The perfect brand is like the perfect pair of jeans.

Last night I came across a wonderful blog post about brand. Can you, the author challenged, sum up your brand in one word? (Check it out here.)

Can we? When I come across people who are skeptical about brand, I tell them that brand isn’t the entire you; it’s a gateway to you and your work. And I don’t care if you say you loathe brand, if you refuse to fit the mold or narrow yourself into a brand. You still have one. You might as well own it.

Brand for authors can be a difficult notion because we’re creative-types, artists, and, often, nonconformists. At one point, I might have been skeptical, too, except that my path as a writer led me to a gig in public relations. Through that job, I met a wonderful group of people—fiercely creative folks who are passionate about their roles in the promotion of our university—and that part-time gig was my gateway drug to brand.

The thing about brands is that they are alive, shifting, and dynamic. Authentic brands feel alive; they writhe with passion and buzz with electricity. Just like us. At our university, we really do live our brand. And no one has to tell anyone to do it. Our brand is not a contrivance, an artifice, or a sales gimmick. It emerges naturally throughout the course of the day, because as a community, it’s who we are.

Like a pair of jeans, your brand should fit like a glove and feel perfectly comfortable.

I insist that a good brand is one that fits like the perfect pair of jeans: snug and comfy. But it’s not so much that we feel comfortable. It’s that we feel confident. We find our stride because it’s just the right fit. Trying to find that “one word” is a great exercise in identifying our brands.

Since we’re writers, I’m going to pull from Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” for an example. Kundera postulates that it’s the things that give our lives weight that make them meaningful. If we strip away those things, life becomes, he suggests, unbearably light. Each of our lives, as individuals and writers, has moments to which we attribute a great deal of meaning: the moment we knew we loved writing, the moment we knew we had to be a writer and damn anyone or anything that stood in our way, the moment we finished our first story. And often times, a theme runs through the milestones of our lives, our stories, and our writing journeys. The moments of our lives shape who we are, personally and creatively.

My word? Soulful. I want to write books with heart, with power, with soul. I believe life and art are a search for meaning. Sometimes I get pissed off at anything that stands in the way of my search for meaning and art. Life means something; art is the search for meaning. And I’m someone with a lot of faith, even if I don’t always know in what.

My blog in many ways is still searching for its shape, its meaning. I hope it helps people, and I’m still finding a way for it to do that. And brand is a part of all that, a taste of who we are, a way to help others understand what we’re all about. Yes, we’re complicated. Much as I enjoy the search for meaning in life, I also enjoy snarky comments, geeky jokes, and the hunt for the perfect pair of shoes. But yes, soulful. The word fits. Life can be hard, lonely, scary, and unfair. It can also be funny, crazy, wonderful, and amazing. I’m all about the journey.

Now, I want to know your word. What word fits you like a comfy pair of jeans? If you were to sum up your brand in one word, what would it be, and why?

A note about an upcoming conference:

In May, I’ll be presenting a workshop called “Your Passion is Your Brand” at the first annual For the Love of Writing Conference, hosted by the Virginia Romance Writers, a wonderful group of fellow writers—some established and bestselling, others, like me, new to the biz—who have helped me find direction in the industry. It’s shaping up to be a great conference, so if you’re a romance writer, I hope you’ll attend. I’m also excited to share my insights into brand, to help fellow authors feel their way out. For many of us, brand is this new, scary thing. For some writers, it feels contrived. My workshop breaks the idea of brand into steps, helping authors create a personalized brand built on their strengths—one that feels comfortable and authentic. If you’re interested in gathering with a great, enthusiastic, and welcoming group of writers for a writing conference at the beach, here’s the link.

Going it without an agent? What you should consider before you sign on the dotted line.

Today, author and “recovering lawyer” Diane Capri is joining me on the blog to offer some advice for writers considering going it without an agent.

