer for 15 minutes, and write about the card, or any thought that card sparks, until the time ends. Sit in silence for 10 minutes (set the timer again). Listen to every sound and let your mind wander and imagine what or who caused the sound. Make up a story to go with it. When the 10 minutes ends, write down what you imagined. You can similarly use magazine pictures, travel guides, or Instagram posts to prompt your writing. Or choose the first line from a favorite book and write your own story with that start.

Too many ideas

Sometimes we have so many ideas it's hard to pick one, which again leads to staring blankly at a screen.

Make a list of your ideas. If there are several you already think would make good stories, pick one at random, set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes (yes, I love timers), and write about it. That timer frees your mind because if it turns out you don't like this idea or it doesn't work, you've “wasted,” at most, 30 minutes. If you feel pretty good about this idea when you're done, next time you write, continue with it. If not, pick another and repeat.

If you have several ideas but are not sure which one will make a good story, choose the one that involves the most conflict.

As I talk about in Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel, stories need conflict. If you main character gets everything she wants and has a lovely day, there's no story there. Your main character must want something, even if it's only a glass of lemonade, and need to overcome obstacles to get it.

If your ideas all lack conflict, try this:

Write down one of these four words: man, woman, boy, or girl. Write down an active verb like run, jump, hit, play, touch, throw, or swim. Again write down man, woman, boy, or girl. Add any necessary prepositions to create a sentence. You'll be left with a basic sentence such as “Woman slaps girl.” or “Boy runs into man.” These are almost guaranteed to generate conflict. Write for 30 minutes about that. (Remember, you don't have to love the story or the idea. This is all about getting words on a page.)

Where to start

If you have an idea for a story or novel and you can't get yourself to start writing, you're probably unsure where your story starts.

The good news is pretty much all first drafts are bad, so you can start anywhere and fix it later.

If it raises too much anxiety to do that, start wherever your main character first wants something and can't get it, even if it's as simple as wanting that glass of lemonade when the refrigerator is empty and the grocery store is closed.

Don't worry about whether there are other scenes that should come first, you can always add those in later.

Also don't worry if the lemonade turns out not to matter because the real story is about her dad never coming home from the war. The lemonade issue might stay to draw us into the piece or you might drop it. Again, the point is to get rolling. Later you can decide what you need and what you don't.

Overcoming your fears

If you have another career or job, my guess is you had to write something at some point for work. A business email, a note to a supervisor, a schedule of days you can or can't work. You probably didn't freeze up at the keyboard, so why does it happen when you try to write fiction?

Fiction is more personal than most jobs. You also may have a lot invested not just in being a writer but in being a good writer. You may fear writing something bad, your writing being rejected, or other people looking down their noses at how you spend your time.

Here's the thing. All of that will happen.

You'll write something bad. I've written bad stories, bad poems, bad novels, bad blog posts. You'll have your writing rejected. No matter what you achieve or don't with your writing, someone–probably a friend or family member–will sniff at what you did and tell you a story about a friend of a friend who is a “real writer” because he won a Pulitzer Prize. The good news is, none of that will kill you and none of it needs to stop you from writing. Don't tell anyone what you're doing and give yourself permission to write a very bad first draft that you will never ever show anyone. That's all you need to get started.

Lack of inspiration

For many people, this is the easiest part of writer's block to get past because  you don't need to be inspired to write.

When I write first drafts, I write whether I'm inspired or not. At the end, I can't pick out the passages that flowed from my fingers easily from the ones where I felt like I was trudging through molasses. I enjoyed one more than the other, but there's no quality difference. And if there were, I'd revise to improve the quality.

The best way to write regularly and not depend on inspiration is to create a routine.

If your schedule is predictable and your physical and mental health allows, pick a regular time in your week when there are few other things to distract you. Choose a small amount of time to start.

For instance, rather than aspiring to write an hour three times a week at 8 p.m., you might decide to write for half an hour Friday morning before you go to work. Then sit down at your desk for half an hour every single Friday even if all you write is “I don't know what to write. I don't know why I am sitting here.”

