Friday, July 11, 2014

Are You an Advocate for Yourself or a Jack of All Trades?

Image by Ryan Ritchie, via Flickr
Let’s face it: being an author isn’t a simple, one-task job. Similar to that of a wage earner/wife/mother (or the male counterpart), it requires expertise in multiple fields.

Exactly what all does a writer need to be? We can begin with researcher, organizer, storyteller, grammarian, developmental editor, content editor, proofreader, marketer, publicist, PR person, distributor, and the list goes on. Oh, yes, this includes learning the formats/skills required by these diverse professions. Remember that being a jack of all trades also implies being a master of none. Yet we are counseled to learn our craft. How can we do that without acquiring the expertise needed to fulfill all the “jobs” included under the “successful author” umbrella?

We can become advocates for ourselves. One dictionary defines advocacy as the act of supporting something, and who can support us better than we can? After all, we have the most to gain—and the most to lose. However, supporting ourselves doesn’t mean doing it alone. It’s an extremely rare writer who’s an expert in all the above fields, and a reality check will likely reveal that we have neither the time nor resources to spend years becoming proficient in all the required areas. We need help.

Look around at the successful authors you know or have read about. How did they do it? Consider our folks here at BRP: Kathryn Craft, Maryann Miller, Carola Dunn, Helen Ginger, Morgan Mandel, Polly Iyer, Terry O’Dell, Heidi Thomas, Kim Pearson, Elle Carter Neal, Shonell Bacon, Diana Hurwitz, Elspeth Antonelli, Debby Harris, and others, as well as our commenters, many of whom are published writers. Are they all privy to some well-kept success secret? Or have they adopted self-advocacy rather than trying to become jacks of all trades? Many of them have shared their “secrets” in this blog.

Personally, I begin with a potential plot, ask myself a lot of “what if” questions, and utilize my knowledge of grammar, punctuation, structure, and plot/character development to create my stories. After writing an opening scene to hook my readers—and no doubt rewriting it numerous times—I turn my characters loose to run with it. Beta readers help me find weaknesses in completed manuscripts and offer invaluable suggestions to enhance flow and readability. Editing skills are exchanged. Cover design is turned over to more qualified hands. Marketing has been one of my biggest shortcomings, so I’ve engaged someone to handle much of that aspect. Farming out those areas where I am lacking did not come at the outset of my writing career, but rather has been an outgrowth of my early experience with trying to do everything myself. Presently, I’m updating and revising my completed books and planning to reissue them before the end of the year, along with one or more new ones. Budget, always a concern, has been enhanced by bartering; I exchange my expertise for that of others, and we both benefit. An occasional skill still requires out-of-pocket money, but total output is an affordable expense.

How do you advocate yourself/your work? Do you have a team (beta readers, editor, designer, etc.)? Have you educated yourself in the various aspects of marketing? Do you advertise? How do you distribute your books? Do you produce hard copies, e-books, or both? What words of wisdom can you share with us?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

10 comments :

  1. I think it was one of our commenters who mentioned the term "artisan publishing", meaning self-publishing where the author DIYs a great deal of the various aspects of publishing. I quite liked that interpretation, and I've really enjoyed learning a whole host of different "trades" required to produce a book. I'm discovering which of these I like doing and which I'll outsource next time.

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    1. Absolutely, Elle! The name of the game is teamwork, and the writer is captain of the team. Assigning various elements of book production to self or various experts is a huge step in the direction of producing a great book. It's also empowering to learn we possess or can develop skills we didn't previously realize we could use in our own behalf in this process.

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  2. I've enjoyed pushing myself to learn lots of new skills by self-publishing. I've read books and taken classes to hone those skills. I got better with experience. As a writer you are the scriptwriter, casting director, set manager, cameraman, film crew, and multiple actors. You are the continuity coordinator, set decorator, location scout, costumer, sound effects crew, film editor, director. In a word, solely responsible for your audience's viewing pleasure. It is exceptionally hard work.

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    1. Yes, it's hard work, Diana, but so rewarding when it's finished. I love your analogies—we definitely fill all those shoes (directly or indirectly) when we opt to self publish. By the way, I commend you for educating yourself and then practicing what you learned. The beneficiary of all this, of course, is your reader. :-)

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  3. I definitely use a cover artist. I know my limits! I do most of the editing on my own. I read, re-read, re-read, etc. The area I'm most lacking in is promotion. I'm slowly working on that.

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  4. One of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of advocating ourselves is the ability to take on as much as we can capably handle. Learning new skills increases that capability, and that's a great way to go for those of us who eagerly take on new challenges. :-)

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  5. Do what you know how to do; do what you enjoy; hire out the rest.

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  6. I figured out how to put my books up on Amazon, and can even make covers for some of them through Amazon Cover Creator. When it comes to editing, though, I rely on Helen Ginger, my editor. After that, the books goes to beta readers for the little somethings I may have missed. I used three with my recently released book, A Perfect Angel, and all the suggestions were helpful, and I was confident I didn't need any more beta readers. Too many can get confusing.

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    1. In other words you have a team, and you're comfortable with it. We all have different abilities and different needs, which is one of the things that makes our profession so challenging and yet so interesting. As for too many beta readers, I agree that this can become confusing because everyone has a different opinion. The value of beta readers lies in their ability to find omissions and weaknesses rather than their opinion of how this or that should be changed to suit their "style" rather than yours. :-)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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