Much as I would love to think that it’s all cotton candy and roses out there, the writing biz, like any industry, does not work that way. Contracts are complex legal documents not to be taken lightly. The industry is changing, and it’s easier to find editors who are willing to accept unagented manuscripts. Many writers are now willing to go it without an agent, at least at first. Making the decision to publish without an agent means that the author will have to learn a new skill–or hire someone with expertise in publishing contracts.

Bottom line, we should understand the terms of the contract before we sign on the dotted line. Diane is lending us her legal expertise to point unagented authors in the right direction. Feel free to ask questions!

Q: As writers, we hear so many scary stories about authors who signed contracts without realizing what they were signing. It’s hard to tell what’s exaggerated urban myth and what’s an issue for genuine concern. For writers who go it without an agent, what should their main concerns be? Any red flags or big no-no’s?

A: There are many clauses in a publishing contract, and any writer who represents herself in negotiations should be aware of the most common ones. Copyright, royalties, advances, acceptance of manuscript, subsidiary rights, special sales, manuscript revisions, warranties, indemnification, termination of rights, options, and so on.  Pay particular attention to how unexpected events will be handled. What if the publisher goes out of business? When and under what circumstances can you retrieve your rights to this project and what must happen to get the rights back to you? A good primer is “Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers” by Mark L. Levine.

Q: A publishing contract is a legal document–and a very complicated one. What are some resources for writers who want to learn more about the legalese of contracts? Are there any key terms we should know?

A: In addition to Mark L. Levine’s book, you might want to review “The Writer’s Legal Companion,” by Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren. Writers organizations such as Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America and the Author’s Guild are also good resources for contract questions. You can find the answers to most common questions online, but beware of the source of information. Understand that the law varies and is very fact specific, meaning that changing even one small fact in a question can make a difference in the outcome.

Q: Do you recommend that first-timers (or even experienced authors) hire a lawyer to review their contracts? If so, how can writers find lawyers who specialize in publishing contracts? What should they expect to pay for these services?

A: The  easy answer is that I am a lawyer and I hire a lawyer to review my contracts. Realize that no one can anticipate everything and a fresh eye is often helpful. Unexpected stuff happens. All you can do is apply the best of your knowledge under the circumstances. Understand that the deal could go south and before you sign, always ask yourself what you’ll do if this deal does fall apart. Everyone needs a “plan B.”

If you have a reputable and knowledgeable agent, s/he should be able to negotiate your publishing contract. But it never hurts to hire aknowledgeable lawyer to advise you privately. Just be sure the lawyer you hire has current experience in publishing contracts from the type of publisher you’re considering because the business changes constantly.

Lawyers charge either a flat fee or an hourly fee. For a first publishing contract, a flat fee is probably the way to go. Prices vary based on location (everything costs more in New York than, say, Iowa), expertise (the more expert the lawyer, the more expensive she’ll be), and jurisdiction, among other things.

When navigating uncharted legal territory, generally it’s good to ask yourself whether the fee is worth paying under your specific circumstances. A $500 legal fee may not be the best idea for a royalty-only book deal with no advance. Only you can put a price on your project. No one knows the work and its value like the author herself.

About Diane:

Bestselling author Diane Capri is a recovering lawyer. She’s a snowbird who divides her time between Florida and Michigan. An active member of Mystery Writers of America, Author’s Guild, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime, she loves to hear from readers and is hard at work on her next novel. Diane’s books, including “Annabelle’s Attack” and “Carly’s Conspiracy,” are available wherever e-books are sold. See her Amazon author page for more info.

Connect with her online:

Website: http://DianeCapri.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/@DianeCapri
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Diane-Capri/187483551314626

The Kink Factor: Author Shara Lanel dishes on the difference between sweet and erotic romance

**EXPLICIT CONTENT**

Today, I’m turning the blog over to award-winning romance author Shara Lanel. Romance is a complex genre, ranging from the chaste to the downright naughty. Shara’s post helps shed some light on the distinctions between “sweet” and erotic romance.

Shara’a latest book, Blame it on the Night, will be available for purchase on Nov. 15–be sure to check out the link to a free excerpt below!

