Thomas Edison, in talking about inventing, is quoted as saying, “the first step is an intuition—and comes with a burst—then difficulties arise.”
To me this is similar to the bursts of inspiration and motivation we sometimes get when writing. The trouble is that the burst subsides and “difficulties arise.”
Edison is famous and became successful because he persisted through the difficulties. He never gave up just because the burst of intuition and motivation was gone. I think one of the ways we can do the same is to expect difficulties. To actively anticipate them, so that they don’t catch us off guard.
I sometimes joke that this can be thought of as “negative thinking.” I’m naturally an optimist, but when I “think negative,” I honestly assess the difficulties, challenges or obstacles that may be in front of me. I attempt to understand any potential risks or pitfalls in my path. Wherever I’m headed, whatever my goals might be, I can’t afford to be unreservedly positive.
There are several clear advantages to “negative thinking,” including:
When you’re focused on “thinking positive,” you may not be adequately prepared for the challenges of your journey, and therefore fail to meet them successfully.
Thinking through the negatives keeps you from being overly surprised or disappointed when things don’t go as you’d hoped or planned.
You are more likely to avoid magical thinking. (“I WILL meet my deadline, I will, I will!” As the deadline flies right by.)
If you can honestly acknowledge possible negatives and keep going, then you’re probably on a path that’s right for you.
When you’re realistic about potential challenges, you are often pleasantly surprised at the smoothness of your path.
If you’re “thinking positive,” you may be inclined to think your path is going to be easier than it really is, so you won’t allow enough time to accomplish the goal, and you may not have enough diligence or discipline to get it done.
There are countless ways to apply “negative thinking” to the writing life:
Instead of telling yourself simply, “I’m going to get published,” you realistically assess the obstacles and tell yourself, “I’m going to work hard, be persistent, and bust through all the barriers, and eventually get published.”
Instead of telling yourself, “I know thousands of people are going to want to buy my book,” you look at how many people publish books with little success, then determine, “I’m going to pull out all the stops marketing my book so that anyone who might like it will have the opportunity to buy it.”
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not disputing the value of positive thinking. I do it all the time! But the key to success is realistic optimism — what I’ve been referring to here as “thinking negative.” Bring reality into your positive thinking, for a much brighter chance of reaching your goals.
Do you believe in “thinking negative” sometimes? How can it help you in pursuing your goals?
I’m a literary agent, but I have a side hustle as an online educator teaching a course for writers at Author School. These days, lots of people have “side hustles” including those who are full-time parents and others who work a job full time. Side hustles are a perfect way for writers to make more money and expand their influence. For authors who dream of “quitting their day job,” a side hustle in addition to income from writing can make the difference.
The great thing about side hustles is that they can be anything you dream up — anything that serves a purpose in the world and provides value people will pay for. It’s only limited by your own imagination. And it’s driven by your own expertise, interests, and skillset.
Recently at the Books & Such client retreat, I sat around a table with several writers and we brainstormed potential side hustles for each of them. They’re all published authors, and they all wish to increase their income so they don’t have to get a “day job.” We had a lot of fun digging in to each one’s interests and skills, in addition to their book topics, to come up with side hustles that would not only make them some extra money but also help build their brand.
One author lives on a farm, writes kids’ books about animals, and is familiar with YouTube. We dreamed up a YouTube channel in which she would create videos teaching kids about working with the animals. We know kids watch YouTube, and this author has ready access to the animals, so this idea was a great fit.
Another author is an accomplished public speaker, and she told us she spends a great deal of time answering questions and helping novice speakers figure out how to launch a speaking career. She seemed a natural to open a business as a speaking coach, offering packages at various price-points, to coach people in getting their speaking business started.
A writer who has 20+ years experience as a homeschooler and a leader in the homeschooling movement was excited about the prospect of creating online courses for homeschooling parents.
Each of these side hustles is directly related to the authors’ book topics, but that doesn’t have to be the case. A side hustle can be anything. It can be hard to think of what kind of side hustle might work for you, so I highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s daily podcast, Side Hustle School. It’s only about 8 minutes long, and every day he shares a story of one person and the side hustle they developed. Some recent interesting side hustles he profiled:
A person suffering back pain invents a unique laptop stand that solves the problem.
A marketing executive creates branded candy hearts for businesses.
An IT manager helps people set up their WordPress websites.
An expat coaches families on how to settle in another country.
A scientist has a blog and YouTube channel helping college students with Organic Chemistry.
