On Wednesday this week, I hosted a workshop meeting for the writers group in town I help run.
The group is called Writers and Scribblers, because I like the word scribblers and I like not taking myself too seriously. Being married to a man 26 years older than I am, I tend to be far more reserved than I would be if I’d married a man my own age. I think the balance in our marriage is that I make my husband younger and he makes me older– in behaviors and attitudes– which means I keep a lookout for ways to not be a conservative, uptight I-can’t-change-and-you-better-not-make-me kind of stick in the mud some oldsters turn into.
No offense to oldsters. But I think we all know a few sticks-in-the-mud. They’re certainly out there.
I think I’d rather hang out with anyone than a crab. Snap snap.
Though, to be fair, it can be fun to hear their life stories. The problem is, crabs don’t talk to you, they talk at you, which is no fun at all. I hate being talked at. It’s such an awful feeling. Old lonely people who are bitter and bitchy bother me a great deal. I want to be like, “Dude, you’ve lived how many years now? And you still can’t self-soothe? You can’t stop blaming people and complaining? For reals? I am so the F outta here.”
I never say that, of course. No one would say that to an oldster, cause it’s mean. So we just flee the scene, which makes them lonelier, and more bitter, and more crabby.
But that’s their thing. I have nothing to do with that.
I actually started this post so I could talk about my writing workshop.
Twelve people attended the meeting, and one more person arrived near the end. So 13 people total, but only 12 for the actual workshop.
The meeting was titled “Trigger Your Imagination: Writing Exercises to Improve Your Craft.”
First, I displayed a picture of a treehouse, and asked everyone to write a description of the treehouse doing four things: 1.) Use all five senses, 2.) Use specific language, 3.) Use (at least) one simile, and 4.) Use (at least) one metaphor.
Here was the treehouse the class voted to use:
I also brought this picture with me, but only 4 people voted for this one:
This house maybe looked a bit too Return of the Jedi for them.
After they had 10 minutes to write a description of the treehouse, I introduced a gender-switching exercise, read aloud a passage from this book (one of my favorite writing books, but definitely geared more for literary fiction than commercial):
“What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers” by Pamela Painter and Anne Bernays.
After reading the short intro on gender switching, I gave the participants the character description list from this book, and had everyone fill out the list as an opposite-gender character (men had to be women, and women had to be men).
Ten minutes for that activity.
Then I asked them to “take this character, put him or her in the treehouse, invent a problem, and write about this character in the treehouse with the problem.”
As I quickly discovered, the “invent a problem” thing was a step too far, too fast.
Like, game-over too far, too fast.
An activity that felt like a no-brainer to me was not a no-brainer. I jumped too many steps. “Inventing a problem” should have been its own exercise. The people brave enough to share their work admitted this was extremely challenging. One woman said that “inventing a problem” for a story was the one thing she always struggled with, the thing that held back her writing the most. “I can never think of a problem,” she said. “I just write characters, and they never have problems.”
So here is what I would do differently next time:
Only have 2 writing activities (not 3). Don’t jump any steps. Make each activity simple, straightforward (like my description activity was). Let people share after each activity, rather than waiting until the end.
In this case, I waited until the end for “share time” because I only had an hour for the workshop, and I tend to always be the person who tries to stuff seven pounds of sugar in a five-pound sack. I teach this way, I live this way. I want to do, do, do so much every day, I overdo rather than underdo– and neither one is good.
Later, after share time, I reflected on the activities with them, and then I also asked if anyone had suggestions for our July meeting topic. One man said, “How to Have a Bestseller in 3 Easy Steps.”
I smiled at that. I held a long moment of quiet, just smiling at that. I made a few light-hearted comments about “Yes, wouldn’t that be nice. If only, right?”
Then I brought up Goodreads. I recommended they all have a Goodreads account, “Because that is where your readers hang out. That is where your customers hang out.”
I mean, not all readers have Goodreads accounts, but the ones who have the power to spread word of mouth really quickly for a given book– they are on that site. Cause a lot of popular book bloggers/reviewers post their reviews on Goodreads, where more people can find them and follow their reviews.
But back to the topic of how to have a bestseller in 3 easy steps.
Here’s how I would have answered that question, if I’d had time to answer that question during the meeting. I couldn’t share this then, because the meeting wasn’t about hitting the bestseller list. But since that meeting is over, and this is my blog, I feel entitled to share.
How to Have a Bestseller in 3 Easy Steps:
1. Write an AMAZING BOOK. Write a book that sucks people in, that makes them care deeply about the characters. Write characters who make readers laugh, cry, fall in love, and feel emotions acutely. Make your book so good that people stay up into the wee hours of the night to keep reading. Make your book so good that people sob when an important character dies, or they bite their nails to the quick when your characters are in danger, or they feel like their hair is turning white because you freak them out so much, or they are so turned on by your characters that they can’t read fast enough. And if you’re writing literary fiction, make your prose the equivalent of poetry porn, and then do all these same things.
2. After you have published your AMAZING BOOK, find readers. Traditional publishers may or may not help with this. If you self-publish, or publish with a small press, you’re going to have to find readers on your own. You need to find them, and you need to make it easy for them to find you. This means having a decent webpage with all the important info easy to navigate, being present on social media (you can pick the ones that work for you, cause you don’t have to do them all, but Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads are the best bets), and you can also give away free copies of your book and visit book clubs and directly promote your book whenever you can. You can participate in blog hops and write articles for popular book sites, to help get your name out there, help direct traffic to your website and your work. You can have a book launch party if you have the money for one. You’re in charge of bringing in customers for a book launch in a store, so make sure you can plug the event and bring people in the door, if you do this.
3. After you have published your AMAZING BOOK and made an effort to find readers, write your next AMAZING BOOK. Try to publish an AMAZING BOOK as often as you can, depending upon how fast you would like to make the bestseller list. As you keep publishing books, make sure you keep actively looking for readers. And if a traditional publishing company comes along and says, “Hey, small-time author, have I got a deal for you,” make sure you know your legal stuff before you sign a contract. Make sure the traditional publisher can take away the time-consuming hours of marketing– that they have “ins” with publicity avenues to drive up visibility. If marketing isn’t part of the publishing plan, then you say “nope” and wait until something better comes along. Because if you are writing AMAZING BOOKS, then something better will eventually come along.
That’s it. How to Have a Bestseller in 3 Easy Steps.
There are plenty of strategies online about this that are very different from my ideas. One man wrote a detailed plan for how he organized 3,000 people to post an Amazon review on his book the first day it was published, which pushed his book onto a mega-deals sales page online, which therefore drove his (nonfiction) book about business onto the bestseller list.
If you want to research these strategies online, go for it. They’re out there. There’s plenty of them. I don’t have the social media savvy to organize 3,000 book reviews in one day. I’m not a person with that kind of reach. But if you can manage something like that: the bestseller list awaits!
And if you can’t manage 3,000 reviews in one day… well, maybe there’s another trick you can find online. Or maybe you can go back to work on your next AMAZING BOOK. I totally vote for that option.