THE CRAFT OF WRITING – MARCH 2020
THE CRAFT OF WRITING – MARCH 2020
HOW I AVOIDED KINESTASIS BY READING “HOW TO MAKE A LIVING AS A WRITER”
by Kay DiBianca
In the 1980’s, my husband, Frank, invented and patented a medical imaging device which he named the Kinestatic Charge Detector (KCD). If you’re interested, you can read the abstract of the original paper here.
The KCD worked on the principle of ions moving in one frame of reference, but stationary in another. To illustrate this principle, Frank coined the word “kinestatic” by combining “kinetic” (moving) with “static” (still). What a great word! To our knowledge, this word had never been used prior to his conceiving it.
Frank has often compared kinestasis (the noun form of the word) with walking up a down escalator. You’re moving in relation to the steps, but you’re stationary in relation to the outside world.
There are lots of other situations in everyday life that are kinestatic. Do you walk on a treadmill? You’re kinestatic. In another context, do you ever find yourself rushing around all day doing things but accomplishing nothing? Kinestasis!
As writers, we can identify. I often start the day rarin’ to go with my to-do list propped up next to my laptop. I can hardly wait to start pouring my soul into the keyboard at hundreds of words per hour. But first I check my book’s sales rank, then I respond to emails and read my favorite blogs. Time to take a break, get a cup of coffee, and check my sales rank again. Oh yes, I better click over to Amazon, Goodreads, and Kobo to see if my book received any new reviews. And then there’s social media to catch up on. You get the picture. On those days, I become kinestatic — rushing through the day and getting nowhere.
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In order to have the discipline to stay the course as a writer, you have to know the course. James Scott Bell’s book “How to Make a Living as a Writer” lays out practical steps to navigate the labyrinth of the publishing world and become successful.
This book is an entire library of writing information, from creativity to business acumen. Goal-setting, publishing, branding, marketing. It’s all here.
Whether you intend to make writing your primary source of income or not, get off the treadmill and pick up a copy of this book. It will enhance your writing life.
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I am doubly thrilled to welcome James Scott Bell as my guest today. Mr. Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure (Writer’s Digest Books). His thrillers include Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way and Romeo’s Hammer (the Mike Romeo thriller series); Try Dying, Try Darkness and Try Fear (the Ty Buchanan legal thriller series); and stand-alones including Your Son Is Alive and Final Witness (which won the first Christy Award for Suspense). He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written several popular writing books, including Just Write, Conflict & Suspense, and The Art of War for Writers (all from Writer’s Digest Books). He’s also published How to Write Dazzling Dialogue, Write Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structure, and How to Make a Living as a Writer.
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Welcome, James Scott Bell. Thank you for joining us!
Thanks for having me, Kay.
Why did you write How to Make a Living as a Writer?
For a couple of reasons. First off, I know there are many writers out there who dream of making this a full-time occupation. It’s not easy to do, but it’s especially hard if you don’t have a strategy. I wanted to lay out a strategic approach any writer can use.
Second, I wanted to give writers the basic business principles they need to succeed. This is, after all, a business, whether you publish with a traditional company or go out and publish on your own. This book helps on both counts.
What would you tell a novice writer is the most important attribute (s)he must have to be a successful author?
Production and growth. You have to be able to produce the words, the books. That’s why I’ve always been a quota guy. I tell people to figure out the number of words they can comfortably write in a week, then up that by 10%. Divide that into days. If you miss a daily goal, you can make it up on other days. I usually take one day off from writing every week, to recharge.
And keep growing in the craft. Read books and blogs (like KillZoneblog.com), go to conferences, get feedback. Apply what you learn to your writing. Write practice scenes to try things out. Just like a golfer who goes to the range on his days off.
Do you recommend traditional publishing or self-publishing?
There are pros and cons to each, of course. Traditional publishers know how to design a book and get it into bookstores (those that remain, that is!). But in return a writer signs away rights to his work that can be difficult to get back should things go south. This is where a writer needs to be aware of contract terms so he can discuss things with his agent.
An indie writer keeps his rights and can publish more frequently, but also has to learn how to produce a good-looking product—formatting, cover design, and so forth.
Marketing is another skill a writer will have to work on, because most of that effort now falls upon their shoulders, whether they are traditional or indie.
Eventually, it always comes down to the books themselves. They have to be good, they have to please readers.
How important is it to have a professional editor?
