Growing up the only time I saw people like me on television was when I was at my grandmother’s house watching telenovelas or when there was a housekeeper/nanny/criminal on some other program. Literary pickings were even slimmer. There were no characters who looked, sounded, and acted like me or my loved ones. At least not ones written well and without stereotypes.
When I decided to become a writer I struggled to decide what kind of characters I would create. I wanted to tell stories about Latinx people, like me, but I also saw that all the characters in the stories I read were not people like me. I started writing stories about characters like the ones I saw in other books and secretly withered away inside.
For many years my family would tell me, “When are you going to write a story about us?” and I would reply, “Maybe one day.” Then I would go back to reading Twitter posts and blogs about the need for diversity in publishing, nod my head in agreement, but continue to write the same types of stories. Taking up the mantle seemed like such a daunting task and something better suited for more established and experienced authors.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was wrong.
At a Barbara Vey’s Reader Appreciation Luncheon I had the incredible luck of scoring a seat at my writing idol’s table and we discussed writing. She asked me what I was working on. I told her I was currently taking a break from writing, because I just didn’t feel motivated. She asked me if I had any ideas that I felt excited about and I hesitated to answer. Eventually I told her that I’d always wanted to write a series based off a large and animated Puerto Rican family like mine. Her response was, “That’s awesome. Why haven’t you written it yet?” I tried to explain that I didn’t think it would work and how I thought it was something better left for other (already represented) authors. She grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Listen to me. Nobody is better equipped to write those stories than you. Your stories need to be heard, so write them.”
I sat there in a sort of dumbfounded shock and thought to myself, “Is she right? Should I be writing these stories? Can I handle the pressure?” I thought about my life. About how I was forced to use my Barbies to act out stories as a kid, because I couldn’t find any about people like me anywhere else. I thought about how I have always been a proud Latina, even when others tried to discourage me from being one. I realized that I wasn’t doing myself or potential readers justice. There are people out there hungry for diverse stories and I can provide some.
I immediately went back to my hotel room and started plotting. I haven’t gotten as far as I’ve wanted. As you fellow writers know, life often gets in the way of our best laid plans. However, I can finally say that for the first time in a long time, I am excited to write. I look forward to finally giving my family and others like us a story with real representation to enjoy.
When she was in the first grade Natalie Caña was given an assignment: write a few sentences about the old lady who lived in the shoe. Four pages later (front and back) in which she wrote a whole new version of the story, it became clear to her mother that she was a writer. However the type of writer she was remained unclear, so she tried a little bit of everything. She wrote plays, screenplays, poems, song lyrics, news stories, and even produced some television. It wasn’t until she picked up her first romance novel, that everything was revealed (clouds parted and angels sang). She was a romance writer. Now she writes contemporary romances that allow her incorporate her witty sense of humor (it’s impossible to quiet) and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her.
I spent nine years getting ready to birth a book. I would have preferred it take nine months, but everyone’s publishing journey is different. I like to think I gained some wisdom after surviving my debut launch. Wisdom I will share with all of you.
A good friend of mine debuted her first novel in March. She was busy planning for the big day. Blog posts. A party. Popping champagne. I think I startled her when I told her she wouldn’t have a launch day, she’d have a launch year. Yep! Once that novel goes live on Amazon, you will be banging the promotional drum for the rest of your life, or at least one year. We place pressure on ourselves for “the day” and we need some hoopla, but authors need to be connecting with readers and increasing discoverability for months, not days.
The publishing world has changed dramatically since I first put pen to paper. Thousands of books are placed on Amazon every year. Some authors don’t need to work on discoverability because everyone knows their name and is waiting breathlessly for their next novel. The rest of us have to build our reach organically. Is it work? Yes? Can it be fun? Most of the time.
How do you get readers to know you have a book in the digital world? First, you have to know who your readers are and where they hang out. I write Christian
fiction. I make a point to be on Christian blogs a couple of times a month. I will also guest on podcasts about writing topics or topics that connect me to readers. I survived breast cancer and I talk about that aspect of my life since it intersects with launching my debut novel. Readers may not be able to relate to writing a book, but they probably know someone who battled cancer.
I didn’t know any podcasters when I signed my first contract. I met podcasters at writing conferences and on Christian publishing loops. Opportunities abound in writing communities.
Have you visited your local libraries? Not to check out books, but to ask them to buy your books. Repeat after me, “The reference librarian is my friend.” Libraries don’t return books to your publisher. When they buy a book, it’s sold for life, or until it’s placed in the Friends of the Library sale. Walk into your local library and introduce yourself. This is your homework for the week. Hand the librarian a sell sheet and politely ask them to purchase your book. Would your book sell well in a different region of the country? Call a few libraries in that geographic area.
Also, visit local bookstores. Even those “Big Name” stores. You are a local author and customer. If you won’t ask them to carry your book, send a relative. My mom is one of my best marketers.
