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A Conversation With Jaden Terrell on Writer Expectations, Part 3 (Killer Writers)

Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford completes his conversation with novelist Jaden Terrell about writer expectations and success.

Award-winning author Jaden Terrell and I are sitting in a back booth at the independently-owned local Chop House in Franklin, Tennessee, talking about writers’ expectations. Our conversation, as most of our lunch conversations, took so long that it ended up being divided into three parts. In Part 1, we talked about what end result we all individually wanted out of our writing, our realistic and unrealistic expectations of where we want to be in the years ahead, our personal assets and liabilities, how to honestly evaluate what we want, the time and process for each step of the writing and publishing process, and we referenced the four career paths open to writers.

(Check out Clay's Killer Writers Series here.)

We continued the discussion in Part 2 where we talked about deciding what size market we wanted to reach based upon what each of us is truly willing to do or give up in order to get there, and then discussed the four levels writers can aspire to (Me, Myself, and I; Family and Friends; Professional; and Superstar), each level being a satisfying end unto itself. We left off talking about the Superstar Level.

A Conversation With Jaden Terrell on Writer Expectations Part 3 (Killer Writers)

“So, it is all individual, isn’t it?” I ask.

“Yes. It’s very individual. It has to do with your strengths, and your weaknesses, and what you like, and what you’re willing to do, because if you try to do too much stuff, you’re not going to do any of it well, and second of all, you pick some things that aren’t a good fit for you, you put it off, and you don’t want to do it, and you’re not comfortable with it, and if it is too far out from your comfort zone that you just don’t do it.”

“That’s a mouthful.”

“It is. But your strategic plan needs to be something that is either within your comfort zone, or it is close enough to it that you can stretch for it.”

“You have to enjoy it,” I say.

“You don’t want to pick a marketing tactic or strategy that is a misery for you to do.”

“Or pick one of your four levels that you really don’t want to do?” I reflect on that as the server refills my iced tea glass and asks whether we want dessert. We both decline. I feel the wrap up of this conversation with Jaden is dessert enough. “What strategies do you use, for example, to reach the Superstar Level? Do you try to second guess the market?”

“You want to enjoy your writing. Don’t pick a genre that you hate. And I know that sounds self-evident, but I helped a woman once who is a really good writer, but she had a book that an agent had told her that ‘if you can change these things and make it this particular kind of book, I will represent it, I like the writing, etc.’ The only problem was when the author tried to do it, she hated it. She hated the book. And it was very clear that the story wanted to go in one direction, but she was trying to push it to another to satisfy the agent. So, we had to have a conversation about what it was that she wanted because if she went in the direction that she was trying to go now with this agent, then this is the type of book she would be writing continuously if this was a series. And so I asked her, do you want to write three, four, or five books in this genre? And she said, no, I’d hate it. It would have been perfectly valid if she had said, yeah, I want to do that. I have another friend, a successful writer friend, a New York Times bestseller, who did exactly that. She said, ‘I really don’t like this genre, but I’ve got an agent who is interested in this, and I feel like I can write it, I feel like I can do a good job at it, and so, I don’t hate it, but it’s not something that I love.’”

“To her that she didn’t love it didn’t matter?”

“She became very successful with that and was ultimately able to write what she wanted. Either one of those decisions is okay.”

“But to be happy…”

“You have to accept this is what you want.”

“Like choosing which of the four levels you’d like to be on. And you’re not a failure…”

“If you choose to do something else.”

I look at the old black-and-white pictures on the wall of the restaurant of old Franklin, of people who might have been dead for a hundred years. I see their hopeful eyes. “Even with the best counsel most people I know, especially earlier in their career, are going to pick the Superstar route as what they think they want. They want the fame, the legacy. You talk about the lightning rod needed for the Superstar route. What is that?”

“You’ve got to take everything that I say with a grain of salt,” Jaden says, “because I am not on the Superstar path.”

Jaden Terrell

Jaden Terrell

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. But I have friends who are. And so, what I see different, I suppose, between those who are comfortably on the high end of the Professional Level are that they put themselves out there a lot more.”

“How so?”