A good, experienced editor can help a new writer. It’s expensive, but if you look at it as an investment in your career, it can make sense. Do some research, get a recommendation, see if the editor will do a sample edit with you before you sign up.
An alternative is a good group of beta readers. After all, you’re writing for readers, ultimately. Advice on this option can be found by going to KillZoneBlog.com and searching for “beta readers.”
Are audio books worth all the trouble and expense?
Audio is definitely the growth area in the book industry right now. Long term, it’s a good asset to have. ACX from Amazon offers writers the opportunity to team up with narrators and split the royalties 50/50. This is perhaps the most cost-effective way to go about audio. The alternative is to shell out the money up front to hire a narrator and keep all the royalties.
A new outfit called FindawayVoices.com has come on the scene. I don’t know much about it, but it is worth checking out.
I purchased my own equipment and am doing my own audio versions. The big challenge is time. It takes a long time to record and edit an audio book. On the plus side, all royalties flow directly to me.
So each author needs to take an objective look at their time, ability, desire, and wallet to sort this through.
With so many resources available: podcasts, blogs, email loops, how does an aspiring author decide which ones to join?
Research and recommendations. Just make sure that none of these overtake your main priority: writing and producing the work.
I hear a lot about branding. How does a new author go about establishing a brand?
A brand is a set of reader expectations. You want to build a readership. You want that readership to become a fan base. That means giving them content they like, which is usually a specific genre. Stephen King specialized in horror. Grisham in legal thrillers. They only deviated from their brand when they were big enough that their publishers allowed a one-off. Then they got back on brand.
So I would advise finding the genre you love and specializing in it. If you’re an indie writer, you have some freedom to try new things, especially in short form. But for the most part, sticking to a brand makes building a fan base easier.
Do you have any other guidance for us that I haven’t asked here?
I like what a writer named Michael Bishop once said: “One may achieve remarkable writerly success while flunking all the major criteria for success as a human being. Try not to do that.”
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
JamesScottBell.com and Patreon.com/jamesscottbell.
Thank you, Jim, for being with us today!
Another awesome interview! Thank you Kay and James. I’m currently listening to How to Write Dazzling Dialogue on audio. I’m thankful you mentioned audio books here. I’ve had a few folks ask me if my book was available on audio and so far the answer is no, largely because that is a big investment and this is my debut novel. I don’t think the return would justify the expense at this point. Do you have any advice on at what point should an author start to consider investing in audio?
Good morning, Lori! That’s a great question. I’ll be interested to see JSB’s response because I had the same situation. Like you, I had people asking whether my debut novel was available in audio, so I decided to look into it. I thought I could save some money by narrating it myself. It didn’t take long to discover that I had neither the time nor the talent for that! 😊
Frank and I decided to work through my publisher to have the book narrated professionally. It’s expensive and I doubt the ROI is there, but it’s another piece of this publishing puzzle. I know there are other solutions that are available. (I’d be happy to share details with anyone. Just email me offline.)
Thanks for stopping by, Lori. I’m looking forward to April when YOU will be my interview guest.
Ooh! I’m looking forward to Lori’s interview too!
Lori, you and Kay are right to think about ROI. That’s really a foundational business principle for anything. For a debut novel, I’d wait. Write more good novels. Build an audience. This is he most important task for any new writer, so it makes sense not to detract from that with other ventures. You can go back and revisit the audio question later. Down the line, there may be easier ways to do audio…like AI doing a voice and all the transcribing for you…in two minutes. Yikes!
Good morning, Kay and James!
What a great interview, and I loved Kay’s intro about kinestasis, especially as it applies to writers. (Guilty!)
My two biggest takeaways this morning are branding and the Kill Zone blog site, which I hadn’t seen before today.
The idea of a brand as a set of reader expectations make’s branding meaningful and important to me right away. I hadn’t given much thought to developing a brand, as I defined branding before reading this interview. But I give quite a bit of thought to reader expectations. While my brand may not be a specific genre, there are certain elements and characteristics I’d like readers to always be able to expect from my fiction. So, in a sense, that seems like branding too. Thank you so much for helping me put a handle on the concept.
I can’t wait to nose around the Kill Zone blog site. I don’t write suspense as a genre, but we all want our stories to be suspenseful. We want them to be page turners. Thank you for giving us another great resource to that end.