If you want to read about a whole bunch of side hustles in one place, the new book 100 Side Hustles illustrates the unlimited variety of business ideas, and will spur your imagination.
Dear friends, I am heartbroken to tell you that my friend and client, author Rachel Held Evans, died early this morning. She was surrounded by friends and family, and we held her and sang to her as she took her last breaths.
Please see my previous post for ways you can help the family right now, including the GoFundMe page.
Here is the post from Rachel’s husband Dan this morning:
May 4th, 2019 Update
Rachel was slowly weaned from the coma medication. Her seizures returned but at a reduced rate. There were periods of time where she didn’t have seizures at all. Rachel did not return to an alert state during this process. The hospital team worked to diagnose the primary cause of her seizures and proactively treated for some known possible causes for which diagnostics were not immediately available due to physical limitations.
Early Thursday morning, May 2, Rachel experienced sudden and extreme changes in her vitals. The team at the hospital discovered extensive swelling of her brain and took emergency action to stabilize her. The team worked until Friday afternoon to the best of their ability to save her. This swelling event caused severe damage and ultimately was not survivable.
Rachel died early Saturday morning, May 4, 2019.
This entire experience is surreal. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story. I cannot express how much the support means to me and our kids. To everyone who has prayed, called, texted, driven, flown, given of themselves physically and financially to help ease this burden: Thank you. We are privileged. Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her.
Some of you might know that Rachel Held Evans, author of several bestselling books including Searching for Sunday and The Year of Biblical Womanhood, is critically ill and has been in the ICU for two weeks. She is in a medically-induced coma and the situation is dire.
It’s not my habit to write blog posts about individual clients, but this is an extraordinary situation. Rachel is a dear friend and I’ve been working with her since I received a query letter for her first book, back in 2008. I wanted to let you know what’s happening and ask that, if you feel led, there are a few ways you can help.
Rachel’s friends Sarah Bessey, Jeff Chu and Jim Chaffee have organized a GoFundMe to help the family. If you’d like to donate to the fund, you can use this link. Every little bit is going to be needed and the family is deeply grateful.
Now might be a good time to purchase one or more of Rachel’s books, especially if you’ve thought about it before but haven’t purchased yet. You can find all of her books on Amazon here.
Your prayers are coveted and appreciated.
If you’d like to join others on Twitter praying for Rachel and her family and medical providers, you can use #PrayForRHE and @RachelHeldEvans.
You can follow the updates on Rachel’s health, updated regularly by her husband Dan, here on her blog.
Rachel is young and has two young children (ages 1 and 3), making this all the more difficult. Her husband Dan is keeping everything together and is deeply grateful for the prayers and support being offered by the community. This is a difficult time but we are all standing on faith and keeping hope alive for Rachel’s full recovery. Your good thoughts and prayers are appreciated, and we are so grateful for any help you choose to give.
If you’re like most writers, you’re probably not writing just one book. You’ve written multiple books, possibly in different genres. You may have a whole 3 or 6 or 9-book series planned. So the question naturally arises: Should I pitch my whole series to an agent? Should I tell them about my entire body of work? After all, I want an agent to represent all my work, not just one book.
Along similar lines, reader Jan wrote on Facebook: Whenever I check an agency’s guidelines, they always talk about pitching a particular book. I already have a book published, and I’m looking for an agent to help me build my career. How do I query/pitch in that situation?
The answer is simple and clear:
When querying or pitching an agent, always start with just one book.
1. While most agents are looking for authors with long-term potential and therefore want to know about your other books, it always has to start with one salable book. “Building a career” starts with selling a book to a publisher.
2. It’s unlikely an agent would take you on if you just have a smorgasbord of ideas and a vague idea of a plan. You need a book ready to go. A book that’s so great, the agent can envision the rest of the career you’re trying to build. If you don’t have a single sellable book, then talking about a whole career is pointless.
3. Similarly— if you’re writing a series, you’ve got to get them interested in the first book. Nobody is interested in sequels if they’re not already in love with book #1. So start there. Sell them on book #1.
4. Agents only get paid when they sell a book to a publisher, not by engaging in endless conversations about hypothetical “career building.” We start with a book to sell, then build a career from there. This is true even if you’re already published.
5. At some point in your conversation with an agent, you’ll know when it’s the right time to talk about all your other books and your vision for your career. Often the agent will ask. If you’re writing a query, you can briefly mention toward the end of your letter that you’ve planned a series based on the book you’re pitching, or that you also have other manuscripts in the works if the agent should be interested.