***

Do you want to follow the hero and heroine into the bedroom? Or would you rather stop at the door and give them some privacy? This is generally how I think of the difference between “sweet” romance and most popular romance today. But “sweet” doesn’t mean there’s no sexual tension. Pride and Prejudice is loaded with sexual tension culminating in one sweet kiss. Many romances have incredible sexual tension with very few love scenes.

However, I would say most popular romance today ventures inside the bedroom. This ranges from somewhat flowery, rather vague, one-page love scenes—which I tend to skip—to the several-paged, we’re-right-in-the-bedroom-with-you love scenes. To me, the line between these romances, generally not labeled erotic, and those that are labeled erotic comes down to word choice. One particular word that my mom disapproved of when she read my first novel, ENLIGHTENED LOVE. In erotic romance the sex needs to be descriptive (fuck, cock, pussy, etc.—can you guess which word Mom didn’t approve of?), raw, maybe some kink, frequent, and each scene should last several pages. And you still need to have that sexual tension.

My erotic romance books TELEKINETIC KISSES and FINDING MR. RIGHT IS MURDER aren’t really structured different than “traditional” romances, but the sex scenes take it up a notch.

Then there are the stories my mom hasn’t read. For these the sexual premise becomes very important. If your hero/heroine just met and don’t particularly like each other (conflict), why would they have sex in the first couple of chapters? Even if they have the classic “mistake” of a one-night-stand, what’s going to make them have sex in chapter three and so on? You can’t just throw a sex scene in there if your plot doesn’t call for it.

In BLAME IT ON THE MOON, Kitty can read minds. Therefore, she’s immersed in Haden’s erotic thoughts before they even speak to each other. In THE MEN ON MARS, Nate walks in on Helena in a threesome, and Helena is highly motivated to do whatever it takes to get a ride to Earth. Other examples: maybe your hero’s a stripper or a voyeur or your heroine’s an FBI agent undercover in a BDSM club. Maybe your heroine’s curious about the BDSM lifestyle and your hero is very happy to teach her. In other words, there are other sexual forces at work, not just random hopping-into-bed-together. In one story I’m working on, the hero finds out about the heroine’s very sexy backstory.

When I entered PRIMITIVE PASSION into contests or pitched it to agents before published, there were drastic differences in opinion (scores) because some people didn’t see Heath as heroic. Sylvia needs his help to get out of the jungle, but he has a price: three days of obeying his carnal demands. But without Heath’s demands, Sylvia wouldn’t have discovered new things about herself and the story wouldn’t have been erotic.

As a writer, you learn to target different publishers by researching books similar to yours and seeing who published them. Then you may cater a story toward the requirements of that specific publisher. This is the same when it comes to erotic romance. A publisher may want male/male, interracial, or ménage-a-many. A certain amount of kink may be expected or a certain familiarity with the lifestyle. The nice thing about the publishers I’ve worked with is that they’ve helped me up the heat level if I didn’t quite hit it in my manuscript.

So what’s the difference between erotic romance and erotica and porn? Well, first and foremost, we always have a happy ending, but the erotica I’ve read seemed literary or thought-provoking rather than sensual. Many movies labeled “erotic” do nothing for me. Meanwhile, porn seems to me male-centric and based on plot-less fantasy. “A sexy woman comes up to me in a bar, says she wants to do me in the bathroom, and then calls her friend to join us…” A lot more explicit, of course, but totally lacking in motivation.

Feel free to post questions or comments!

Here’s an erotic romance excerpt from my upcoming release, BLAME IT ON THE NIGHT, coming to www.Loose-Id.com Nov. 15!

About Shara:

At age 10, research to Shara Lanel meant hopping aboard the local steam engine and writing the equivalent of The Great Train Robbery.  Nowadays, she gets hands-on research at the Writers’ Police Academy. Give her a gun and she might hit the target…or a pedestrian. She swears her characters are much better shots, hitting the bulls-eye with the villains and the heart.

