Writing Credentials: What You Need to Accomplish Writing Goals

The first book I ever bought for myself.

The first book I ever bought for myself.

This post is for the Five Year Project/Do You Have Goals bloghop.

The writing world has changed a lot with the possibility of print-on-demand and e-book publishing. As more members of the reading public have experience with not-ready-for-publication ‘Indie’ books, having writing credentials becomes very important.

When I was a child, I bought books by going into a bookstore (and begging mommy or daddy for money). The writers of the kind of books you see in bookstores have one kind of writing credentials— their books are published by big publishing companies who can afford to turn down second-rate writers. They also had high-quality proofreaders and editors to help each author make his book the best it could be.

Writers who are self-published or published by a small press no one has heard of also need writing credentials. But they don’t get it just by having a book out there in the marketplace. Small press authors have the advantage that their small press probably has a small number of readers already familiar with them who will look at their book and not mistakenly conclude it’s self-published. But for the majority of readers, small press authors too need writing credentials to prove to the potential reader that they are competent at their craft.

How, then, can you establish writing credentials? Here are some ways:

  1. Get some writing published in a paying or prestigious/known market. It can be short fiction, flash fiction, poetry or non-fiction articles. Anything to show that you aren’t the only one who thinks you can write.
  2. Get some influential people to read your book. No, I don’t mean trying to peddle it to Stephen King. Try some book-related blogger with a good following— or some following. Offer him a free copy of your book— ‘free’ as in you don’t demand a review in exchange, but just suggest they review it if they feel inclined to.
  3. Interact with quality writers online. Buy and review their books, suggest your Facebook friends follow the writers’ Facebook author pages, tweet when they have a new book out. Don’t try to self-promote your book to them, just be a friend. Just the fact that you associate with a quality writer will make your potential readers feel that you at least know what quality writing looks like.
  4. Learn to act like a professional writer. And by ‘professional’ I mean those writers paid royalties by a traditional publisher. They are the writers who interact most with the publishing world and with other writers; they tend to know how to act. How to learn? Subscribe to Writer’s Digest and read each issue cover-to-cover. Read books on how-to-write by actual authors you’ve heard of. My favorites are Lawrence Block, James Scott Bell and, yes, Stephen King (I used to be his #1 fan.)
  5. Avoid vanity presses. Savvy people know the names of the vanity presses— those deceptive presses who pretend to be traditional publishers, but accept any books as long as the author-victim can pay the fees.
  6. Keep on writing. Don’t publish just one book and then go into full time book-promoter mode. Keep on writing, keep on publishing. People who won’t take a risk on your first book may give one a try once you have five books out.

My goal update

I have some long-term writing problems that have, in particular, stood in the way of my finishing most writing projects. My goal now is just to get a novel or two finished.  But I get very inhibited when I sit down to start to write a new novel, I tend to give it up as a bad job by the next day.

So I’ve started a Scrivener project that is basically an idea file. Each ‘chapter’ is a different writing idea, and in it I put ‘scenes’ that can be notes on the idea, character ideas, or scenes from the work itself. If I get to the point where I am actually making progress on an individual project and want to concentrate on it for a while, then I’ll move the stuff to its own Scrivener project. If I can figure out how. (Note: before I bought Scrivener I used a free software, YWriter, which I could also use that way if I’d thought of it.)

I have two projects I’m cautiously optimistic about. One takes place on another planet, a colony of Earth, and the main character is an orphan girl with psionic abilities (mostly teleportation). The other is a contemporary piece about a former child star, now age 17, who announces to her progressive parents that she’s going to become a Catholic, but before that family fight can come to its conclusion, the girl is attacked by a vampire and ‘turned’. (I’m fairly sure I shouldn’t try to work on both of these projects at the same time.)

Do You Have Goals banner

Big Goals, Little Goals (Yes, I Forgot the Goals Bloghop)

Do You Have Goals bannerThis ought to have been my post for the Do You Have Goals/Five Year Project Bloghop. And I was really gonna do it on time this past Friday. But, well…. stuff.