Don’t sweat your launch day. Enjoy the experience and be proactive every month to reach your readership. That first year will fly by.
Barbara M. Britton lives in Southeast Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. Barb writes romantic adventures for teens and adults in the Christian fiction and Mainstream markets. She is published in Biblical fiction and enjoys bringing little known Bible characters to light in her Tribes of Israel series. Barb is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America and Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. Barb has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
The Substitute Wife by CiCi Cordelia
Love, Unexpected by Virginia McCullough
Fangs & Fins (Blood, Bloom, & Water Book One) by Amy McNulty
Succubus Lips (Succubus Sirens Book One) by Lina Jubilee
I was once asked what success meant. I remember struggling for an answer because I’d never given the definition of success much thought before. Back then, I was in customer support for a software company, so I equated success to a day of answered calls. However, that wasn’t what the asker was looking for. The person asking the question went on to explain that there was no right answer to the definition of success because what I define as success, another person might not.
His words have stayed with me through the years, and as I started my new career as an author, I found myself facing a similar question. What is success to an author? As an industry-collective thought, the answer seems to revolve around landing a traditional publishing deal. By doing so, an author has “made it” as a published author. But was that a definition of success which would satisfy me?
When I first started researching how to become published in 2012, the wheels of change had been slowly turning for years, thanks to the inception of Amazon’s self-publishing platform in 2007. That change had opened doors for many aspiring authors, who had taken a self-publishing route.
I read how, with an upload of a file, an aspiring author could instantly reach readers. I remember spending hours researching article after article about the pros and cons of self-publishing and just wishing someone would come out and say which was the right thing for me to do. There was no article with the magic answer, and the more I researched, the more I began to understand that the answer lay in the reason why I wanted to publish my books. I just wanted to share the stories that had so entertained me during their creation.
With the digital age in full swing and rising projections of readers switching to devices, I took the plunge and went the self-publishing route. January 2013, I uploaded my first book, quickly followed by a second in March and a third in April. Did I consider myself successful? Let’s look at the numbers:
No, I wasn’t very successful, but I was persistent and kept researching and learning about the market, my target audience, and my options. October 2013, everything changed when I altered my pricing strategy and my covers. I suddenly had over 2,000 downloads of Hope(less), the first book in my Judgement Series (the second book I published). I was finally reaching readers and sharing my stories.
Today, I write full-time, out earning what I’ve made in any of my previous careers. Although I do consider that a level of success, my income still doesn’t define my success. It didn’t in previous careers so why should it now?
The original reason I started writing and why I continue to write, remains my definition of success. To share the stories in my head. To give all my imaginary friends a voice. To be read. To date I’ve sold over 300,000 books and given away over 500,000 series starters.
Success can be measured in so many different ways. What’s your measure of success?
by: Melissa Haag
Melissa Haag lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. An avid reader she spent many hours curled in a comfortable chair flipping pages in her teens. She began writing a few years ago when some ideas just refused to be ignored any longer.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
Phaze by S.C. Mitchell
Loving a Hero by Cheryl Yeko
After All by Laurie Winter
Betting the Scot: Highlanders of Balforss Book 2 by Jennifer Trethewey
When I saw this quote late last year, I didn’t realize just how much it would affect my writing from that day forward. It has, however, now become the mantra I chant when I barrel through 5,000-10,000 words a day. That simple sentence changed the way I write… and I’d like to think it’s for the better.
The first novel I wrote took a few years of on and off dabbling. When inspiration struck I wrote a paragraph here, a sentence there, until finally I typed those two magical words. The end. The feeling I had when I finished was a sense of accomplishment unlike any I’d experienced before. I wanted to go back and do it again… to feel the rush of knowing I’d done it. I’d written a novel.
So I started a new one. Again, a paragraph here, a sentence there but always waiting… waiting for inspiration to guide my hand and craft the words into something beautiful. Hours could be spent staring at that damn flashing cursor waiting for that poetic sentence to come together. It was then I saw the quote.
That night I started typing. Fast. I had the story in my head and the characters were off running. Rather than trying to find the perfect words to describe their every move and feeling, I just started pouring words onto the page like a court reporter transcribing everything I saw. I was amazed at how fast the story was unfolding, and how many more layers I could see, smell, and hear when I wasn’t distracted searching for the perfect word. Instead, I was standing inside my story in the middle of the action just scribbling as fast as I could to keep up.
When I was done that night I had typed 11,000 words. There were errors galore. The grammar police would have locked me up and thrown away the key. That road to hell paved with adverbs? I was skipping down it with a grin stretched wide across my face. But even with all the ugliness, I had created something quite beautiful. A story… or at least part of it.
The next day I did the same. Then the next, and the next. In under two weeks my entire novel was done. It wasn’t beautiful… but it was done. The skeleton and skin were laid and now it was time to go back and slap some hair and makeup on that motley looking creature. I was Professor Henry Higgins and my novel was Eliza Doolittle. Charming, but in need of a lot of refinement.