BLAME IT ON THE MOON, winner of the HOLT Medallion, delves into the life of a werewolf wanted for murder, while FINDING MR. RIGHT IS MURDER introduces you to the girl-next-door who, in the middle of an adult slumber party, finds a body in the freezer. Shara’s novels are always full of suspense and hot romance, whether set on the moon or in a Mexican jungle.

Shara resides in Richmond, Va., with a clingy dog, an action-oriented son, and a handsome hubby. Don’t put her in the kitchen, unless you want to burn it down, and her green-thumb is hit-or-miss, but she excels as a bibliophile, hoping she never has to pack up and move, since her hubby might see just how many volumes she really has.

Consider donating to help maintain Crit Partner Match:

Earlier today, I received the following email from Kait Nolan, indie writer and founder of the Crit Partner Match site. For those of you who aren’t familiar, CPM is “like Match.com for writers,” connecting writers with potential critique partners based on genre, critique style, skill level, etc.

I don’t know how I’d survive without my critique partners. They tell me what I need to hear, straight-up. They support my work but also call my attention to what does or doesn’t work.They ask the hard questions. In other words, they help my work realize its full potential.

So, apparently, Grou.ps, the site used for CPM, is now charging for use of its services, and the fee is pretty steep–at least for one person to manage on her own. Here’s Kait’s email:

So I started CPM back in…lord, it’s been quite a while, but back then it was on Ning and Ning was free. Then Ning went to paid plans and I moved to Grou.ps because Grou.ps was free. Guess what? Grou.ps has been moving to paid plans. it’s been ongoing for a while and apparently they have started limiting membership for the free groups to 25. We have 314. I think because I’ve been around since the beginning, I kinda got grandfathered in without being charged. HOWEVER, it’s recently been brought to my attention that new members cannot join. The front page apparently says that the group is NOT accepting new members. Well I’m not cool with that because we like new members.

So I go digging to check out the plan options. For our group to continue to grow it will be $8.95 a month. Which comes out to..roughly $ 108 a year. Now I don’t actually get anything out of this group. I found my CP via other means and just started CPM as a means for other writers to connect in a more unified place because I would be lost without my CP and I think others need to be able to FIND ONE. But I really don’t have $108 a year to toss out of pocket.

I may do some research on the possibilities of charging a very small fee for membership (like $2 a year or something). There is also the issue of potentially monitizing the site (which also requires a plan upgrade to be an option). I’m not interested in making a profit, just making enough to cover the costs of running the site. For now, though, I am going to ask for donations. Give as little or as much as you like. I’m not setting any thresholds.

If you like Crit Partner Match and feel it’s been helpful to you and you’d like to see the group continue to grow, please donate a little if you’re able. Send any donations via Paypal to kaitnolanwriter (at) gmail (dot) com. Once we’re upgraded, I’ll absolutely look into monitization options that will allow the site to remain free and self sustaining.

Thanks for your support! Happy writing.

Kait
Your CPM Founder

So, I’m chipping in a small donation, and I’m challenging others to do the same. If you can spare a buck or two to keep a valuable service for fellow writers going, please consider doing it. That’s not even a latte!

I also want to hear success stories about critique partners. How did you find your like-minded peeps, and how much have they helped you?

My story: I met Kathleen Foucart and Amelia Ross in graduate school. We founded our little group informally, meeting at local coffee shops. Over the years, we’ve grown as writers, each developing our own voice and finding our own path. We met last night, actually, and they totally saved me from months of muddling through a couple of difficult scenes by helping me find the right direction. We give each other support, guidance, a chance to vent, and plenty of cheerleading, as needed.

I hope all writers get the chance to do the same!

Celebrating bookworms everywhere! (a.k.a., why the book-lovers community is awesome)

There was a period in my life, right after grad school (where I’d earned my M.F.A. in children’s lit, fully intending to write novels), when I tried to convince myself that I could lead a fulfilling life without writing fiction.

I’d managed to find a day job that provided an outlet for my creative nature and my writing skills. Working at a magazine, I have plenty of time to write and edit, to brainstorm, to talk with photographers and designers and other editors and share creative ideas. I count myself as extremely fortunate in this respect. So I hadn’t actually stopped writing, per se.

