Day Seventeen: Who’s Your Constant Reader?

Who is your constant reader?I’ve taken writing workshops, in my pursuit of a college education, where each student is required to copy off twenty copies of their chapter or short story and pass it around for the rest of the class to read. Next week, you sit there, silently, while twenty people talk about your work.

It’s excruciating. Usually, you’re forbidden from talking. You can’t correct people when they get something wrong. You can’t redirect them when they start arguing over something that doesn’t matter at all in the story. You just listen, take notes, and try to absorb it all.

That kind of workshopping has it’s place.

Once I turned in a short story with a punchline. The character, it turned out in the final line, was Jerry Lee Lewis. Literally no one got it except me (of course) and the teacher. We were the only people in the room older than forty. That workshop taught me that my story would fall flat with younger readers.

I also once wrote a short story that was a retelling of the Resurrection story from the Bible. Again, the teacher was the only other person who got it. She loved it, though, so it didn’t matter as much to me that the other students didn’t understand where I was going.

For that story, my teacher was my One Reader. Stephen King would call her a Constant Reader.

You can’t write for everyone. You also can’t write by committee. If you try, you’re going to make yourself crazy.

You also don’t have to have an actual person who is responsible for everything you write. (That’s a lot of pressure. For both of you.)

Who is Your Constant Reader?

Just think of who that One, Constant Reader is. Imagine that you’re on Criminal Minds and build a profile.  Here are some questions to get you started. You might have a different One Reader for each book you write.

  • How old are they?
  • Are they a man or a woman?
  • What else do they read?
  • What do they need in a book to be happy?
  • What makes a book an auto-buy for them?

Here’s what my One, Constant Reader looks like, for my current work in progress (a Robin Hood retelling):

She’s either 15 or 35. She reads classic children’s literature like The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter and even though she probably wouldn’t say it out loud now, she read the whole Twilight series. Twice. She likes a strong romance in her stories, but the romance isn’t the main thing. (She totally picked a side in the Jacob/Edward debate though, and she reads fanfic just to dream about her ‘ships.) The next book in any series that she fell in love with is an auto-buy for her. She’s super loyal, but not the author. She’s loyal to the characters.

If you can find an actual reader that matches your One Reader, bonus. If they’ll actually read your work, double bonus! But it’s okay if you can’t. It still helps to know who you’re writing for.

ASSIGNMENT SEVENTEEN

Think about your One Reader today. Write up some details and come share them in the Facebook group.

 

 

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Day Sixteen: Publish Something

publish something on the free blogging platform Medium

Yesterday we talked about rejection.

In order to be rejected, you need to put your work out into the world.

Today, you’re going to pull the trigger. You’re going to muster up 10 seconds of brave and publish something.

The easiest, most accessible way I know to do that is on a free blogging platform called Medium.

Medium has the easiest interface I’ve ever seen. You don’t have to be accepted–anyone can open a Medium account and start blogging. You can write anything. An opinion piece. A blog post about literally anything. You can post short fiction.

Maybe what you post won’t get much attention. That’s okay.

Maybe it will blow up and go viral. That’s okay, too.

Here’s what I’m really excited about: there are enough Ninja Writers to make a difference. Come share your link in our Facebook Group. Invite people to read it and share.

I’ve had a couple of posts gain traction on Medium. Based on that experience, here are my best tips:

  • On Medium, the headline is king. Make it strong. Make it controversial. Make it something that it’s almost impossible not to click on.
  • Be provocative. It’s okay to pick a fight.
  • If you have a blog or a Facebook page or some other way for readers to stay in touch with you, include a link at the bottom of the post.
  • Medium is set up to make it easy for readers to highlight and share good lines.
  • Don’t be afraid to share the link with your friends via social media.

ASSIGNMENT 16

Set up a Medium account. Make sure to connect your Facebook and Twitter pages, so that anyone who follows you on those platforms and has a Medium account will become your follower. Post something. Today. It can be a blog post or a piece of short fiction.

Come share what you posted in our Facebook Group. Let us help you boost the signal.

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Thoughts on Book Promotion

We’ve been talking about book promotion some in the Facebook Group, and I’ve seen something come up a few times that I think we need to talk about. I’m going to address it more widely in the upcoming weeks, but I want to hit on it a little today.

31 Days of Book Promotion

The Medium Challenge

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I see something like this pretty often:

I’m not even published, do I really need to think about book promotion now?

The answer is an all caps YES.

You do. I know you don’t want to. You’d like to put the idea of book promotion or thinking about book promotion ideas off as long as possible.

Just thinking about it makes you want to throw up.

Trust me, I do get that. Author marketing is a big thing to wrap your head around and the learning curve is huge.