Do that for half an hour every Friday and you'll get into a habit. Eventually you'll start to write something that you want to keep.

If a routine time is impossible due to your schedule or your health, you can try setting a routine through triggers.

Each time you sit down and write, you might burn a scented candle, or drink a particular type of tea, or wear your red socks. Those things can trigger in your mind and spirit that it's time to write and can help you make the transition to writing from other parts of your day.

If you otherwise are able to do the things you want or need to do in life (such as going to work, caring for loved ones, reading, going to movies, etc.) and you never feel like writing, if it always feels like trudging through molasses (uphill), consider why you want to write.

Do you enjoy having a finished story or novel enough to go through that? Does being a writer have its own rewords despite not loving the process? If yes, keep those rewards fixed in your mind and trudge.

Finding time to write

There are times in life that might not be the best ones for writing a short story or a novel, or at least not for finishing them in a defined time period.

When I was working full-time and attending law school at night, I didn't write fiction. I wrote poems and journal entries during the odd few minutes here and there.

If you have a two-year-old at home and you're working full-time or also caring for an aging parent, this might not be the time to set a six-month or one-year goal of finishing a novel.

But if novels are what you love to write, you can still do that by writing what you can when you can and letting yourself be okay with finishing some unspecified time down the road. (See Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time for ways to fit in small bursts of writing.)

Aside from life circumstances like the above or physical or mental health challenges, for many writers it's about finding the time, not having time.

Nobody has extra hours in the day or the week, and nobody starts out getting paid to devote hours to writing. So notice what you do with each hour of your time for a week or two. Decide what activity or activities you could skip so that you can write instead.

For instance, if you can afford it, and you currently spend two hours a week cleaning your house, pay someone else to do that while you write. If you spend half an hour a night watching the news, make a deal with a well-informed friend to tell you anything you really need to know, turn off the news, and write for that half hour.

Once you figured out what you can miss, create a schedule or goal and stick to it.

Keep in mind that if you have a cyclical worklife or a chronic physical or mental condition that affects when you are well enough to write, that schedule/goal may need to be more flexible.

You might set a goal of hours per month or word count per month (or per six months) rather than per week or per day. Or you might simply set an overall goal of finishing a novel or poem or story without a timeframe so that you can leave room for stretches of time when writing's not possible.

That's okay. Even if you don't write as much as you hoped, you'll write something.

In closing

To sum up: (1) If you're stuck, don't worry about writing something good or what will happen after you finish, just go ahead and write something bad. (2) Stories are about conflict, so start with a main character who wants something and is having trouble getting it. (3) You can always fix it later. (4) Timers are your friend.

I hope these suggestions help you get started or move forward if you've been feeling stuck. Have other questions? Feel free to add a comment or email me at [email protected]

Best wishes for a happy, productive week.

L. M. Lilly

Do You Write/Love/Read Literary or Commercial Fiction?

If you’ve ever wondered why novels are classified as literary versus genre/commercial fiction, why you love a book your friend calls “trash” or vice versa, or whether you are writing literary or popular/commercial fiction, this 10-minute Journeyman Writer episode is for you.

In this episode, my favorite writing podcast covers—in the clearest fashion I’ve ever heard or read—the distinction between genre and literary fiction. As always, host Alastair Stephens sticks to the point, is thoughtful and entertaining, and has a voice you’ll love to listen to.

You can listen at the link below or follow the instructions to download to your phone or listen on iTunes (or whatever podcast app you use).

Episode 15: Genre vs. Literature

Have a wonderful weekend.

Best,

L. M. Lilly

Is This Blog For You?

An experience last spring started me thinking about writing a blog for people who write, or want to write, novels while pursuing another career or profession.

Buyer's Remorse…

I was in Austin, Texas, waiting for an airport shuttle in the hot sun. And I wasn't otherwise feeling great. I couldn't shake a cough I'd gotten weeks before, my shoulder bag was filled with law student papers to grade, and I was starting to feel some buyer's remorse.