But, in the overwhelming time period when I was trying to find my place in a new career, in a time when my life was changing and occasionally turning upside-down, I rationalized that writing fiction wasn’t actually necessary for my happiness.

Fellow writers, could you live without your craft? I found I couldn’t stay away for long. Books have too much of a draw for me.

For me, the drive to write is twofold.  It’s the thrill of creating stories, from the initial inspiration to the toil of writing to the meticulous revisions that follow.

It’s also the community. True readers are passionate about books, about characters and worlds and plots. Authors are the same, with so many of us dedicated to advancing the craft, sharing our journeys, our work, our stumbling points, our tricks of the trade, with the larger writer community. Newbies eagerly seek guidance. Pros graciously give it. This wonderful relationship with fellow writers and with fellow fans of literature is a huge draw for me.

Book-fever is contagious, and once caught, it’s a chronic condition. We feed off each other’s enthusiasm, and I couldn’t let go of that part of my life. It wasn’t enough to write magazine articles, or just to read novels at night. Every time I read, I knew I had to write. I loved storytelling too much to let go.

Ultimately, I couldn’t stop writing fiction. I made sacrifices in other areas of my life—working part-time instead of full-time, deciding not to pursue a Ph.D., putting my work as a poet aside to carve out time for my stories and characters.

The result? Totally. Freaking. Worth. It.

One day, my work will be out in the world in some fashion. (Call that faith in my own persistence.) 😉 I’m psyched for that day, not for any potential accolades or attention, but because the act of sharing stories is amazing to me. Weaving a tale from nothing and sharing it with others is the ultimate dream. It’s toiling over the soil all spring and summer, only to share the harvest with others (Eating alone is no fun.). The enthusiasm of the writer and reader community—the blogs, sites like Goodreads, the book clubs, the gatherings in libraries or bookstores, the energetic conversations about books—is contagious.

I love books; I love talking about them and creating them. Through my fellow bookworms, I’ve discovered so many authors whose work I admire and can’t put down. I eagerly await their next book releases. Today, I’m taking a moment to thank readers and writers everywhere for their shared passion about books—to creating and reading them, and to the conversations fueled by those stories. Thanks for the inspiration, everyone.

What do you love most about our book-lovers community? Have you met anyone recently who’s turned you on to a particular author or book? What have you learned that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

Possibilities: The changing face of publishing in the 21st century

Writing in the 21st-century is bewildering, scary, amazing, and exhilarating all at the same time. Never have we had so many opportunities for sharing our stories, from e-publishers to the traditional NY route to self-publishing. Book trailers, audio books, and enhanced e-books offer new and exciting ways to engage potential readers and expand their experiences with our books.

But it’s terrifying in a sense to think that none of us really has any idea where all of this is going. We can quote statistics, such as the recent drop—make that an all-out nosedive—in mass-market paperback sales: 41.5% drop in sales in February. (See the Dear Author blog post here.) E-books, thanks to the number and affordability of e-book readers like the Nook, Kindle, and Sony E-reader, are becoming increasingly popular. And for romance authors, there’s more good news because romance novels are a fast-growing genre in e-book sales. (See the Romance Writers of America industry statistics.)

Despite all of the speculation, no one can predict the future (not even I, with my various tarot decks). Is the world of publishing changing? Without a doubt. But how is it changing? We can’t know, not fully, not for certain.

What is good is that people are buying books. At no time in our history can we claim, as a species, to have been so well read. Despite all of the many options in this world, from sporting events to concerts, from radio stations and television shows, from watching movies to walking in the park, people are still choosing to read books. That’s a good sign for those of us who feel called to a life in writing.

I’m not going to guess what the future holds or how the industry will change, but it has changed. And one of the great things about that change is how many more possibilities exist for authors.

