Strong Beginnings: How much should you stress out about your novel’s first line?

If your novel is newly started, well-underway, or nearly finished, you may be looking ahead to the day you aim to sell your book.
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While an excellent novel is always the goal, burgeoning authors may feel constrained by the pressure to craft the perfect first chapter, the perfect first page, the perfect first paragraph, or the perfect first word.
Strong beginnings seem especially freak-out for those who seek a traditional publisher for their books because those who pitch an agent or a publisher will get only 1-3 chapters in which to make an impression.
This is not an exaggeration. My buddy, the indie publisher, says she knows within the first 5 pages whether or not she wants to sign the author.
So between the first chapter, page, paragraph or line, which of these monumental firsts should we stress ourselves out about perfecting above all the others?
Um, none of ’em?
I mean, you need good to impress an agent, but how well your book sells will likely have more to do with the quality of the cover and the back-of-the-book blurb than a kick-ass opening line.
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That said, what we a readers hope to find in a book is the same thing an agent is hoping to find in a book:  that love-at-first-sight feeling instilled in us by a well-crafted story that connected with us in some way and will be a book worth re-kindling a romance with 10 years down the road.
Experts dispute how long it takes for a reader to fall in love with a novel, but in my own experience, the novels that most likely make me love them will do so with paragraph one or even line one.
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Pride and Prejudice
Like the back cover, believers in the first line of a book see it as a microcosm of everything that comes after it:
A herald for the coming of a book that will engage the reader, pose questions to which the reader will seek an answer, and keep that reader turning the pages.
*Bonus points if your opening line is less than a dozen words like “Call me Ishmael” or “All children, except one, grow up.”
Kick-ass opening lines are not a universal concern among writers. In fact, there are some writers who vary wildly on the quality of their opening lines book to book.
For evidence of this, check out Charles Dickens’s opening to A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
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Readers’ millage may very depending on their love of Dickens. Personally, I hate this opening so much.
Granted, Dickens was on a deadline, and his melodramas were published as a series, so there was no option to go back and fix things later on.
But this parade of comma-splice and contradiction is 60 words long and tells the reader little about the plot to come except that it’s writer has a good vocabulary and was likely getting paid by the word.
Now, compare the start of A Tale of Two Cities to that of A Christmas Carol and its tiny 7-word opening:
“Marley was dead to begin with.”
This streamlined first impression is all Dickens needs to plant the seeds of intrigue in the reader mind.
Who is Marley?
a christmas carol
How did he die?
“What might his death mean for the living among characters I haven’t met yet? And why don’t more Christmas stories kick off murder-mystery style with a dead guy at the start it all?
That said, there are some masterworks out there that kinda hook you with the first line, but they don’t actually reel you in until the second. For the most famous example of this that I know, take a look at the first and second lines of Huckleberry Finn:
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”
-In line one, a first person narrator with a colorful dialect reminds us he’s that kid from that Mark Twain book.
By line two, this narrator challenges Twain’s authority and let’s us know this is going to be a different book.
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So to sum up my cynical opinions on the subject…
What gets a book and a reader together is not what keeps them together.
Yet, like a tawdry romance that blossoms into a life-long love affair, the sexy cover is
what catches our eye.
What’s on the inside is what makes us take it to bed with us more than once.
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Passion vs. Compensation: Should artists be expected to work for free? (hint: the answer rhymes with “go”)

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Here in the western hemisphere, at least in my little corner of it, people are allowed to write, paint, and make music, but they are not supposed to be successful at it.

The expectation is that art is something we do for free, in our spare time, as a means of offsetting the quiet discontentment of our “real jobs” as waiters or dog catchers or whatever.

Elsewhere in the world, this is not the case.

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For instance, in the Eastern Hemisphere, specifically in counties like China or Japan, art is not automatically presumed to be a hobby adjacent to you “real job.”
Should you demonstrate aptitude for the guitar at a young age, the expectation is that commit yourself to excellence in music, and “guitarist” becomes your job title for a long time.

