It is hard to believe that, at 57 years old, I am on the other side of the book launch for my historical fiction novel, THE WAIT. Standing in front of more than 100 people talking about a lifelong dream I have been pursuing for over 25 years was, in a word, surreal! A week before that, I was in front of Landmark Booksellers in Franklin, Tennessee where 100,000-plus people passed by during the Franklin Main Street Festival and where many stopped for information on my upcoming book. I cannot even keep up with the doors that are opening for me.
This guest post is by Lisa Kaye Presley. Presley was born in Alabama but has called Nashville, TN, home since 1982. An avid backpacker and photographer, she gets a great deal of inspiration from being out in nature. Presley has had the fortune to work with some of Nashville’s most prominent families and has had the opportunity to learn from folks who watched the city grow to become one of the most popular cities in the world. She quickly found that Nashvillians love to share memories of their beloved city. She has been published in The Tennessean and Banner newspapers, has published a children’s book titled The Orphans, and had great success with a short story titled The Judgment, which will soon be a full-length novel. Born from her love of the city, and her love of history, especially the World War II era, THE WAIT tells a rich story which weaves its way through three decades of Tennessee history. Order The Wait here!
How did I get here? Well, just as I have read in so many of the articles and blogs in Writer’s Digest and so many other articles from other authors who are fulfilling their dreams, I am now sitting here writing about my dream coming true. I am not going to tell you I got lucky (believe me, luck had nothing to do with it), or that I got the right agent, or that a publishing company signed me. No, I’m not going to tell you any of that because I self-published. Mine is a story in which the protagonist (me) and the antagonist (life) have been at odds since the very beginning of my journey. Hard work and prayer got me here on the other side of a book launch holding my book in my hands, filling orders from my website as fast as I can, and watching my sales on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. (all while working full-time).
Here’s a quick back flap blurb about me. I am no scholar. I dropped out of school at 17; got married (didn’t have to); got a G.E.D.; got pregnant; got abandoned; raised a child on my own for eight years; finally got married; got divorced at 43; got laid off three times within 15 years, then finally worked my way up to my dream job—an assistant to a nationally-known attorney making more money than I ever thought possible—all on a G.E.D. and all the while writing. Always. It was the one thing that kept my feet on the ground and my head out of a gas oven! I tell you all of this so that you will know if I can do it, anyone can.
This does not happen overnight, my friends. First, you have to be sincere about your writing. If I had to do it over again, I would have concentrated more on the rules of writing and grammar. I knew my stories were good, but I also knew the mechanics of my writing were what was keeping me from success.
When I finally had my manuscript professionally edited, I realized the agents I had submitted to over the years probably got two sentences into my query letters and stopped because of bad grammar and mistakes. Take your craft seriously! Treat it just as if you are writing a letter to the President of the United States of America. Would you turn in a letter to the Prez with punctuation errors? (Don’t answer that.)
Here are some tips from my journey:
1. Learn your craft.
Go to classes, download podcasts, participate in online seminars, and go to conferences. Writing correctly is just as important as having a good story. Learn about point of view and correct formatting. You will save yourself a lot of time if you format correctly BEFORE you start writing. On that note, let me say one thing. Don’t get overwhelmed by hard and fast rules. I let that happen to me to the point that I quit writing, and I quit writing for years. I thought, I’ll never be able to compete with these writers who have all of these titles after their names. Why should I ever bother? Hear me now: DO NOT get swallowed up in that negativity. Self-doubt will be your biggest enemy. When it comes, stand in its face and say, “I CAN do this. Maybe not tomorrow, but I can do this!”
2. Set up a professional-looking website and blog, blog, blog!
Be proficient in your writing. Don’t think that it is just a blog. You never know who may be reading it. Do the same with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, etc. In today’s market, it’s a must.
3. Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more!
As I mentioned earlier, I am not well-trained when it comes to grammar and punctuation. I am self-taught and know my weakness is my technical skill, so I always have one or two people proof everything I write. Believe me, the grammar geeks are out there, and they will bust you. I cannot tell you how many times people have commented on my Facebook page when they have seen a glaring mistake a writer has made whether it was on a website blog, a Facebook post or Twitter. Once you lose a reader, they are lost forever.
4. Network, network, and network some more.
You cannot make too many friends. Join a writers’ meetup, a hiking club, a book club. Whatever you have to do, you HAVE to create a network of people before you ever think about putting a book out into the world. It is a matter of concentric circles. Create an inner circle, and all of the people in that circle each have a sphere of influence on other circles of people and friends, and those people have their circle of friends, and this goes on and on. This was probably the best thing I have done over the years. I have a huge group of friends, mostly people I have met hiking and with whom I work, who are loyal and want to see me succeed. (By the way, if you have an acquaintance who seems always to send negativity your way—run! Your friends will offer constructive criticism, not knock you down every time they get the chance.)
I am not afraid of chatting someone up in the elevator, at the grocery store, post office, etc. I had a save-the-date card made, and mailed them to everyone I know all over the country. I have handed them out at the grocery store. I have gone to bookstores and given them a stack to sit by the register. You HAVE to be willing to do your own marketing whether you are being published traditionally or self-publishing. I call it shameless self-promotion, and I have gotten pretty good at it!
5. Have your manuscript professionally edited.
Do your research. If you are writing non-fiction, look for someone who has worked in the field of your subject, or edits that sort of book. If you are writing fiction, make sure you don’t hire someone who mostly edits non-fiction. Be smart. Investigate them. Find out what they have edited Find the right fit, and no matter what the cost, it will be the best money you will ever spend during your quest. I did, and I will forever be grateful to Michael Garrett for making me a better writer.
Look, I’m learning about all this business too. I, by no means, am an expert, but I’m happy to share what I have learned with you because that is how I learned; by reading about the successes of others and how they did it. It’s all about passing on the love, folks. This is not a race; it’s a journey. I hope your journey takes you to great heights and successes.
One last thing, take the time to get out and enjoy life. Take a walk or a hike. Do whatever it is that brings you peace and inspiration. Without peace and inspiration, what’s the point in writing?
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.