We’ve never before had so many opportunities for self-promotion. From Twitter to Facebook, YouTube to Goodreads, writers have so many new avenues to reach out to potential readers. Readers have never had so many avenues to find and acquire books they like and share those books with friends and fellow book-lovers. Blogging and websites mean that readers can connect with authors whose work they might enjoy. We’re not just limited to what we find on the shelves in our local bookstore. Amazon, among many other venues, has leveled the playing field. To be sure, it’s a crowded playing field.

I’m reading Zoe Winters’ Smart Self-publishing: Becoming an Indie Writer, which offers a number of insights into writing and promotion. It’s useful regardless of whether you go the indie or traditional route, full of revelations and tips based on the author’s own experiences. From print on demand (POD) to audio books, Winters’ gives the aspiring writer a practical guide to understanding the field. She talks about the qualities that make a good indie writer. You have to be willing to take risks and to do your own promotion, for example. Now, if you’re a writer, you’re going to have to do both of those things regardless of your path. Even if you get a big contract with a big publishing house, you won’t be able to sit by and let your book sell itself—which is why I think this book is excellent reading for anyone.

I’m still not sure which path I will take, but I feel fortunate to have the options.

Self-publishing still has a stigma, and, to be honest, since part of my day job is reviewing books, I’ve seen plenty of reasons why. With no barriers, anyone can become a writer, and not everyone should. It’s not that I’m an elitist about art, but you have to be willing to be critiqued and edited, you have to be a damn-good self-editor, and you have to be willing to work hard to hone your craft and make plenty of mistakes and learn from them. These are not qualities everyone possesses. To be sure, many people have the interest and desire to write books. But modern life offers us plenty of choices, and writing isn’t an easy path. You basically work without getting paid for a few years (just a few, if you’re lucky) before you have the shot to become a published writer. It’s a long journey.

But the fact that there are successful indie writers out there is great news. There will always be self-published books out there that never should have been published. But there are plenty of good ones, too. The life of an indie writer certainly isn’t any easier than that of a published writer. It’s not an easy way out of revising, because if you don’t revise your story until it’s the best it can be, it simply won’t sell. Nor is it a way to avoid writing a query letter. (Seriously, if you can write a good novel, you can write a query letter. Going to all of the work of learning how to self-publish and doing it all yourself seems like a very complicated way of getting out of writing a letter.)

The number of avenues to publication is great news for all of us regardless of the path our writing journey will follow. Why? Because we have options. New doors are opening. We have new avenues for sharing our stories. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re trying to do? We’re businesspeople; we can’t lie about that. Writing is too much work and sacrifice to do it for free. Indie music has earned itself a reputation as being hip and edgy. I hope in time that indie writing can hold the same allure for new writers.

I don’t have a side. When it comes to NY publishing or indie, I think which one is better for you depends on who you are and what your personal goals are. Whether you’re fully print or fully e-book or a combination (I would speculate that the combo is where we’re heading, but that’s neither here nor there…), that’s your choice. And I think choice is a good thing. It’s a good thing for writers and for readers.

It will be scary and interesting to take this roller coaster ride that the industry is currently undergoing. Ups and downs, twists and hairpin turns, and a few loops thrown in, and we’ll see where we end up. And, like any industry, the world of writing and publishing will continue evolving.

One thing, I hope, we can predict. That the core of what we do will remain the same: We write because we love our stories and our characters and hope our readers will love them too. We read because books help us learn and grow as individuals. And writing will always be about that: the connection between people, writers bringing stories into being, and readers finding a sense of meaning and enjoyment in those works. Whatever our path, that’s the driving force behind what we do. Everything else is just a route for reaching that destination.

Balancing acts: Writing and marketing

You don’t have to be a Libra to recognize the importance of balance.

I’ve always been a big fan of balance. And the more I grow, personally and professionally, the more important balance seems.

It’s everywhere. Ebb and flow. Yin and yang. Night and day. We call it “finding a happy medium” or “the middle ground.”  As writers, we call it “show vs. tell” and in every part of our lives we struggle to focus on details without losing sight of the bigger picture. We balance relationships with jobs and work with play.