008My destination was a two-day writing/self-publishing conference. I'd done something I never did in my life as a lawyer. Before researching the people hosting the conference, I paid the registration fee and bought my plane ticket.

Why?

Joanna Penn, an author/entrepreneur whose podcast taught me a ton about publishing over the past two years, was speaking. I wanted to meet her in person. Also, I figured if she was involved, it must be a worthwhile event.

The night before my flight, though, I listened to the Self-Publishing Podcast by the three authors hosting the conference. And thought, Oh no.

Info And In-Jokes

The hour-long podcast episode included some information I found useful.

The rest struck me as mainly inside jokes and infomercial. Plus, it was all jumbled together, so I couldn't simply fast forward to the content. Don't get me wrong, a lot of seminars of any type could benefit from more humor and fun.

But here I didn't get the inside jokes because I wasn't a long-time listener. And my sense of humor on the rest differed from that of the hosts.

Careful Time Management

Most of my living is made as a lawyer. One who usually has more work than I want and struggles to carve out time to write and for a personal life.

So whether I'm listening to an hour-long podcast or attending a seminar, if half of it is giggles and digressions, I'd rather be working on my own writing, getting my legal work out the door, or doing something fun that's unrelated to either.

As I stood in the hot sun outside the airport that day, I wondered if I'd taken four days off of work (counting travel time) for a spoonful of information.

What Professionals Look And Sound Like

Finally, little of the podcast fit with my idea of how professionals act.  And I wanted to learn from professional writers and marketers.

My idea of professional is drawn from the legal field. And law is a client service business. Most of my clients are corporations. A Fortune 500 company is unlikely to hire a lawyer who chortles through a presentation, says “like” a lot, or repeatedly goes off on tangents.

Too many stories about your pet or your spouse or what you had for breakfast and the client is wondering if this is how you always work, mentally tallying exactly how much each tangent costs, and thinking about hiring a more focused attorney.

Because I need to meet those standards, I usually look for them in the people I choose to learn from.

But that view can cut out a lot of people in the world of self-publishing and writing. People willing and able to share useful information.

A Kindred Spirit

I wasn't the only one concerned. Another woman waiting for the shuttle and I introduced ourselves. It turned out she also was an attorney. She signed up for the seminar based on a friend's recommendation.

Like me, she later listened to one of the podcasts and was having reservations.

Happily, our concerns proved to be baseless. The next morning the hosts started by saying they knew not everyone who attended was a long-time fan. They promised to keep their banter to the first half hour. Which they did.

A Learning Experience

That half hour of banter included not only jokes but the hosts' experiences starting and growing their publishing business, all of which I found useful.

The remaining speakers each day also gave detailed and entertaining presentations on writing, marketing, and self-publishing. The presenters and attendees were upbeat and excited about their work. I felt inspired and better-informed when I left.

The other attorney/author I had met at the airport felt the same way. We were both glad we attended.

Yet both of us, had we listened to the podcast before committing to the conference, probably would have skipped the entire experience.

And so this blog.

This Space Is For You If…

Many attorneys, business people, and other professionals have called or emailed me over the years to ask me about writing and publishing. I'd love to think it's because they loved my novels. But most contact me without ever having read them.

Instead, what interests them is that as a writer, lawyer, and adjunct professor of law, I probably have similar ideas to theirs about what indicates success or professionalism.

We also likely have similar constraints on our time.

If in addition to writing, you're also pursuing another career (be it as a lawyer, a stay-at-home parent, a business person, or another professional or pursuit) your time is limited.

So my goal is to share with you what I learn in a quick, clear fashion.

I listen, read, and put into practice as much as I can about marketing, publishing, and writing. While I can't promise to have all the answers, I'll share what I find most useful and include links if you want to learn more.

If you have topics you'd like me to cover, feel free to post them below or email me at [email protected]

Until then, wishing you a productive, not-too-stressful week,

L. M. Lilly