With the story sorted and the scenes set, I was shocked how easy it was to rework my sentences and find those perfect words quite effortlessly that I struggled with before. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t trying to create a story and a sentence all at once. The story was done, now I just needed to add some flourish to it.
Since changing my approach to writing, I am now writing faster than my publisher can keep up. I finished a new novel before they even had time to read the previous one. My “get ‘er done” writing style is not only more enjoyable for me since I get to throw myself into the story, but it has made me much more effective. With this new system, writing a novel is no longer a daunting mountain to climb, but more like small hills I need to jog up and down several times. It’s still the same distance in the end, just broken up into much more manageable pieces.
When I am in a scene, I’m trying my best to write sentences that flow and won’t leave me cringing when I come back through sporting my editor hat. However, when I get tripped up over a word or a phrase I ask myself “Do I need to know this right now or can I come back and figure this out later?” If it’s the latter, which it usually is, I slap down an adverb or an ugly sentence and keep on trucking.
After a particularly long stretch of writing my latest novel, I was in a fight scene and didn’t want to lose my rhythm. When I wasn’t sure how to describe my villain, I threw a sentence in that said “He’s ugly as hell. Work in ways to describe him.” That’s a direct quote. From my novel. Well, it was a direct quote before I went back and edited it to work in a very appropriate description. The point being, rather than lose my momentum by stopping to word-craft, I followed the energy of the story and came back later to pretty it up.
If you find yourself struggling to complete your manuscript, I encourage you to try this technique. Focus on writing the best you can without slamming on the brakes to obsess over what words best describe the color of your hero’s eyes. Just call them blue and move on. Later you can send us swimming in cerulean pools frozen beneath winter’s breath. Just write. Let your story unfold and follow it without delay. When you reach the finish line, take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and then sit down in the sand you just shoveled and start building those sandcastles.
Katherine Hastings loves love. It’s why she writes romance novels. Getting lost writing a romantic adventure is one of her favorite past times. When she’s s not on an adventure in her mind with her characters, she can be found at her home in Wisconsin snuggling her husband, two Boston Terriers, and the world’s naughtiest cat. Two things make Katherine want to leave her happy home these days…going for rides on her dressage pony or floating at the beach in her big inflatable raft. Writing her novels while floating in the lake is one of her ultimate pleasures…that and Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds, of course.
Valerie J. Clarizio, Virginia McCullough, Kira Shayde, S.C. Mitchell, Lisa Romdenne and Mary Grace Murphy will be at UntitledTown presenting a panel entitled A Look at the Romance Genre and Women’s Fiction – The Genres that Outpace Themselves Year After Year.
Each month, WisRWA will announce the new books our members have published. We call it New Release Tuesday.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
The Shopkeeper’s Secret by Nancy Sweetland
To Discover a Divine (Rise of the Stria Book One), by Tessa McFionn
Barbara M. Britton will be at The Columbus Books & Beer Book Club at the Black Kettle Pub in Columbus, WI on March 22nd at 7 p.m.
The 27th Annual Fabulous Five contest for unpublished authors and authors not published in book length fiction in the last five years is open for entries. WisRWA is pleased to be able to offer entrants of the 2018 Fabulous Five contest a chance to win one of eight detailed critiques from a published WisRWA author. We wanted to introduce everyone to each of these authors, and share a little bit about their writing journey. Without further ado, please meet our final author: Barbara Raffin.
Barbara grew up a country girl on the Michigan-Wisconsin border, but loves to visit the big city and live the hurried pace now and then. Blessed with a vivid imagination, she’s created stories and adventures in one form or another for as long as she can remember. Whether a romantic romp or gothic-flavored paranormal, her books have one common denominator: characters who are wounded, passionate, and searching for love. Her books will make you laugh and cry.
WISRWA: How long have you been writing? Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
BARBARA: I wrote my first book at the age 12 — a zillion years ago. I didn’t write seriously until I was in my 30s.
It hasn’t been an easy journey to publication. I have a hard time fitting into a category. I published first in e-publishing, seeing it as the future in books, I’ve been contracted by a few small presses and am currently trying out the indie market.
BARBARA: The importance of dialogue clicked with me when I read Elizabeth Lowell’s Only Love. Prior to that, my characters talked mostly inside their heads. It was a true light bulb moment.
WISRWA: What is one piece of writing or industry advice you can offer to unpublished authors?
BARBARA: Trust your instincts.
WISRWA: Any new books coming out in the near future?
BARBARA: The fifth and final book in my St. John Siblings series will be out later in 2018.
For a chance to win a detailed critique by Barbara, don’t forget to enter the Fabulous Five contest. She will be offering a detailed a detailed critique for one lucky entrant from all the entries. For more information about the contest and to enter, click here.