So how do we balance our time for writing—nestled in between, sometimes encroaching upon the other aspects of our lives, like love, play, silliness, eating healthy, working out, cleaning house, paying bills, etc.—with the marketing aspect? When I first began writing, all I wanted to do was tell stories. And that’s still my priority, but I recognize that I don’t want to be a band playing to an empty room. It’s important to share those stories with others. That sharing gives a story life, breath, wings—whatever you want to call it.

I’m not a hotshot. I worry that I’ll be mistaken for someone who only cares about finding a market for her books. And although I’m not aiming for the NYTimes bestseller list, if I wound up there, I would be thrilled, terrified, excited, and confused. Yeah, I really don’t see myself there any more than my sociologist brother thinks he’ll be the next C.S. Mills or my actress sister thinks she’ll win an Oscar. But at night, sitting in front of the mirror, a girl can dream she’ll be the next Nora Roberts. Can’t she? 😉

I love books: reading them, writing them, and talking about them. Talking about my own work gets boring after a while. So there’s another key ingredient in this whole balance thing: reading vs. writing. I often link to other blogs or mention other writers because I find so much inspiration in the work of others, inspiration for the art of my work, the practice of it, or, yes, the business of it. I read a lot of books, and I read a lot of blogs, too. It provides me with support and guidance when I start to feel bogged down. While I can’t spend hours a day on the blogosphere (maybe I will, one day, when the gods accept my request to add a few extra hours into the day), I do read a lot of blogs, not always able to comment on as many as I would like.

We are storytellers, after all, so that means telling stories, a form of sharing. I think back to works like Beowulf, imagining a quiet, captivated audience being swept up in the story as it is relayed to them, perhaps amidst tankards of ale and long, wooden tables. Now, we have printing presses and e-book readers, libraries, and book stores; stories are told from across the dinner table or across the globe. Even blogs tell stories, and we all tune in. The number of stories out there is, well, astounding.

I read a depressing statistic: 93 percent of books sell less than 1,000 copies. Ouch. It’s enough to make you grab the nearest batch of cookie dough and build a fort out of sheets. Then, in the glow of a flashlight, we can write in our sticker-covered notebooks or glitter-splattered journals, lost in our own worlds. But as Samuel Johnson said, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” Publishing is like giving birth; it’s one necessary step on the path of parenting our books and writing careers. And given the statistic I’ve just gloomily noted, I can’t help but wonder how we all find the courage to keep on writing, fighting against the odds.

It’s hard to see marketing as a part of the creative process. Still in the pre-published stage of my career, I don’t know what it will be like when I reach what seems like a daunting and overwhelming place in my career, knowing that when I do publish, a huge part of that burden will fall to me, to reach out and share my stories.

I know I can’t be the only one overwhelmed by this prospect. I’m also excited for it, curious about where my writing career will take me, determined to push forward even through the most difficult parts of this journey, and fascinated by the technological advances that change our industry. Blogging, e-books, social media, book trailers, Facebook pages…we have so many avenues, it’s easy to get lost.

So, for those of you in the fledgling stages of your career, what worries do you have? How are you building up knowledge for your future? What worries you most about marketing?

And for those of you who’ve already published, what is the hardest part about marketing? What advice do you have for the newbs among us? 😛

Thanks for reading. I look forward to hearing everyone’s comments.

Are you there, Web? It’s me, Janelle.

Today, I’m blogging about social media for writers and my experiences so far, what’s gone well and what hasn’t. I’m hoping you’ll chime in and share your experiences, since we’re all at different stages in our careers.

See, my goals for 2011 are fairly straightforward: Besides finishing a complete, start-to-finish draft of my current WIP, I’m also working to build an online platform so I can talk reading and writing with people who share my passions. I don’t expect that this will magically happen by the end of the year. But I want to build a solid foundation.

I started out with LJ last fall and am pretty happy with how it’s going. My blog isn’t getting tons of hits, but I’m meeting really cool people and I’ve found a lot of other blogs that are helpful and enjoyable, so I’m pleased with my progress. I just started a professional Facebook account and am “patiently” tending to it. Later this year I hope to expand to Goodreads and Twitter. The first time I tried this, I started everything at once. Didn’t really go so well. Lesson learned: It’s a lot like juggling. You start out with a couple things and add incrementally as your skill grows.

