Saturday, November 23, 2019

Six Quick Points of Advice on Being an Author


Technically this week’s topic is mentoring. I've always liked this quote:  “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” — John Crosby

In the old day job I definitely had mentors and owe a great deal to all of them. One thing I ran into, however, is expressed well by Steven Spielberg: “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” Because I was a woman in a spot where there had been few if any women at that time, some of my early mentors at NASA/JPL  had definite ideas of who and what I should look like when I ‘made it’…and their vision didn’t always match mine. That was definitely my first chance to adopt the adage “Your Mileage May Vary” and there’s no one right way to do ANYTHING.

Later in my career there I participated in the formal mentoring program at NASA/JPL, for which we had training, ‘contracts’ between the mentor and mentee, a time limit and a lot of structure. I also informally mentored a great many people. Having been one of the first women in management in my particular specialized business area of the Lab, I had insights to share and I wanted to pay forward the wonderful help I’d received from my own mentors.

As an author, I’ve had several wonderful mentors, who shared their experiences with me and to whom I’d turn if something happened I wasn’t sure how to handle. Our own Jeffe Kennedy is one of my primary mentor resources to this day! Susan ‘SE’ Smith is another terrific fount of advice and support, generous with her time.

I do some mentoring of other authors if I’m asked a question or to give a presentation. I belong to a variety of online author groups and I’ll weigh in on the discussion if I feel I have something to contribute from my experiences or from things I’ve observed in the scifi romance world. I think my main message usually boils down to: There’s no one way! Everyone has their own path and their own definition of success.

Here are some points from the speech I gave a few years ago to a Los Angeles-are writing group, which represent my basic approach to giving general advice:

First we need to pause and acknowledge that finishing a book is a HUGE accomplishment and deserves celebration and kudos. So few people actually manage to complete that first book, although so many talk about writing a book ‘someday’, or may even write a few pages and find out what hard work it can be and stop. So if you’ve completed that first book, take a moment to bask in the well-deserved happy feels.

But then the author needs to ask where on the spectrum of expectations they fall. Is this the book of their heart, the one and only book they ever want to create and just having it available on Amazon for friends and relatives to buy will truly be enough? Holding that paperback version is a thrill all right. So if the book sits at #3,000,000 in Amazon forever they’ll be ok with it? Or are they secretly hoping to become J. K. Rowling someday, with billions of readers and theme parks and movies and so forth? I think we’d all like to be that person and yes, someone does win the lotto and yes, a few authors do rise to that level…but there’s nothing specific you can do right now to become JKR.

So accept that you fall into the middle of the spectrum with most of us authors and realize writing is a business and you’re going to have to treat it as such.
First, you have to have a social media presence. How are readers going to find you and your book if you aren’t out there to be found? No, magical thinking doesn’t qualify as a strategy, especially nowadays with the huge volume of books being published every week. If your book hovers around #3,000,000 in ranking, readers are not going to stumble over it.

 I always encourage authors to find the social media that works for them and where they feel comfortable. Even if they aren’t yet published, they have interesting lives, hobbies, fan favorites, general book talk they can share. And the internet always loves a good cat picture or two!

The one thing I strongly urge a writer to have is a blog or a website. There needs to be a central point a reader can go to learn about you, your books, what’s coming next and when, and a way to contact the author. Yes, you can have an Author Page on Amazon and also collect followers on BookBub after publication – I do both – but that real estate doesn’t belong to you. You don’t even know who those readers are and the company can change its business practices on a dime. So have one internet spot that’s all yours!  Your first internet presence doesn’t have to be full of bells and whistles and expensive.

Six more quick points of advice?

Develop a thick skin because this is a business.
Never engage with reviewers, especially over a negative review.
Find a group of likeminded writers, on Facebook or wherever, for encouragement and tips and cross promo!
Practice self-care, physically and mentally.
Don’t compare your journey to any other author’s because everyone’s path is different.
Most important: Stay true to your own voice!

When I saw the topic for the week here, I realized I do very little mentoring as a self-published author. Certainly not like it was in the old day job, where my office door was always open and I was happy to sit and chat. Pondering this today, I think in part it’s because most of my interactions nowadays are online.

For health reasons I don’t travel to conferences any more either, so I don’t actually meet too many people in real life these days!

Many of the answers a person new to self-publishing might be seeking can be found in the rich archives of the various author groups on Facebook, with people willing to answer or advise on more complex issues as they arise. Find one or two or more of these groups that feel like they might be on your wavelength and lurk and search their old posts…if asked, I do my best to steer people to the groups I’ve found that work for me but there’s a much larger universe out there than the few I frequent nowadays.

I’m pretty much set in my path, writing what I write, publishing and doing promo the way I’ve found works best for me and my readers and prospective readers…

General advice and periodic posts on my blog are the way I roll nowadays, as far as providing mentoring.

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