But digging in and deciding you’re just not going to think about it won’t help you be successful when you do have a book ready to put out into the world.

The best time to start thinking about making an author website, for instance, is a year ago.

The second best time is today.

No matter how you plan to be published, it’s up to you to promote your own book. Period. It just is.

I wish that someone had been blunt with me about that before my books were published by a Big 6 publisher. (I wrote about that experience here.)

I wish that I’d known that an email list could have changed the trajectory of my books.

I wish that I’d known that building an author website was more than throwing my book covers and some links to Amazon up on shauntagrimes.com and hoping that people would stumble on the site.

Or, even more naively, that my books would be enough to make people come looking for me.

Word of mouth works, but the people with the mouths have to know your book exists, first.

I know better now, and I’m committed to making sure that you do, too.

I’m going to talk about these things in depth in the upcoming weeks, but here are some things that are going to help you start thinking about book publicity.

  • You need to be blogging about something other than your own writing.
  • You need to be building an email list.
  • You need to let potential readers know who you are.
  • You need to be visible in the places where your readers are already hanging out.

I’m having so much fun with 31 Days of Being a Ninja Writer. So much fun that another 31 day challenge is definitely upcoming. If you want to be make sure you don’t miss 31 Days of Book Promotion, click here to learn more or fill out the form below. The challenge is set for January–just in time for New Year’s Resolutions, and after your Nano book has had time to mature.

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Day Fifteen: Grow a Thick Skin

Sample Agent Rejection Letter

I’m going to tell you something now that I think it’s very important for you to know. Like deep down, bone-level know. Here goes: There is so much rejection in publishing.

Seriously, it has to be the most rejection-filled profession on the planet. The only way to survive is to be tough. The only way to be tough is to realize that agents and publishers aren’t actually out to get you.

I’ve included a sample agent rejection letter below, because I want you to see that it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Even when a writer is successful (even highly successful), they face piles of rejection. It’s just a fact of the business.

Here’s an example:

When I signed on with my first agent, I had four offers. That means four agents told me that they wanted to represent my work. FOUR. That’s huge. It’s amazing. It felt so good.

But, I sent out 140 query letters.

That means that I was rejected by 136 agents. I was getting rejection letters from agents after my book had sold to Penguin.

Sample Agent Rejection Letter

I want you to see that they don’t tear you apart. Generally, they’re not personal at all. Here’s a sample agent rejection letter–one that showed up in my inbox yesterday.

Dear Author,

Thank you for your query. Although your project isn’t right for my list at this time, I appreciated the chance to consider it and wish you the best in your writing and publishing journey.

Sincerely,

Agent

This is otherwise known as a Dear Author Letter or a form rejection. I’d like you to notice that the fact that I have previously published books did not insulate me from generic rejection.

I’m only just starting to move into the indie publishing world, so I don’t know for sure, but I feel like there’s probably some less rejection involved when you’re not trying to hire an agent and sell a novel to a publisher. But there are still going to be critics who don’t like what you wrote. (Just go look at the 1 star reviews of To Kill a Mockingbird or any Harry Potter book. You’ll see.) There will always be readers who just don’t want to read your work, or who don’t feel it if they do crack the cover.

That’s just the way this world rolls.

I’d like you to think about this: Rejection is proof that you’ve been in the fight. YOU put your work out there. YOU were brave. YOU didn’t hide behind your right to keep your words inside yourself.

Rejection is proof that you are a Ninja.

Here’s Stephen King on this subject:

Stephen King collected Sample Agent Rejection Letters.

We get them in our email inboxes. I was going to assign you the task of driving a nail into your wall to hang your rejections on, but the times have changed since Stephen King was fourteen. Our rejection is digital. So here’s what I want you to do today: make an email tag and title it REJECTION.

Filling that sucker up means that you’re doing it right.

ASSIGNMENT FIFTEEN

Make a REJECTION label in your email inbox today. Then make a commitment to start doing the thing that will fill it up. (Hint: that’s putting your work out there.) Build up your own version of Stephen King’s collection of rejection letters. If you use Gmail, you do that by going to the sidebar all the way to the left and scrolling to the bottom. Click on “Create New Label.”

Come on over to Facebook and share your thoughts on rejection today. Let’s work on toughening our hides together.

 

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Day Fourteen: Build a Writing Craft Library

(Day 14) Build a Writing Craft Library

Being a Ninja Writer means constantly working to improve your craft.

One way you can do that is by building a library of writing craft books. You can buy them new or head to your public library and borrow them. Or keep your eye on used bookstores and thrift stores. Fill up your Kindle. This isn’t about getting all these books at once.

Just pick one. Get it. Study it. Then move on.