Sometimes it’s easier to set a big goal: ‘I’m going to be an NFL quarterback’, or ‘I’m going to be a rock star’ or ‘I’m going to be a best-selling author like Stephen King or Lawrence Block or St. Luke’. Because when you set a big goal like that you don’t always think about all the little goals you will have to complete to get to where the big goal is even a remote possibility.

And it’s not always easy to find out what YOU will have to do to meet your goal. I mean, I can read about what Lawrence Block and Stephen King did in their early writing days. Only things have changed in the writing world since then. Lawrence Block made a decent living for a number of years writing short stories for the many magazines that were paying markets for such things in those years. Nearly all of those magazines are gone now, and even a great short story writer can’t pay the bills by writing short stories for the one-or-two magazines that are left.

Orson Scott Card won the Hugo and Nebula awards two years in a row, and people knew he was a Mormon who hadn’t rejected his faith. But these days, I doubt a writer who was not fully on board with gay marriage and abortion would have a shot at major awards— even Orson Scott Card is routinely cursed as a ‘homophobe’ and a ‘hater’ in spite of the fact that he’s written a highly sympathetic gay male character in one of his novel series.

Looking at the big goal too much can make us crazy. Or make us believe the writing scams out there that the current way to writing success is to pay big bucks to the latest iteration of the vanity press.

I think for now I’m going to look at my little goals— the little things I have to do RIGHT NOW to take a step forward in my writing. At the moment it’s a short story/novella called ‘Rigord Trails’, a story set on a distant planet, but a story with a bit of a western feel— it’s set on a cattle drive, only the role of cattle is being played by lizardy things called ‘rigords’. And my next step is to find some names for my main characters, and some place names and odd words. So that’s my little goal— for today.

G is for Garklein

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

G is for ‘garklein’— German for ‘very small’, and the official name for the smallest size of recorder and the subject of my Garklein Recorder Project. I’m documenting my own self-challenge of working my way through a recorder instruction book playing the garklein recorder instead of the more common soprano recorder.

I’ve made several YouTube videos so far of myself playing songs from the instruction book (Duschenes Method for the Recorder, Pt 1). I find I enjoy doing the videos even though sometimes I have to do it over and over to get a usable version.

My hope is that other would-be recorder players working their way through the same book (on soprano or tenor recorders as well as the garklein) might find the videos of some use. I know when I was a child taking piano lessons I had a hard time sometimes figuring out what an unfamiliar song in my piano lesson book was supposed to sound like.

I also hope it will be inspiring. You don’t have to have great natural musical talent, nor do you have to be young, to learn a musical instrument and have fun with it. A2Z-BADGE-0002014-small_zps8300775c

Goals Bloghop: Winter, Kittens and Despair

Do You Have Goals bannerThis is a post for the ‘Do You Have Goals’ bloghop.

Goals. This is the day I’m supposed to talk about my writing goals and pretend I’m making progress toward them. Or some such. But this is not a good time for that.

You see, there’s winter. Which we wouldn’t have right now if they had listened to my advice and barbequed the groundhog for a Superbowl snack.

And then there’s the kitten thing. My favorite kitten, Therese, died recently. Not a big surprise, she was a dwarf kitten with loads of health problems. But it’s harder to get used to her being gone since I’m so used to checking on her constantly to make sure she was safe and well-fed.

IM001106And then there are my current health problems including hurting my back bad enough that for several days I was counting the minutes until I could take another dose of aspirin.

I have enough writing problems when I don’t have all these other things bringing me down. Talking about my goals would just make me wonder: what’s the point? I mean, I always used to think becoming a published novelist would be a way to stay off government handout programs, but now I’m on disability and Medicaid and food stamps and I’m pretty well trapped. And after so many writing failures I don’t much want to think about the odds of my overcoming my writing blocks to become a productive, commercially viable writer.

So I shall think about something else instead. Like: Jews! Why, in fantasy fiction, are there fantasy-world religions that are really Christianity (both by Christian and anti-Christian writers), and religions that are really Wicca/paganism, and religions that are really Satanic/Antichrist religions, but no fantasy world Jews. Couldn’t Shmuel slay dragons just as well as Erick the Untidy?