“They have a very hectic schedule, a very intense schedule in terms of their putting out more books more quickly. And I’m not saying that they sacrifice quality, some do, but most don’t. But they write extremely regularly. They’re very intent on making deadlines. They take opportunities when they come. They have some things that they do regularly every day (or every week) that are really regular to build an audience and then interact with that audience.”

“Like newsletters? Social media?”

“Most of them have newsletters. Newsletters are mainly to stay in touch with people, not ways to reach people.”

“How do you reach people?”

“There are a lot of different ways to do that. They will put themselves everywhere. You’ll see them on podcasts. You’ll see them on blog tours, you’ll see their books advertised at different places, like in specific magazines. You’ll see them speaking at conferences and to writer’s groups. You can barely find a week that goes by that they’re not doing something. Often, they do something every day.”

“Like what?”

“Reaching out to their readers or putting out something on social media, there are various forms of attack. They have some way of attracting readers to them, usually by leveraging somebody else’s audience, and they put themselves in a place where those readers are.”

“How do you leverage someone else’s audience?”

“I know an author that, before she was even published, she knew exactly what she wanted and where she wanted to be. The first thing that she started doing to attract an audience, even before she had a book sale, was that she got a Publisher’s Marketplace membership that gives you a page where you can put things out about your work, that you’re looking for an agent, and that kind of stuff. It also gives you something that you can use for a little blog. Every week without fail, she wrote a blog there. She built up this huge audience who checked in every week to see what she was going to write about. She was very faithful about it. She did it for a long, long time.”

“And the payoff?”

“She found her agent in that way and through that platform. The page was well done. She had tuned her query to a fine crystal, she had an excerpt of her book up there that was professionally done. It read like a book you might pick up off the shelf. She had this audience that was already primed to whatever she put up there. There are some who do more, but that’s a pretty demanding schedule and she hit it. She is shy. She did not want to speak in public, but she did. And she booked herself at book festivals and spoke. She did everything that she could think of to get her name out there and be known. Also, to be known by her publisher as someone who is reliable, and by her agent as somebody who would put herself out there. But her life is a whirlwind because she is always having to do something. I get her newsletter faithfully. She also hosts a podcast so she has built her audience.”

Writing the Mystery Novel

“This is not an overnight thing?”

“She has built her platform over the years consistently, and is always looking for a new opportunity, but she doesn’t just do a little bit here and little bit there, it’s very focused.”

“Intense. So basically, the lightning rod is that you just constantly milk it?”

“Yes, that’s basically your life of just putting yourself out there. It’s being a part of the writing community. It’s serving when you can. It’s also knowing when to say no to things, like she did a thing for a long time with another author. It was great. They’d meet downtown with a group and talk about writing or whatever, and people loved it, but I don’t think there was enough leverage there for them to do it for very long. It wasn’t serving them. It wasn’t so much that they wanted to let it go, it was that other opportunities came up that were more productive for them.”

“This has been incredibly informative.”

“I want to leave you with this story of another author because I always put his story at the beginning of my talks. He asked me one day, do you think that I should try to get an agent, try to get a traditional publisher, and do what we are calling the Superstar Track? I said, well, do you want to? And he said, you know I’m really happy with things as they are. I have regular readers. I’m making money between what I make from the books I sell and my other income, but it crosses my mind a few times every month. It just seems like a big hassle. And so, I said, you have your answer. And he said, well, I wondered if there was another track that I should be going for? And I said, if you are happy with the way you are, and you don’t think you would be happy doing what it would take to get there, then I think you know the answer. And he said, yeah, you’re right; I don’t want that. He knew what he was doing he really loved, and he continued to challenge himself as an author and artist because that’s what he wanted. He had readers who loved him. He was comfortable. And he was growing as a writer all the way up until he died.”

“At whatever level he wanted to be.”

“He found his spot.”

“The important thing is that it is our choice.”

“And we are happy.” And Jaden smiles with that endearing glow.

____________________

Jaden Terrell is the author of four Nashville-based private detective novels and one cozy cat detective mystery. She also teaches live and online workshops and courses for writers. http://www.jadenterrell.com

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