6. It’s not that you shouldn’t let an agent know of your series or your career plans. The point is not to forget your most important priority:
Sell them on a single book. Everything else follows from there.
Do you have a series or multiple manuscripts in the works? Does it makes sense that you’d need to sell them on a single one to start with?
In the past, I’ve blogged about “interval training for writers.” I referred to the growing body of research on human performance suggesting we’re most productive when we move between periods of high focus and periods of rest, rather than attempting to maintain high focus for long periods of time. I wrote that:
90 minutes is the optimum high-focus work time; and
a maximum of three 90-minute focused periods a day provides for the most productivity.*
Lately I’ve been experimenting with this, using a timer on my desk to create 90-minute intervals for highly focused work, usually writing. The first few times I did this, I was amazed at how I finished the interval feeling energized, not wanting to stop what I was doing, and excited to pick up the work again at my next interval. This happened without fail, every time I used the interval strategy.
But yesterday I was impatient to get more accomplished and so I scrapped my 90-minute interval plan. I worked pretty much straight through the day.
And I regretted it. By late afternoon, I was burnt out. I was no longer excited about the project; in fact, I was convinced it wasn’t any good. I felt no enthusiasm for the next time I might be able to work on it. I never wanted to look at it again.
The difference between how I felt after a day of carefully planning my work intervals, and a day working straight through, was so startling that I felt it was worth blogging about again. What I’ve found is that my creativity (the “muse”) tires easily, and responds favorably to enforced time limits. Whatever I’m doing that requires focus, I will do it better if I pay attention to the simple concept of 90-minute intervals.
Have you tried the intervals yet? Does this method work for you?
*Click here to read about Tony Schwartz’s “90 Minute Solution.”
We’re almost a decade and a half into the age of Social Media, and it can still be tricky to navigate. One question we all should be asking ourselves is: What message is my total online persona sending to the world? Another question to ask might be: is my online presence communicating the right brand?
You may need to step back and take an objective look at your social media presence as a whole. Look at your Facebook feed, your Instagram, your blog, your Pinterest, your LinkedIn, and your Twitter feed over a couple of weeks. What kind of picture emerges?
If a stranger browsed your social media presence, what kind of person would they think you are?
Is there a clear sense of your personality and/or the themes and topics you discuss publicly?
Does your online activity reflect you appropriately for your professional life?
Would you appear to be a well-rounded person with both professional and personal interests?
Do you seem to be interested in others and in the world? Are you starting and participating in conversations?
Are you interesting?
If there are people who are waiting for something from you, will your online activity make it seem like you’re not paying attention to the correct priorities?
If we have a social media presence, we are opening ourselves up to scrutiny from others.
People will draw conclusions about us — true or not. We need to do our best to manage our reputations and images online, because this is an important component of an author platform.
For example, if you write lighthearted women’s fiction, you’ll want to think twice about a social media presence that consists mostly of your passionate views on social justice (although it can be a part of your feed). If your books are aimed at people in business and leadership, you’ll want to make sure your online brand communicates some seriousness and gravitas. If you’re trying to get an agent or a publisher and your online presence consists of rants and negativity, will you appear to be someone with whom people want to work?
Take a careful look. It’s worth a few moments of evaluation.
Let’s discuss the one-sentence summary, also known as a logline, a hook, or a one-sentence pitch.
What: About 25 words that capture your novel, memoir, or non-fiction book.
Why: To get someone interested in reading your book.
When to use it: The start of a query, book proposal, or anytime someone asks you, “What’s your book about?”
What it does: A one-sentence summary takes your complex book with multiple characters and plotlines and boils it down into a simple statement that can be quickly conveyed and understood, and generates interest in the book.
What it should include:
→ A character or two
→ Their choice, conflict, or goal
→ What’s at stake (may be implied)
→ Action that will get them to the goal
→ Setting (if important)
Tips: → Keep it simple. One plotline, 1 or 2 characters.
→ Use the strongest nouns, verbs and adjectives.
→ Make the conflict clear but you don’t have to hint at the solution.
In your one-sentence summary, try not to pitch a theme. Pitch what happens. Examples of themes (what not to do):
This book explores forgiveness.
This book looks at the thin line between right and wrong.
This book explores the meaning of independence, and asks if it’s really possible.
Here is Nathan Bransford’s simplified formula for a one-sentence pitch: “When [opening conflict] happens to [character(s)], they must [overcome conflict] to [complete their quest].”
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents. (Thanks Randy Ingermanson for this one.)