If you want to do that with the Ninjas, we’re starting a book club in November. The first book is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Click here to get signed up, so I can send you a free workbook when the time comes.

Yesterday we talked about how you’re the boss of your writing business. That makes you a professional. Part of being a professional is studying and staying on top of your craft.

Here are some of the books that make up my personal writing craft library. Click the covers to find out more about each book. (If you’re starting from scratch and need to add just one book, I suggest On Writing. If you can add two more, Self-editing for Fiction Writers and The Writer’s Journey. Those three are my trifecta.)

ASSIGNMENT FOURTEEN

We’re starting a Ninja Writer’s Book Club where we’ll study and discuss a writing craft book once every quarter. The first book is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and we’re studying it in November. Click here to get signed up for that.

Come by Facebook and share your favorite writing craft book!

 

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Day Thirteen: You Are The Boss

(Day 13) You Are the Boss

“The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.” — Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.

So, today’s post is a little more esoteric than most of the others in this series. It’s kind of a thought exercise, I guess.

I want you to understand something on a bone-deep level.

You are the Boss of your writing career. The Boss, capital B.

That means that you set goals for yourself and keep them. If you wouldn’t tell your day-job boss that you can’t come into work because you’re too busy or your kids that you can’t make dinner because your muse didn’t show up today–then don’t pull that shit on your writing career.

Set a goal for yourself. Write it in your planner. In ink.

And show up. Expect yourself to behave like a professional writer.

It’s okay if your goal is ten minutes of writing a day. You can write the first draft of a novel in a year that way, if you are diligent. But you have to show up and be all in for those ten minutes.

If you wouldn’t call up any other boss and give them the excuses you’re giving yourself, then don’t give them to yourself.

Here’s what I’d like you think about doing today. Head over to Vistaprint and buy yourself some business cards. You can order a hundred cards for less than $10. Google ‘Vistaprint Coupons’ and you’ll almost certainly find some. As I write this, there’s a coupon out there that will give you 500 cards for $9.99. Vistaprint is known for having good deals.

(I’m not getting a commission or anything from Vistaprint. It’s okay if you want to go with another company. I like Moo.com as well. Vistaprint is cheaper, but maybe a little less cool.)

Here’s the card I ordered for myself when I knew I was going to a Comic Con and a writing conference back-to-back.

It might seem silly, but I promise just having those cards in your pocket will help you feel like what you are: the CEO of your writing business.

ASSIGNMENT THIRTEEN

Head over to Vistaprint or another business card printer and get some made up. It’s a small investment, but it will make a difference.

When your cards come in, come share a picture in our Facebook group! In the meantime, you can share your design and get some feedback.

 

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Day Twelve: Build a Stable of Ideas

(Day 12) Build a Stable of Ideas

This is what happens to me practically every time I get into the second act of a new story:

The most brilliant idea that I’ve ever had pops up like a dandelion.

It’s just there, all of a sudden, full grown and beautiful. Full of wishes and dreams.

This delicate dandelion of an idea is the idea. The one that’s going to make me a bestseller. The one that’s going to be the best book I’ve ever written.

So, what in the hell am I doing still working on this other thing. This stupid, slow, sloggy thing that I hate only marginally less than I hate mayonnaise.

And I really hate mayonnaise.

Of course, though, there’s this one little thing: This stupid, slow, sloggy thing was my last brilliant dandelion idea. And it came while I was deep in the mire of my last great idea. And so on. And so on.

I told you about my one rule: no editing while drafting.

That’s really a kind of sub-rule to the actual, true one rule. The only rule that really matters.

Finish that first draft.

No matter how much you hate it while you’re writing the second act and no matter how great your next idea is, finishing your manuscript is the only thing that matters.

Let me put that more concisely. (I’m going to curse. Plug your ears if you’re sensitive.)

Finish the first fucking draft. Just. Finish. It. Ninja. Writer.

Here’s what you do with that great idea that’s poking at your brain, trying to distract you from your prime imperative: Write it down. After you’ve done your work for the day on your current work-in-progress, spend some time developing it and testing it.

Do that as often as you want to. As often as new ideas pop-up in the lawn of your creative brain.

Develop and test a whole stable of ideas so that when you’re finally finished with the book you’re working on, you can have your choice for the next.

That’s how you take the long game view of this writing career thing.

ASSIGNMENT TWELVE

If you haven’t done it already, go on over and get signed up for How to Develop + Test a Story Idea (H2DSI.) It’s free. It really works. It’s the exact method I use to make sure that I never get to the end of one story and find myself with nothing to start. And it’s the method I use to make sure those beautiful dandelion ideas don’t blow away on the wind before I can get to them.