Seriously, it’s kind of a mutual culture shock when hippies or church groups travel to Asia Major with instruments in hand and try to start an informal jam session.

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The downside of that set-up is that humans are more inclined to lose passion for the things they’re required to do than the things they do for love.

The upside is that the artists who have their financial needs met will have the time and resources to do more art that is higher quality than those who must hold down a day job to support a rock-and-roll, oil pastel, or novel habit.

So why are we  in the United States inclined to question the integrity of artist and not the dogcatcher when they expect a wage for their work?

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Granted, once in a long while, we encounter an artist who has no integrity and overcharges for rubbish, but that’s not typical, so let’s look at some other variables.

Let’s assume for a moment that one or more of the wealthy people on this planet of ours is dishonest. Part of how they likely accumulated their wealth was by inflating the the value of their time and depreciating the work of others.

If Rich Dude du Jour can convince his secretary, painter, and janitor that their services are an unnecessary luxury, he can pay them a fraction of their worth and still get his phones answered, toilets cleaned, and walls decorated.

Then, there are the fine artists, some of whom believe all art should happen exclusively for art’s sake and see the artist who gets an art-related pay check as a sell-out.

This belief is unfair and untrue.

We don’t call Rembrandt or Michelangelo sellouts because they took commissions and worked for “The Man” for most of their careers. We visit their works in museums and stare in awe at the skill possessed by a couple of old masters.

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Anyway, according to my old psych professor, artists, much like teachers, will never get paid what they’re worth…

A, because people in charge perpetuate the myth that “If we pay teachers what they’re worth, pretty soon, they’ll all be doing it for the money.”
B, the underpaid masochists who take such jobs tend to feel there’s a certain amount prestige in doing thankless work for little pay. The misplaced fear if these masochists is that if there were appropriate compensation in their chosen field, there would be less prestige to go around for the few, the proud, the poverty-stricken.

No joke, y’all, when your long-suffering high school teacher has to take a part-time job at McDonald’s to make ends meet, the prestige loses some o’ that thar mys-tique.

My heartfelt belief that all professionals can do what you love and command a salary was instilled in me not by gurus of the fine arts but of long-time pros in the medical sciences who had this to say about their vocations:

“I love my job. I would do my job for free. What they pay me for is the paperwork.”

And no matter how dreamlike they seem from the outside, all jobs have paperwork.

Therefore, if you write novellas or paint portraits for fun, and you legitimately don’t care about the money, that’s awesome. Keep it up.

But if ever someone has made to feel like your art is frivolous nonsense and should be free to anyone who asks for it, that person is stupid. It cost you time and effort to make something that no one else could make exactly like you can, so rest assured, your asking to be compensated is by no means out of line.


Q and A with Professional Editor Claire Baldwin

My first dalliance in publishing was a self-pub offering during a foolish time in my life when I under appreciated the difference a professional editor could make in the assembly of my manuscript.

Yeah. That was dumb.

So when it came time to getting feedback from a pro on my latest project, I was super nervous.

It was going to be her job to point out my sagging middles and cavernous plot holes.

And I knew quite well that before she was done, I was going to be one of many authors who can relate to a meme remarkably like this:

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The professional editor I chose was a lady from the UK named Claire Baldwin, and she ended up being a joy to work with.

She caught mistakes that went unheeded by multiple beta readers as well as the customary grammar correction gadgets.

She also helped me break through my word count barriers. Before Claire, my book was a paltry 28,000 words, and I believed in my heart and soul I could add no more. I now have 33,000 and I’m only half way through my largest round of re-writes.

Claire was also kind enough to answer some interview-style questions for a nosy author with a blog (below).

So for readers and writers who are curious about the editorial side of publishing, here’s a wee glimpse of what it all looks like from an editor’s point of view:

Q: Does your job as an editor make you happy, or does it make you look forward to retirement?

A: It makes me very happy. Like most editors, I’ve been a bookworm since childhood, and I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to turn that into a career. Of course, there are ups and downs, as with any job, but on the whole, I’m not sure when I’ll ever retire.