I’ve found people and resources that have been especially helpful. Here are a few:

       1.) Crit partners: This one is an oldie for me, but a goodie. It’s not about social media per se, but social media can help you meet future critique partners. I’ve been critiquing since I started taking college creative writing classes when I was still in high school. (Yes, I’m a nerd. Please don’t give me a swirly.) When I got to graduate school, I met a group of wonderful people who were as passionate about writing as I was. A few of us lived in the same area, so we started meeting. That was way back in what, 2006? (Amelia and Kathleen, correct me if I’m wrong!) They’re dedicated, talented, and, not least of all, honest. They care about my work as much as their own, and they push me to take it to the next level. Every writer needs a fellow writer or two to critique her work and give honest, helpful criticism. Not nit-picky stuff or something that’s just plain mean. Having another writer read your work means that you’ll get feedback that a non-writer can’t provide. A non-writer can say, “I don’t like this scene,” or “It was hard to get into.” A writer knows the tools and lingo of the trade. They can say, “This character is inconsistent. You need to develop him more.” Or “These scenes don’t have enough conflict; they’re not moving the plot forward.” Or, “Heighten the tension.” And we need that if we want to grow in our writing. They also provide the kind of support only a fellow writer can provide.

       2.) Rachelle Gardner: One of my crit partners turned me on to Rachelle’s blog. Rachelle’s advice applies to any writer in any genre. She is honest about the hard work of writing but also inspirational.

       3.) Kristen Lamb: I read Kristen’s blog and make frequent use of her book We are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I found her book first via an Amazon search. Kristen talks a lot about brand. Don’t cringe! Branding is not the evil corporate, soulless endeavor you’re thinking of. This is different. But that is another journal entry. She also gives commonsense advice about how to build your social media platform.

4.) Kait Nolan: Kait offers insight and honesty about writing and building a platform. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and she provides great, practical advice. She’s also an indie writer. It’s hard in the days of self-publishing to go indie. I don’t know why indie writers have it so much harder than those who go indie in any other art form, but that’s a blog entry for another day (seriously, coming soon). Until I read Kait’s blog, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as indie writers. All I knew about were the extra-speshul snowflakes who were certain every thought inside their noggin was per solid gold. But there are indie musicians, right? Of course—I’m friends with one of them, and she’s damned talented! (Rock on, Electrik Emily!) People like Kait are challenging perceptions and paving a new road. Whether you want to go indie or take the traditional publishing route, I’d encourage you to check her blog out.

        5.) Romance Writers of America: The national organization also has local and subgenre chapters that you can join. The dues are reasonable, the people are friendly, and the resources are great. There’s a monthly print magazine, but equally useful are the RWA e-Notes e-mails that include, among other things, links to articles about romance writing and the writing market in general. There are plenty of conferences, retreats, contests, e-mail loops, and online workshops to join or attend. It helps to know that, as Kristen says, we are not alone.

OK, so those are just a few. And I’m just starting out with blogging and social media in general, at least as far as my writing is concerned. I’d like to come up with a detailed plan, but growing a social media platform, like growing as a writer, takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

As Tiffany Trent said in a recent post of advice for writers, “Patience, Grasshopper.” Tiffany, what is this patience of which you speak? And where can I get some? I’ve always joked with my husband that patience is a virtue, just not one of mine. Well, this fire sign (seriously, Sagittarius with Aries rising. What were the stars thinking?) is growing. Yeah, it’s hard work. I’m OK with that. We’re writers, and we’re climbing uphill with boulders strapped to our backs. I think I’ll call it endurance training.

Social media isn’t just about building a platform. It’s about remembering that we’re not the only ones climbing the mountain. It’s about meeting people who can support you and whom you can support through each step. It’s about learning, about conversations, about friendship and personal growth. And you know what? I might just be picking up a dusting of patience along the way. But that’s still to be determined. 😛