I have a separate notebook just for my developed ideas. You can do that, or just use a fresh page in your current notebook.

Come on over to Facebook and check in when you’re all signed up for H2DSI.

 

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Day Eleven: Make a Long Game Plan

(Day 11) Make a Long Game Goal

NANOWRIMO is coming and I know that a lot of you are planning on giving it a go. And some of you, if you finish your novel, want to self-publish it at least in part because it’s considerably faster than the molasses-slow traditional publishing process.

There’s this feeling sometimes that we have to slam out a novel and get it on Amazon as fast as humanly possible.

I want to make a case today for looking well beyond next month, or even next year.

Here’s a quote from a great article written by author Hugh Howey:

My plan was to write two novels a year for ten years before I ascertained whether or not I had a chance of making this work. . . . If you set a long term plan like this, and stick with it, you will succeed. Because you’ll find yourself in the top 0.1% of aspiring writers. 99.9% of your colleagues will drop out before they finish their plan. But you’ll outwork them.

I love that.

What he’s saying here is that if you set a long game goal for yourself and stick with it, you’ll win simply by virtue of working harder than everyone else.

You’ll win, because you’re still there.

Notice that he didn’t say, “My plan was to spend ten years writing one novel perfectly.”

His plan was to write two novels a year for a decade, and then decide whether or not he might be successful. That’s twenty novels. Twenty novels is somewhere in the vicinity of 1.6 million words.

Guess what, Ninja. You can’t write twenty novels without getting better at it.

You can’t write about 1.6 million words without learning something about writing a novel.

Today, I’d like you to think about your long game goal.

ASSIGNMENT ELEVEN

Open to a new page in your notebook, title it “Long Game Goal,” and write down yours. Come on over to Facebook and share it there, too. Because you know, a goal you make public is far more likely to happen.

 

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Day Nine: Keep a Story Journal

(Day Nine) Keep a Story Journal

If you ask anyone who’s known me for more than, oh, twenty-four hours, they’d probably tell you that books are my favorite thing.

The truth is though, that’s not precisely right.

I do love books, don’t get me wrong. But the thing I love the most is a story.

I love to read a good story. Or watch it. Or listen to it.

I’m drawn to a story like a bee to a flower.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to keep a story journal. This is one of those things I’m going to do for the first time right along with you. For the rest of October, let’s keep a little log of the stories we take in.

Nothing too elaborate. Just the date, the title, a little about who wrote it or made it, and a line or two about how it effected you or what you took from it. Something you loved. Something you didn’t. Something that stood out. A favorite quote. I almost added ‘and a star rating’ here, but changed my mind.

This isn’t about judging stories. It’s about paying attention to them.

ASSIGNMENT NINE

You can do this in your challenge notebook. If you think it’s something that might take root, though, you might want to grab another notebook. I have a fancy one that Kevin gave me for my last birthday that I’m going to use.

Start keeping a journal or log of the stories you take in: books, short stories, movies. Even a great conversation or a spectacular blog post. Anytime someone tells you a story, in whatever form, and it moves you–write it down. Don’t worry about writing a lot or being perfect. This is just a log that you can turn to when you need to goose your muse a little.

Share a picture with us on Facebook.

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Day Eight: Comparison is the Thief of Joy

(Day Eigth) The Thief of Joy

Teddy Roosevelt’s quote really speaks to me.

Comparison is the thief of joy. It just sucks the happy juice right out of everything.

I know how hard it can be. You read about some 24-year-old selling the first draft of her first novel for six figures, or that one guy in your writing group gets an agent when you’ve been trying for five years longer than he has. Or an unlimited number of things, right?

Here’s a fact of life: there will always be someone a step or two (or ten) ahead of where you are.

For the rest of October, I want you to practice not comparing yourself with other writers. Not published writers. Not the other writers in your critique group. Not your cousin’s best friend’s daughter’s teacher who just got a publishing contract. Not anyone.

You are exactly where you’re supposed to be on your own journey, right now, today. You’re writing everyday. You’re reading intensely. You’re setting your goals and sticking to them. You’re learning.

If you do all of that consistently for long enough, you will keep moving forward on your own path. 

You can’t be on anyone else’s.

I know this might seem silly, but today I want you to pick a mantra that will remind you to stay on your own course.

Mine is the Ray Bradbury quote I shared with you on day two: “Just write everyday of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens.”

You’re welcome to borrow mine. Or you can pick another writing quote. Or some sort of affirmation.

How about: I am a Ninja Writer.

ASSIGNMENT EIGHT

Take a Sharpie and write your mantra across the front of your notebook. Say it out loud everyday for the rest of the month. See where that takes you.

Come on over to Facebook and share your mantra with the class.

 

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