Q: After working with books for profit, do you still read for fun?

A: Yes, definitely, and I would say it’s impossible to do the job if you don’t always enjoy reading for pleasure. Every book an editor reads contributes to their knowledge of the market, even if they’re not strictly ‘for work’, so the lines are blurred about what constitutes reading for fun anyway. Time pressure from the sheer volume of manuscripts can get overwhelming, though, and when the submissions pile up, the bedside reading pile also starts to teeter at dangerous heights.

Q: Have you edited any books so good, you get distracted from the edits and found yourself reading it to learn what happens?

A: On my first read of a novel, I always immerse myself in the story to find out what happens, and writing a few notes and thoughts along the way doesn’t distract me from that. It’s on the second read that I go through a manuscript in more detail, dissecting and checking over things more slowly and carefully, making notes and editorial suggestions.

Q: How does working with British authors differ from working with American authors?

A: In terms of the editorial process, there isn’t a noticeable difference between British and American authors (apart from a character walking along the ‘sidewalk’ rather than the ‘pavement’ etc). Individual authors all have different quirks and approaches, and often different needs from an editor, and that varies regardless of where they’re from.

Q: Is there any genre you despise so completely you would neither edit nor read it?

A: No, good writing and story-telling will always draw me in (and sometimes the weirder the better – I was enjoying reading some spoetry the other day). And the delineation of what lies in which sub-genre can often be quite arbitrary. But for editing, my experience and focus have always been on fiction, particularly historicals and fantasy, so that is what I’m best placed to work on.

Note from Nosy Author: I was not hip enough to know what “spoetry” is before I Ms. Baldwin mentioned it, so I looked it up. The internet says spoetry is “poetic verse composed primarily from the subject lines or content of spam e-mail messages.”  Isn’t learning fun? I think it’s fun!

Q: Do editors tend to be writers as well, or can the skills of writing and editing be exclusive from one another?

A: Yes, there is lots of obvious crossover, and many editors are writers as well. In the UK at the moment there seem to be a particular raft of editors turning their hand successfully to novel writing. But being a brilliant editor doesn’t necessarily mean someone will be a good writer, and vice versa. There are different skills necessary which make each exclusive from the other too.

Q: Are there editors with so distinct a style, you can tell when he or she has worked on a manuscript, or is the idea to be the unheeded force that makes a novel extra lovely, like great bass lines in a rock song or subtle makeup on a beautiful woman?

A: The idea is definitely to be the unheeded force, the great bass lines in a rock song J. A good editor should never impose any personal style on an author and their manuscript, but work with that author to bring out their voice and the full potential of their book.

On the commissioning side, though, editors are recognized by the types of books they acquire for a publisher, with their taste and style coming through in the list they build up. There also used to be a trend (not as common now) of imprints being named after the editor who ran them, whose stamp of approval was enough to convince the trade that a book that editor had selected was one worth really getting behind.

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Many thanks to Claire Baldwin for making this post possible (and more interesting. I’ve interviewed myself before. Reviews were less than favorable). If you’re inclined to seek out her expertise in handling your next novel, you can send her a proposal / request for a quote on

The Story of [my/your/his/her/its/their] Life (as told by a semi-reliable narrator)

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Some people are born to write.

They work themselves into a writing frenzy, and before you can say, “Whoopsie-daisy,” they’ve typed up their publisher’s next best-seller.

These are what the queen of England might refer to as, “Lucky bastards.”

And she’d be right.

For the rest of us, writing is less a birthright than it is a life-long learning process at which we get better over time.

So there I was, trying to turn my congealed vat of alphabet soup into a novel, listening to a guy with tenure and a sports jacket tell me how it’s done when Mr. Sports Jacket proclaimed the following:

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And I said, “What?”

He went on to say that we use our fictional works make order out of chaos; that stories are fabrications made by us, not hanging in the air like apples on a tree waiting to be gathered and distributed to out family and friends.