Good morning, Lisa! This idea of branding is very interesting, isn’t it? I like the notion that we have to be sensitive to our readers’ expectations.
Definitely take a look at The Kill Zone blog. It’s a fantastic source of writerly insight and advice.
Jim, I have a question that’s a little off-topic, but I’d like to hear your opinion:
Although I applaud what Amazon has done to make publishing a reality for anyone who would like to see their work in print — whether real or virtual — I’m concerned about Amazon’s exclusivity tendencies. (e.g., I understand the ACX royalty-sharing program requires the product to be exclusive on Amazon for seven years!)
Something in my libertarian nature bristles at the thought of being tied to Amazon’s apron chains. (oops — sorry — Freudian slip.)
What advice do you have for authors regarding going wide vs. going Amazon?
The question, to be blunt, is whether you want to make a statement or make more moolah. I’ve tested wide and exclusive, and I’ve seen a net gain by having my fiction in Kindle Select. For new writers, the promo advantages of Kindle Select can get lots of eyeballs on your pages, which is what you need. Since this is my business, maximizing profit is my goal. I can’t control market forces or corporate decisions. I can only look at the landscape and decide what the best path forward for me is. Going wide can also a good decision if it’s based on deeply held beliefs and rational hope that the wide market keeps growing.
Thank you, James, for your post and answers to questions here. So if an author doesn’t market, is there basically no hope for that person’s books or do you have any advice for them? Or are there any avenues available where an author can still “just write”–which is sort of old-school now, right? For instance, do publishers who do direct-to-consumer books still require author marketing on top of their own?
And thank you, Kay, for your great series!
Barbara, Thank you for stopping by. Your question about marketing is a great one. One we’re all interested in.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, authors did “just write” and the publisher handled all the marketing. Mostly with paid ads in newspapers (these were made of paper with ink markings. People used to read these in the morning and evening, and on trains) and co-op in bookstores. They’d put their money behind books they thought would hit big or behind authors they saw rising…this is how Lee Child became Lee Child, when his publisher decided with Book #7 they’d give it the full-on, no-holds-barred treatment. It obviously worked.
Then came 2007 and a little device called the Kindle. And the publishing industry underwent massive disruption. Marketing moved from paid print ads to digital. Publisher started preferring authors with platforms, and putting most of the marketing burden on them. Indie authors, of course, have to do it all themselves anyway.
I wrote a book called Marketing for Writers Who Hate Marketing which makes it all very simple.
Thanks, Kay, for this blog and the shout out about kinestasis! I still remember the double-decker tour bus ride in Oxford, where you got the editorial assistant for the OED to present to her boss the word “kinestatic” as a candidate for their next edition. They eventually declined because there were not enough examples of its usage in circulation. There are now. We should try again. 🙂
James, I was intrigued by your response regarding the most important attribute a writer needs: production and growth.
I’ve also found keeping your nose to the grindstone essential. Two other attributes I feel are important are creativity (thinking, writing, thinking, writing…till you get it just right) and a love of words (like each word is your own child—yes, you need a big nursery for that 🙂 ).
Thanks to both of you, and the commenters, for putting together a great conversation!
Right you are…nose to the grindstone, for me, means producing the words consistently, even when you “don’t feel like it.”
I also advocate a weekly creativity time, at least an hour for creative play on ideas. Develop story possibilities all the time!
Thank you, James, for your explanation on the marketing change. I didn’t realize that the Kindle is what instituted this. Very interesting. And thank you for letting us know about this additional book of yours. I’m guessing we can find it on–Kindle! Ha!
Thank you again!
So sorry, Kay. I was out all day Tuesday, and couldn’t participate. Interesting subject and questions. The book James mentions about self-marketing sounds interesting. It sounds like it would make a great gift to an aspiring author. Of the advice given, fitting in large blocks of writing time when this was not an origial avocation is the hardest. For a lot of people now, it’s something we’ve found we’re good at, later in life. To quote Cher from her song, “If I could turn back time,” I would have encouraged my love of words and drama into a usable form sooner, and have simply wrote to get better at it until I could do more.
Judy, Thank you for stopping by. I have JSB’s book “Marketing for Writers Who Hate Marketing.” It’s very good and easy to read. He lists a lot of resources – very useful for those of us who are new at this.
Although I came to fiction writing “later” in life, I feel like I’ve found a pearl of great price. It’s a wonderful gift and one I intend to keep enjoying as long as I can.
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