Or: recorders. Fantasy worlds are big on harps, lutes and gitterns (faux guitars, is my guess), but never recorders. And, hey, how about this? Recorders are made of wood. Magic wands are made of wood. How about recorders that work as magic wands? But only if you play the right tunes, Or recorders that summon dragons— why not? When I practiced my new garklein recorder for the first time, it summoned two of my cats right into my lap. And most dragons I know have cat-like qualities. Well, at least Vern does. And Bridger. And Bridger’s sister….

I think I am definitely cheering myself up slightly. Perhaps I really shall write a fantasy tale, about the time Shmuel Ragan defied the king’s law and hired three musicians to play music for his daughter Tziporah’s wedding. And one of them was the Whistling girl, who could summon dragons when she played her garklein recorder, whether she wanted them or not. And how the king’s Heraldic Knights burst in on the wedding reception and carried the three musicians off to the capital…..

Perhaps I shall. Or not. But I think it’s good for my mental health to believe that I shall. In spite of evidence to the contrary.

Goals Bloghop: Setting Reachable Goals

Do You Have Goals bannerThis is a post in the Goals Bloghop AKA Big Dreams bloghop AKA Do You Have Goals bloghop. Follow the link to find others on the bloghop and/or join yourself.

Setting goals— long term, medium or short term— is not like making wishes. You might have a wish to win the lottery in the coming month, but since there is nothing you can do to work towards making that happen, it’s not, properly speaking, a goal.

Setting a writing goal, especially if you are an aspiring writer, an indie writer, or simply an insecure writer, sometimes feels like making wishes. And so it’s not surprising that when we make our goals, we may make some that are more like wishes.

Take the money thing. If you look at some great writers of the past such as Herman Melville, you will see that writing a great book doesn’t guarantee making money from it. The writer doesn’t have much control over the dollar amount.

If you are already making money from your writing, it’s very likely that by writing more and trying higher-paying markets you can set a goal that is money-related that is a doable goal and not making a wish. But if you are a beginning writer who not only hasn’t made a dime writing, but you haven’t even submitted your work to any market yet, making the kind of dollar-goal the first type of writer can is merely wishful thinking. Set a smaller goal such as getting published, and/or breaking into a paying market.

Another problematic goal regards the best seller lists. Many fine writers don’t make it onto the best seller lists. Many published Christian writers have yet to top the Christian best seller lists. And some of us— such as Catholic writers who write faith-based fiction that doesn’t quite fit into Evangelical publishers and booksellers worldview— probably can go a whole career without hitting any best seller lists.

You have no direct control over the best seller lists. Worse, young/new writers who write not what they love, but what they think will sell well tend to sell very poorly if they can even get published at all. So best seller list related goals are, for most of us, more wish than goal.

A good goal is something you can do, but that is a challenge. For a writer who has published three books at small-press publishers, a good five year goal might be to publish a certain number of additional books, to complete and publish a trilogy, or to submit to larger publishers.

For an absolutely-beginning writer, goals must feel doable— finishing and editing a NaNoWriMo novel, perhaps. Or writing a certain number of short stories and submitting them to short story markets— without worrying about whether any get accepted, at first.

In my own case, I have been writing many years but am plagued with writer’s block when it comes to novel-writing. And my mind doesn’t run towards short stories. My problem, precisely, comes in finishing novels. So my goal is aimed at working on the finishing thing. I’ve set myself the goal of finishing 2 works of fiction— short stories, novellas or novels. I would kind of like for one of them to be a novel, but I’d settle for 2 decent short stories.

My progress has not been great so far. I think my next work will be a short story set on my ‘Kirinia’ fictional world that’s sort of a prequel to my later Kirinia stories. I’ve written a story-beginning yesterday which is more like a writing exercise to get to know some of the new characters I’m developing than anything which will be in the actual story. I’m needing to set up a notebook with my up-to-date worldbuilding and character notes, which requires me to buy new ink cartridges for my printer because I used the last ink printing out a Wikipedia article on the Roman gens Julia (and I need to print out the one on Claudia, since my characters include Romans from the Julii and the Claudii.)

Once I have printer ink, I can feel more like I’m making progress as I can start generating printed-out pages to go in my notebook for the project. It just doesn’t seem like I’m getting anything REAL done when it all stays in the computer!

So— how about you? Set any good goals lately? Or even some not so good goals?