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And I said, “You’re mistaken, Mr. Sports Jacket.

I have passed myself off as an author, bartender, a jail nurse, and a raggle-taggle gypsy-o. I knew a man who killed two people with a hammer who wrote me poetry and told me he’s taking me to Applebees when he gets out of jail in a hundred fifty years.

What do you mean, “Life doesn’t happen in stories?”

I have since learned that the psychologists are on his side. They say there are 2 governing voices in the conscious mind: the experiential self which feeds the brain raw data, and the experiential self which spins the data into a story for interpretation and storage.

Experiential Self: This jail cell is uncomfortable. What gives?
Narrator Self: Well, you remember that time you killed 2 people with a hammer?
Experiential Self: Yeah?
Narrator: Well, this is likely a consequence of that specific choice.
Experiential Self: Oh.
Narrator Self: Or maybe your just an unlucky victim of “the man.”
Experiential Self: Yeah. That must be it.

Some time has passed since this well-meaning fellow with tenure broke my brain with this statement, and after discussing the whole thing with writers I respect, I think I know what Sports Jacket Man meant:

1. Life happens in poorly-edited stories. If we didn’t edit out the times we slept, crapped, scratch, or stuttered, the story of our lives would be a tedious read.
2. Not everyone leads the life of a weirdo. Those who do the day job thing may go for long periods without mishap, whereas someone who’s restless, fearless, or accident prone will have stories to tell his friend on a more regular bases.
3. If you think your life happens in stories, you are not wrong. You can’t tell a writer their life doesn’t happen in a series of stories any more than you can tell a photographer life doesn’t happen in a series of still-lifes or a psychologist that life doesn’t happen in a series of Rorschachs.

Not only does the story come from any number of things a writer sees and hears, often it comes from things that everybody sees, but only one guy or gal chooses to immortalize / satirize it.

One of the fellows credited with pioneering the now ubiquitous concept of “topical comedy” is a Canadian born comic named Mort Sahl. It’s said of him he never wrote a single joke for his act. He’d just walked out on stage with a news paper and improvised a routine out of whatever he read.

Before Bill Cosby’s fall from grace, his stage show was incredibly reliant on biographical narrative. It seemed like he couldn’t so much as turn on his windshield wipers in error without finding a way to funny it up and work it into his act.

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Anyway, to sum up, stories are everywhere, if you don’t feel like you’re a born writer, it’s okay to write anyway.
You might even help you appreciate the prestige slightly more when you become an awesome writer.
And that’s all I got this week.
If you’re curious what this platform would look like as a clunky-but-sincere YouTube video featuring a handful more graphics and my enthusiastic speaking voice check out the link below:
If you’d like me to keep videos like this so one day, there’ll be enough of them to binge-watch, please like, subscribe, or let me know in the comments.
Take it easy. Loves you. Bye.

What’s in a name: 5 tips for reluctant brand-builders

For marketing wizards to whom self-promotion comes easy, branding is miraculous.

It’s the invisible psychic force that compels grocery store customers pick up a full-price box of Lucky Charms over a less expensive bag of Marshmallow Mateys.

Marshmellow Mateys

The way this miracle works is not terribly mysterious. The brand name carries with it a lifetime’s-worth of seeing commercials and growing up with that brand. There’s a promise of quality in certain names that compel customers to choose the tried-and-true brand over a product that is unbranded and unfamiliar.

Full Disclosure Time: When I was first introduced to the concept of branding, I did not believe it was miraculous.

In fact, my reaction to it was much like the one I have when multiple, consecutive disco selections are played on the oldies station where my Jim Croce and Gordon Lightfoot used to be… a mild anaphylaxis and the words GET IT OFF ME!

To me, it seemed branding was what happened to cattle when the old-time rancher wanted to mark them as part of his herd.

Not fun. Though I managed to find an online image of a “fire brand” online that does not make me queasy.


