Bio: Author Dana Marton used skills learned at her corporate job to get published and stay published. In the past five years she's sold 25 books (without an agent) that are published in over a dozen countries in many languages—one has been even published in Japan
as a graphic novel. She's a Rita finalist and the winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence. And it all started with a little project management. You can find out more about Dana and her books on her web site: www.danamarton.com
Note: Lessons will be posted on Sep. 6, 13, 20 and 27, including homework. In between, I’d like to discuss homework assignments and address any questions. I’m currently in
Europe in a different time zone, so I might not answer all posts right away, but I’ll strive to answer all of them within a reasonable amount of time.
This is a long lesson. Don’t feel that you have to do it in one sitting. You have all week.
If you can, please friend me on Facebook and or follow me on Twitter. I promise to friend/follow you back. No matter where you are in your writing journey, a little networking is always a good thing.
Lesson 1: Writing is an Art—Publishing is a Business
WELCOME!!! As my bio says, I’ve had a corporate career before I had a writing career. For a long time, I thought of the business side of my brain and the creative side of my brain as completely separate. (Coincidentally, these were the unpublished years.) In my free hours, I wrote with abandon, blissfully unaware such things as trends or publisher requirements.
Since I read all romance fiction, I wrote all romance fiction. Started with a historical romance, then moved on to inspirational romance, series romance, sci-fi romance, Western romance, time travel romance, romantic suspense and other fun stuff. This lighthearted frolicking across the romance landscape lasted a brief thirteen years and resulted in zero published works.
Then it dawned on me that I might be doing something wrong. After only thirteen years! Quick as lighting, that’s me!
I began to ponder how I could be so spectacularly unsuccessful in my writing when I was fairly successful in my corporate job. For a while, I tried to write harder. Nobody noticed. Don’t you hate when that happens?
Then the solution came to me…
(prepare to be dazzled)
Okay, here is my great revelation: Not only did I have to work harder at writing, but I had to work smarter!
This first brilliant idea was immediately followed by a second. (I was on a roll, obviously.) --Maybe I could use my business skills to improve my writing career!
Figured it was worth a try. Whatever happened, I couldn’t bungle things up much worse than they already were. So I looked at all the things I was doing in my corporate career that I wasn’t doing in my writing.
--train with professionals
--study the market
--subscribe to industry magazines
--attend industry conferences
--know your customer
--invest in continuing education
--network, etc. etc.
As a first step, I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America). This turned out to be a triple bonus, as with the professional organization I also got their newsletter (one of the best industry magazines for romance writers) and their conference, which comes with a plethora of workshops and networking opportunities! One of the first things I discovered was a local chapter of RWA, where I found out about things like proper manuscript formatting and publishers guidelines. I also received recommendations for a number of great how-to books every writer should read. A few are listed here.
I learned as much as possible, entered writing contests and paid attention to comments, but something was still missing. You know what Dr. Phil says? “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.”
Add to that some good advice from Anthony Robbins: “Take massive action.”
So I decided to take things to the next level. I enrolled in a M.A. program in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. It was a wonderful opportunity. I only had to go to school 5 days twice a year. Did it take money/energy/time away from family? Yes. But few things in life are free. My corporate job took energy/time etc. too. I just had to learn to make my writing a priority, as important or more important than other aspects of my life.
While going back to school to hone my craft, I also tried to find other ways to work smarter. I understood by that point that while writing is an art, publishing is a business. And if you’re going to model your writing career on a business, make it a Fortune 500 company, not a roadside lemonade stand. Luckily I was working for just such an international corporation. I couldn’t happen but notice that they had whole departments doing wild things like product design and analysis, market analysis etc. Could that work for me
I was writing a romantic suspense novel at the time, and was beginning to suspect that my chances for a sale might improve if I began researching publishers while the book was still in progress. If I could tailor the book to a specific publisher’s likes and dislikes, they would be more likely to like my book. And wasn’t I in luck?! Most publishers state their likes and dislikes right on their website, under a handy little tab called PUBLISHER GUIDELINES.
Okay, so publisher guidelines can be vague at times. But there’s another way to get a pretty good idea for what a specific publisher wants: read the books they publish. So after some consideration, I selected Harlequin Intrigue as my dream publisher. I love their books, so it was an easy choice.
After reading their guidelines and learning how long the book should be, what topics they liked, etc., I went to one of my handy dandy industry magazines, RT Bookreviews. RT lists most every romance that is published in a given month. On their web site, you can do a search. I searched for every Intrigue that had been published in the past 12 months that received a 4 star rating or higher. I wanted to know what types of stories were published recently, and I wanted to see what the best of those were like. Then I read and analyzed those books for topic, level of sensuality, level of violence, secondary plots, etc. By the time I was done, I had an excellent idea of what Intrigue editors/readers wanted.
I know, this sounds like an awful lot of busywork when all a writer wants to do is write. But the most important thing is, did it work?
Well, one of the things my university program required from each student was to write a full-size novel of publishable quality. (With the guidance of critique partners and mentor who’s a multi-published author.) Not only did I write that romantic suspense, SHADOW SOLDIER, but I sold it to Harlequin Intrigue. I also sold two more books to the same publisher before graduating, thereby paying off my entire tuition from writing. (The editor remarked on the phone that she was really excited about the book, because from page one it sounded like it’d been written just for Intrigue. Well, it was.)
You don’t have to go back to college if that’s not the right path for you, but I would advise that you ask yourself, what could I do that I haven’t yet done? What’s your massive action? (e.g. set aside 2 hrs per day for writing, sign up for a class, go to a conference, etc.)
Let’s make a pact that from now on we’ll all consider our writing as a very serious business. As your first homework, please try to complete as many of the following business tasks as possible:
- Write a short author bio and post it to the class. (see mine above for an example) If you’re a pre-published author, make sure to tell us what type of books you’re working on and what’s unique about your writing, how long have you been writing, etc.
- Establish an online presence. (Facebook, Twitter, Web page) Try to do at least one if you haven’t yet. Ideal would be all three. Post your links so we can all “friend” or “follow” you.
- Write up what would you like to have on your business card, then have some made. There are places online that’ll even make them for free. Just type “free business cards” into Google and you’ll see a long list. Make sure to choose a reputable vendor.
This is what my business card says:
It’s up to you how much personal information you want to reveal on your card (or web page or other online pages). I get just enough prison mail that I don’t post my home address and phone number.
Research and post to class some professional organizations/publications for your genre.
- Did you find anything in today’s lesson that you might be able to use to move your own writing career forward? What is it? What action are you going to take?
I would also love to hear any personal experiences from you regarding your writing career. What worked for you so far? What didn’t work? Would you care to share any learnings with the class? It would be much appreciated!
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I’m really looking forward to chatting with you all and discovering a couple of great project management tools in the following weeks.
That’s all for today! Wishing you a fun and productive day.
P.S.: I don’t like busywork, but I sure do love results. When I realized how well project management/business analysis worked for my writing, I went overboard and tried to chart and analyze every aspect of writing. Some things I came up with weren’t terribly useful, while others I use to this day. I even analyzed and charted how to write the perfect novel and tried to come up with a novel template. If you’re curious, you can check it out here: http://danamarton.com/tmp/Novel_Template_3.html