Now It Gets Real

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I’m almost finished with the first draft of my adult non-fiction project. I expect to be done by the end of May and have it the hands of beta readers by mid-June. That’s a blink of an eye. In a moment, it got real. I’m nervous. No, panicked. No, scared shitless. Yeah, that’s what I am.

I’m flying blind here. There are a myriad amount of things I’ll need to do to publish, promote and market this book. I’ve never done anything like this. In fact, this will be the biggest thing I’ve ever done.

And I’ve raised a son.

It has to be written well and perfectly presented. It has to have been thoroughly and brilliantly promoted and marketed on every social media outlet possible. It has to be published impeccably. And all this must be done by November fifteenth. That’s my launch date. In plenty of time for Christmas sales.

I feel hopelessly unprepared.

However, I will pull up my big girl panties and throw back my shoulders and face it. Whenever I’m faced with what seems like an overwhelming challenge, I break it down. Then all I’ve got are manageable pieces.

Right now all I can do is write this as best as I am able, then take it to my writers groups and get critique, which helps the manuscript. All I can do is work with the illustrator, who, I am sure, finds me frustrating at best. It seems I don’t know what I want until I see what I don’t want. I thank him for his patience in every email.

I will make copies to hand out to almost anyone willing to read and comment. Copies will also go to those who will help with promotion and marketing, to the web builder, and anyone else involved. By the end of July, I should have a finished product, ready to go to the publisher.

When I published my first book, after it had been with an agent and rejected by all the big publishing houses, there were no POD (Print On Demand) companies. Twenty-five years ago, the only options were to hire a vanity press or do it yourself. With my husband’s help, I did it myself. I still have four boxes of books in my garage.

This time I will probably use CreateSpace, a POD company in association with Amazon. I’ve heard good things. But I have no idea how involved the process is, especially when adding illustrations, or how long it takes. I plan to hire someone to figure all that out.

I will also have to hire people to build the website for this book, and to manage the social media. I want to make promotional videos to post online wherever. And those videos will require actors and a camera person. And music.

Whenever I add something to my list, more ideas come up. And the simplest idea becomes complicated the minute it’s thought.

How will I get reviews from credible sources? How do I get followers for all the social media outlets I will join? How do I make my promotional videos go viral? How do I reach my target audience? I haven’t a clue.

This is scary stuff.

I tend to procrastinate. I joke that it’s part of my process. But there’s no time for that with this project. My deadline is November fifteenth and if I miss it, I’ll have to put the book launch off until next year and that is not happening.

Stay tuned.

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Critique Groups

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Critique groups are like sardines — you either love them or hate them. Me, I love critique groups. Sardines, not so much. I think the love/hate issue with the former depends on whether you’ve ever been in a good one. I don’t know if there is a good sardine.

I’ve been in a few groups. The best have strong leaders with some knowledge of what constitutes good writing and how to go about improving. I’ve gone — one meeting is all it takes — to classes or groups with egocentric asses or clueless idiots as leaders. This doesn’t work for me. Getting together once or twice a month doesn’t work for me, exchanging pages beforehand doesn’t work for me — feels too much like homework. What I do like are read-and-critique groups that meet once a week, with members I can respect. The writer brings pages, usually not more than eight, and five or six are best. A chapter, basically. She may or may not pass out copies.Then she reads and everyone reads along or listens and gives their knee-jerk critiques.

This is amazingly helpful. Some have mocked the critique group, calling it “writing by committee.” It is not that. Be assured, it is always your story and you can tell it in any way you want. However, if you want your writing to improve, to maybe get to that level of traditional publishing, you may want feedback.

The writers who do not want to be critiqued generally believe they are already way too good to allow people to tell them what doesn’t work. This is a big mistake. It stops the progress of their writing. You have to be open to change. You have to be open to getting your butt kicked. It’s for your own good, believe me. Anyway, if you’re going to be any kind of artist, you’d better develop a thick skin. A critique group is a good place to start doing that.

Another great thing about committing to a weekly critique group is that, at least in ours, everyone is required to WRITE. Members can only go a couple of weeks before they are prodded to bring something: a new chapter, a revised chapter, an old or new short story. Knowing that I will have to read a new chapter every week makes me write a new chapter every week. And I get my first feedback on it immediately. I’ve written three complete novels since joining this group. I’ve seen other members finish novels and memoirs. We help each other with queries and synopses. I’ll be reading this blog entry to them. By the time  you read it, it will have been improved.

Often when  you read articles or blogs by agents and editors, they will tell you that if you’re going to spend any money on your manuscript, use it on a freelance editor. That’s good advice. But a professional editor can be expensive. My critique group serves this purpose nicely. They can weed out the offending grammar and unnecessary adjectives, tell me when my POV or tense changes and notice if the plot is going off the rails. Better still, they know my voice and the way I tell a story.

I still think we should all use an editor, if possible. We want to give that person the best we’ve been able to do with our book, so that hopefully she will not have all that much work to do on it, making it less expensive for us. Having run our manuscript through our critique group helps with that.

If you do get a group together, its a good idea to establish some ground rules. For our group, which we named The North County Writers Bloc, we have guidelines which set up how the meeting will be run. New members are given a copy. None of the rules are carved in stone but it helps to have some order.

You’ll find some critiquers will specialize. In our group we had the man who encouraged starting a chapter with dialogue, someone else who looks to shorten sentences, others specialize in opening up the plot, or finding those pesky passive verbs or pointing out problems with tense or point of view. And often, when others are being critiqued you’ll find you learn something, too.

Here’s what a few members of the North County Writers Bloc had to say about this blog entry:

“Yes, I agree. I’ve completed four novels. For a guy who doesn’t type, that’s pretty good. My stress is my business and it is forgotten when I’m writing. So is this extending my life.”

“I learn from others’ writing styles, vocabularies. It’s great entertainment, having all these stories. Orin ( a recently deceased member, sadly) always changes my beginnings.”

“If I hadn’t found NCWB, I would never have written anything. Let alone anything halfway decent.”