→ Character=boy wizard
→ Conflict=battling the Dark Lord
→ Stakes=his life
→ Action=wizard training; avoiding the same fate as his parents
What about the one-sentence summary for non-fiction?
Answer the question: what’s your book about? This is the problem, the issue, or the topic of your non-fiction book. And it needs to have a “hook” or something that will immediately capture attention:
As an example, I’ve taken a well known book by Brené Brown and constructed a possible one-sentence hook for it:
In my non-fiction book, Daring Greatly, I dispel the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness, and I show how it is actually our most accurate measure of courage.
There are always numerous ways to express your book in a single sentence, so I recommend you create 10 or 20 different ones, before settling on the best angle and combination of words.
Are you the kind of writer who has several book ideas (or even written several books), possibly in different genres? If so, you may be wondering where to start. Which book should be the first one you write, or pitch to agents and editors?
It’s a question worth asking, and you’d do well to put some serious thought into it. Here are my tips:
Spend some time on each idea, one by one. First work on a rough outline of what the book would be. List the themes and topics you’d want to cover. Ask yourself: is there enough material here for a whole book? Consider whether you’ll be able to gather the information needed to fill a book on this topic. Is there enough to say?
Marketplace: Are there other books on this topic? Too many? Is there room or need for another one? Can you identify a hole in the market that needs to be filled? If there are no books on this topic, consider why. Is there a need but no one has filled it yet? Or is this something that people don’t want to read a book about?
You: Consider whether you’re the right person to write this book. Do you have any qualifications that would cause book buyers to trust you? Do you have a platform with which to sell this book?
The idea itself: Try to be honest. Is it unique, or derivative of many other books you’ve seen? When you talk with people about it, do they seem to get it? Do they respond with excitement, curiosity, inquisitiveness?
Put all your information together and a picture should emerge of each idea’s viability and chances of selling.
Where is your heart? Others might have different advice, but consider writing the novel that is most on your heart and mind right now. Always save your book ideas in a file, and add to them when the muse strikes. But you may want to write the one that’s speaking to you.
Get some input. You could carefully craft a one-sentence hook for each of your book ideas, then show them to a group of friends or fellow writers, asking them to rank the ideas in order of interest. This might help, if there is some similarity in their answers. Perhaps a clear winner will emerge. But you might get a variety of responses. So again, you’ll need to choose the book you are ready to write. With fiction, the idea is important, yet secondary to the writing.
What about market trends? You do need to know what’s going on in the marketplace, but it can change at any moment. What editors are looking for today might not be what they’re seeking eight months from now when you finish your novel. So don’t chase trends.
The first book sets you up. If you haven’t sold any books yet, be aware that branding is important, so the firstbook you sell will set you up to begin creating your brand. Make sure that first book is something you want to write, and make sure it begins establishing a brand identity that you’ll continue.
Do you have a variety of book ideas or entirely written books? How will you decide where to start?
Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash
I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, and finding it fascinating. It’s a terrific read so if you’ve been on the fence, I recommend it!
There’s an interesting tidbit about when Barack got a contract for his first book, Dreams from My Father. It was long before he entered public office, and at the time apparently he had a lot going on and blew right past his book deadline with no manuscript to show for it.
His publisher canceled the contract, requiring him to pay back his $40,000 advance. His agent then said that she could sell it to another publisher—but she wouldn’t do it until he finished the manuscript.
Barack knew his life was too busy and frenetic for him to get the book done. Wise man that he is, he understood that he couldn’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. He really wanted to write the book, so he decided to take drastic measures. He figured he needed to be away from everything—all his commitments—for a period of time, so that he could knock out the manuscript in one fell swoop. Michelle agreed, and so he set off to write the book.
Six weeks after his wedding.
For two complete months.
Not many new wives would be happy about that! And Michelle was understandably reluctant. But she knew he needed to get the book done, and he knew what it would take.
Happy ending… he finished it, his agent sold it, and while it sold modestly at first, it eventually ended up on the NYT bestseller list.
I have a couple of reasons for sharing this story. First, a heads-up. Yes, a publisher can cancel a contract and demand the advance back if you’re not living up to your part of the deal.
Second, this is a very real acknowledgment that it can be difficult to get a book written amidst the hustle and bustle of life. Not many of us can take off to Bali for two months (Obama had access to free lodging there). But what we can do is be intentional in planning how we’ll get our work done. We can even consider what kind of extreme measures we might need to take in order to complete a project.
Obama’s a really smart guy, capable of keeping a lot of plates spinning. But he knew he’d need dedicated, focused time in order to write his manuscript.