Also, I’m a little too ADD to synonymize myself with any one genre or writing style. It’s hard to say which character’s gonna keep me up nights until I get around to telling his or her story.

To be clear, I do not condemn anyone who’s great at brand promotion. I stand in legitimate awe of authors without whom we couldn’t imagine the genre as it is today, such as fantasy sans George R. R. Martin or mystery sans Arthur Cohnan Doyle.

But Doyle rather famously hated Sherlock Holmes! He even tried to kill Holmes and abandon the brand, but he reluctantly revived Holmes because together, Holmes and he could reliably make money.

Happy Holmes

Not exactly the dream-come-true we often think writing careers should be, right?

After much contemplation and having to rewrite this article a couple times to minimize my own nhilism on the subject, here are 5 strategies for writers who have hith..loathe to pay homage to the branding beast:

1. Pick a genre and stick with it, come what may (my least favorite option). Some lucky ducks sustain a passionate, life-long love affair with their brand which happens to include a particular genre and writing style. Others stick to the brand when the love grows cold and figure, “Oh well. If it was fun, they wouldn’t have to pay me to do it.”

2. Screw branding and write what you want. This is not necessarily the thing to do in the midst of building your fan base, but it’s a right and proper thing to do at either end of your writing career. Pre-Audience you will feel free-er to explore what you like / what audience responds to. Established You may get enough love from the book community to trust your audience will go with you on new and out-of-the-way journeys. The era in between is when brand defiance makes your (and perhaps your publicist’s) life a bit harder.

3. Cultivate multiple brands at once. Some writers have a small collection of pen names and personas for different audiences. This means slower potential growth for each of their brands, but they always get to write what they want. By using an alias or ten, you can write a picture book, a lit fic novel, a gardening manual, a military sci-fi saga, and “choose your own adventure” pornography series and never need to worry you’ll alienate your audience. The ones who wouldn’t like your latest title don’t even have to know it’s you.

4. Use your brand as a buffer between you and your audience. You know how if you start an LLC, you insulate yourself from certain legal woes while reaping personal rewards from the business you built? Your brand can insulate you in a similar manner from fools who want to be jerks to you based on the way you write and carry yourself. When trigger-happy critics open fire on your latest creation, or some internet troll uses trashes your name in a post in all his comma-splicing, run-on sentence glory, don’t take it personally. As much as they might want to think they’re worth your time and raised blood pressure, they haven’t actually attacked you. They’ve attacked your brand. And if you play this crazy marketing well enough, your brand’ll be bigger than your haters.

5. Define your brand by what your books have in common. This is the item on my list that gives me the most hope for my own books, because I’ve never done the same thing twice, even in my series which went from kinda-sorta novel to graphic novel. The only thing they truly have in common is a common writer, and sometimes that’s enough.

Part of what inspired my change of heart on branding vs. the writer’s voice was learning that Marathon Man and The Princess Bride were written by a guy named William Goldman.

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In his own estimation, the only things those works had in common were as follows: pain, anger, and the most relatable characters die miserably.

Quoth he…

“…I was the guy who gave Babe over to Szell in the “Is it safe?” scene and… I was the guy who put Westley into The Machine. I think I have a way with pain. When I come to that kind of sequence I have a certain confidence that I can make it play. Because I come from such a dark corner.”

(This may or may not be a digression from the topic at hand. I concede, I may have merely thought William Goldman is awesome and wanted to call attention to more of his words)

In summary, branding can be scary.

Take whatever approach you need to make it less scary, ’cause marketing’s a thing that will help you better dispense your stories.

And, as the ancients who govern the sad, disco-esque oldies stations might say, “Write on!”


To Be Continued: 7 Tips for Writing Your Sequel

I’ve been picking at my own sequel for about 4 years, now.
I know, I know…
Pick Your Sequel
Alas, it’s shameful but true.
The second book in my vampire series has been something of a best seller for the publisher who picked it up. Therefore, a similar, follow-up title should be an easy way to engage readers and make money.
So why can’t I seem to finish this sucker?
Is it good, old-fashioned procrastination or perhaps laziness on my part?
Well, 2 books in the series were therapy books. I wrote them in a truly terrible time in my life when I hated everything and cried a lot.
To finish the sequel, I’ll need to revisit some dark issues, and I don’t wanna. I like to think that’s not who I am anymore.
Nevertheless, for not-me writers who want badly to send their characters on a second or third adventure in a series, here are 7 ways to learn from my errors and (potentially) expedite the second coming of your protagonist in the form of his or her sequel.
(Unless you’re a romance writer. Then, you’ll hurt your readers’ feelings, if it takes 2 whole books to get a “second coming”)
1) Ask yourself early and honestly, “Does the story I’m writing strike me as a series or a stand-alone novel?” If you’re a consistent underwriter, it may take all your guile and fortitude to fill one, great book. If on the other hand, you have so many ideas your speech-to-text can’t keep up with you as you spit them out of your face, you may have the genesis of a series ricocheting around in your head.
2) Re-read your first book. I’ve been advised against this course of action by those on the business side of publishing because, if your novel is a year or more old, you will likely see 10% awesome prose and 140% embarrassing mistakes within its pages. This could shake your faith in that novel and make you less enthusiastic when promoting it on your platform(s).
*Hint: If the author doesn’t believe in his or her book, the reader won’t either*
However, the grand thing about sequels is they allow you mend plot holes and explore ideas that were hitherto uncharted isles on the sea of your written words. My favorite example of this is in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, we see the Dursleys freak out when Harry strikes up a conversation with a snake at the local zoo. For all we know at that point in the series, this is something all pre-teen can wizards do. We learn later in The Order of the Phoenix how only a few wizards can do this, and the ability to speak parseltongue makes Harry weird, even by Hogwarts’s standards. It doesn’t much matter whether Harry’s snake-charmer routine was a carefully planned part of his backstory or the idea occurred to Rowling as she explored her own make-believe world, but to me, this part of The Order of the Phoenix reads like she looked back at her first book a little before she wrote the second and thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if [previously non-existent story line existed]?”
3) Pick a genre for all seasons. Trends like vampires, dystopia, and steampunk will always have a bit of a following,  but if you were, say, writing a vampire novel minutes before everyone got sick to bloody death of Twilight (like the idiot who’s writing this post), you may have unwittingly set your book up for failure. That doesn’t mean you can’t write the books you want to write henceforth. It just means your book sales may suffer if you don’t pay attention to marketing trends and seasonal demand. For instance, if you indeed have a vampire book to peddle, you might consider hyping in September so you can catch the Halloween crowd. Or, if you’re  working on a steampunk adaptation of Taming of the Shrew at the same time Quinton Tarantino is wrapping production on his movie adaptation, it may be wise to have your book on deck as a kindness to readers who are seeking an antidote for such a movie.
4) Pick a genre you think you’ll be crazy about in 10 years. This will reduce the odds that the joy of writing will leave you. Can you imagine being Danielle Steele and harboring a secret hatred for all things tawdry or Stephen King a hatred for all things horror? How bad would that suck to live the dream of being a full-time author and still hate your job?
5) Decide how passionate you are about your characters. Are they dear friends? One time flings? Are they precious enough to you you would undergo the tears and toil of branding / rebranding yourself as an author in order to share them with the world? We’ll talk about pros and cons of branding at a later date, but if your marketing strategy has made you beholden to the branding beast, it’s gonna make a sequel in that genre hard to avoid.
6) Set realistic goals. This is actually something to keep in mind throughout your author’s journey, but I personally stink at goal-setting when it comes to my follow-up titles.
My attitude takes a nose dive somewhere about 50 pages in, and I go…
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The best antidote I know for this kind of thinking?
Pace yourself.

Don’t look at the grueling pace set by another author and pressure yourself to pump out a brand new book every 3 months. Instead, give writing your best shot every day, and accept that your best might vary from day to day. Otherwise, it’s super easy to get intimidated by the work you’ve cut out for yourself and give up midway through.

7) Decide if your sequel / prequel has to be an equal to your first book. Some writers are exceptional at writing and would rather publish nothing than see the quality of their books decline. Others are okay at writing but exceptional at marketing. If you are exceptional at marketing, you likely know already that you don’t have to be the best author if you can be the loudest, shrewdest, or most charismatic. Also, your publisher, your agent, or your own, sweet self will have an easier time promoting a lack-luster book than no book at all.
So strive for quality, but not perfection (?)
I can’t in good conscience tell you to value quantity over quality. I’ve just seen a lot of authors paralyzed by perfectionism to the point they never publish a single thing. I’d hate to see that happen to you, and I want better things for you and your books.
As always, the preceding has been typed by the loving hands of a dim-witted goof with lots of experience doing things wrong by her books. I hope the knowledge of these things helps you to dispense your books somewhat right-er.
Or “write-er,” if you like.


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Q and A with Illustrator Karen Swartz

Previously, on Self-Writeousness…
Last week, I wrote a blog post in which I fan-girled a wee bit over a splendid illustrator from Saint Louis named Karen Swartz.
(The pictures above are both her handy work, and I love them beyond reason)
Now, I’m kind of an illustrator, but if I had to categorize my illustration style, I’d have to say, “Inexpensive.”
And sometimes, you get what you pay for, y’all.
Karen, on the other hand, is the reason bedtime reads are still the makin’s of magical childhood memories.
Anyway, in striking up a casual conversation and asking permission to use some of her pictures for this blog, I also summoned my courage and asked if she could answer some questions from her perspective as an illustrator for whom art is not a hobby but a thriving, honest-to-goodness business.
The details of this impromptu interview are as follows:
   Q: Who (in the art world) inspires you?
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   Q: On projects like picture books or covers, do you prefer it when customers know what they want or when they give you maximum creative leeway?
   A: I always want my customers to be forthcoming if they have expectations, but I love when I have artistic freedom. Even if I’m given a very clear description for an assignment, I try to “read between the lines” as much as possible and clear important things (like character design) with my client while I’m brainstorming.
   Q: How have most of your clients found you (website, word-of-mouth, ect.)?
   A: I meet most of my clients in person, since I vend at numerous events around the country every year.
   Q: Does art still bring you joy, now that it’s your job, or does it make you look forward to retirement?
   A: It still brings me joy, and always will! There is nothing I would rather do for work!
        In any self-employment situation it’s really important to rely on habit over emotional motivation. If I’m not feeling a particular piece of work, I make myself sit down and work on it anyway, and it always becomes enjoyable.
        I’ll enjoy art even more when I can hire a secretary and an accountant one day!
   Q: Is there any subject matter you could not bring yourself to paint or draw (based either on you artistic limits or personal convictions)?
   A: I steer clear of graphic imagery as I just don’t enjoy it and I like to keep my work pretty family friendly.
   Q: As someone who is self-employed, how do you set boundaries between work and free time?
   A: If I were single I would be much worse at this (I used to work as long as I was awake), but since my significant other works more normal hours, I call it a day when he comes home.
       Sometimes preparing for an event means I work in the evenings, but most days I just try to get up extra early so I can feel like I got enough done when 5-6pm comes around.  My schedule has become so much healthier in recent years.
   Q: As you change styles and perfect your craft through the years, can you look back at your old work with satisfaction, or is the feeling akin to that of the actors who cringe when they view scenes from their older movies?
   A: I always try to do my best work and approach mistakes with the mindset that no image I make will be perfect, but it will certainly be better than the last piece I made.
      Mistakes are important, and allow improvement, so while I would not show old work in a portfolio, looking back makes me proud of my progress. Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when I look at old artwork, but it’s usually because of the subject matter. I was a weird kid.
So that’s all I got for you this week.
Many thanks to Miss Karen for humoring some nosiness on my part.
If you saw something you like and want to peruse her other works, check out her website at