Scott Keen and Scar of the Downers

scott keenAuthor Scott Keen is currently on a WOW! blog tour with his older Middle Grade/Young Adult novel, Scar of the Downers. And if you read my post yesterday at The Muffin, then you know I asked Scott to share something about his publishing journey and the company, WiDo. Scott very happily obliged and I appreciated his honest and informative post. I think you will, too.

Several years ago, when I first started pursuing the route to publication for my book Scar of the Downers, I did the usual thing that most aspiring authors do. I researched agents and sent them query letters and manuscript portions and synopses, all in the hopes of being able to one day get signed by one of the “Big Five” publishers.

This is a hard route, though, for someone who is unknown and has zero contacts in the industry, like myself. Also, self-publishing was not a possibility for me, mostly because I had no money to invest in it. Then, my laptop died and I lost the document where I was keeping track of all my agent submissions (and rejections). Fortuitously, I came across the QueryTracker website, which, for a small annual fee, will do the work of keeping track of all this stuff for you, with the added bonus of you being able to see reviews and ratings of agents and publishing houses from other budding authors like yourself. (And no, I am not compensated in any way, shape, or form by QueryTracker. These are just my honest feelings).

On QueryTracker, I found WiDo Publishing, a small traditional press. When I scoped out their website, I thought it looked professional. I also looked at the books they had published and I was impressed with them as well, both for their covers and their content. Another plus was that I didn’t need an agent to submit to them. I thought that WiDo might be a good match for me, so I sent them my query letter and synopsis and hoped for the best.

A few months later, I was signing the book contract and was mentally prepping myself for the editing process, which was foreign to me at this point. I was unsure of what to expect. It took several weeks for the editor to go through my manuscript. Her feedback wasn’t just a cursory glance kind of feedback – I could tell that she really thought about my book and the ways to improve it. It wasn’t an easy edit for me that first time around. I had to make some pretty ruthless cuts and changes, especially in the first few chapters. It was hard work, and it wasn’t fun. But, I can honestly say that these changes made the book better.

After several rounds of editing, there was just the cover that I was mostly stressed about. I know many people do judge a book by its cover, as I am one of them. So this was very important to me. I sent in a synopsis and an excerpt of the manuscript that I thought best fit the tone of the novel. With that, the designer went to work. In the end, I was very pleased, and I’ve had a lot of compliments on it as well.

Since I’m a first-time author, I’m sure I was slightly annoying to them with all the questions I had, but WiDo was good about emailing me and keeping me up-to-date about how things were coming along. All in all, I’m very pleased with my experience working with WiDo to publish Scar of the Downers. And, I am thankful that they gave me, an unknown author, a chance to break into the harrowing world of publishing!

And now, a few more particulars about Scott Keen and his debut book, Scar of the Downers:

Scott Keen grew up in Black River, NY, the youngest of three children. While in law school, he realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer. So he did the practical thing–he became a writer. Now, many years later with an MFA in script and screenwriting, he is married with four daughters, two of whom he homeschools. He blogs at www.scottkeenbooks.com.

9781937178635-200x300About Scar of the Downers:

Branded on the slaves in the Northern Reaches beyond Ungstah, the scar marks each one as a Downer. It is who they are. There is no escaping this world. Still, strange things are stirring.

Two foreigners ride through the Northern Reaches on a secret mission. An unknown cloaked figure wanders the streets of the dark city of Ungstah. What they want no one can be sure, but it all centers around a Downer named Crik.

Crik, too scared to seek freedom, spends his days working in his master’s store, avoiding the spirit-eating Ash Kings while scavenging food for himself and his best friend, Jak. Until he steals from the wrong person. When Jak is sold to satisfy the debt, Crik burns down his master’s house and is sentenced to death.

To survive, Crik and his friends must leave behind their life of slavery to do what no other Downer has ever done before–escape from the city of Ungstah.

Sounds like an interesting book, right? And I bet if you have questions, about his book or WiDo Publishing, Scott would be interested in answering them!

Read and Learn, Grasshopper: Nina Amir and The Author Training Manual

NinaBookcoverFor those of you who’ve followed me regularly over the years, you know that Wednesdays can sometimes be What Not To Do Wednesdays. Because let’s face it, grasshopper. I’ve learned a lot about what to do from learning what not to do. And when I started reading Nina Amir’s The Author Training Manual, I had that old “what not to do” feeling. Mistakes? I’d made a few…

But the good news is, I realized I could change, could correct a few of my errant ways, starting with the way I thought about myself as an author. The Author Training Manual will guide you, step by step, with exercises, in What To Do to be a successful author. Here’s Nina with answers to some of the questions I thought you might have:

 

1. I love that you start by saying that anyone can move from aspiring writer to published writer—but only if we have the AUTHOR ATTITUDE. Can you share a little about what you mean by the AUTHOR ATTITUDE?

Sure! With the advent of digital publishing, it seems easy to become an author. But to produce a successful book and to become a successful author takes more than just slapping together a manuscript and throwing it up on Amazon as a Kindle book, or even as a POD book on CreateSpace.

To do it “well” takes much, much more. For that you need the right attitude, what I call an Author Attitude, which is comprised of four primary elements.

First, you need willingness. To succeed as an author generally takes an enormous amount of willingness. To succeed as a self-published author takes even more. You must be willing to do whatever it takes, do more than just write, to change, to learn new things, to step outside your comfort zone, to make mistakes, to take risks, to fail, to succeed, to play big and be seen, to get rejected, and to run your own publishing company.

Second, you need optimism. Studies show that optimists succeed more often than pessimists. Optimists don’t take rejection, criticism and mistakes personally, which helps them avoid getting stuck. Optimistic people approach challenges as opportunities to move closer to their goals. Pessimistic people see them as obstacles, or reasons to quit.

Third, you need objectivity. Writing and publishing requires the objectivity to see yourself and your work from readers’, editors’ and publishing professionals’ perspective. When you can do this, you can take the necessary steps to improve your work and make yourself into an attractive publishing partner.

Fourth, you need tenacity. Writing a book isn’t easy. It’s often said that the real work of a writer begins after publication when you begin promotion. You must have determination, persistence and perseverance—all elements of tenacity—to get from aspiring to published (and successful) author.

I created an acronym to make it easy to remember the elements of an Author Attitude: WOOT. According to the Urban Dictionary, the word “woot” originated as a hacker term for root, or administrative, access to a computer. It works well when applied to the topic of attitude because to change your attitude you must access your “computer”—your mind.

 

 2. WOOT! Even I can remember that. Next question: I’ve always thought that a business plan for a book referred to non-fiction, but you recommend this tool for any book. Many of my readers are fiction writers, including children’s writers. Do I need a business plan for a picture book?

Every book is a product. Publishers want to know if that product is viable—if it will sell. If you want your book traditionally published, you must offer a publisher, who is really a potential venture capital partner, a business plan that proves you have a marketable product and that you can produce it and help sell it. That means that you can or will promote it. That business plan convinces the publisher they can make back their investment and, hopefully, earn something on it as well.

So, why wouldn’t you need a business plan for every genre of book? Of course, you would.

You also need one if you self-publish. You need to convince yourself that you should invest your own time and money in your book project—that you will earn back your investment. When you self-publish, you become an entrepreneur and create a start-up publishing company. A start up needs a business plan.

 

 3. The Author Training Manual lists nine steps (and includes training exercises to go along with each step!). Is there any one step that’s more crucial than the others? Is there any step that maybe the fiction writer can skip? (Not saying that I would, of course…)

I think they are all crucial. I wouldn’t skip any. Many fiction writers don’t bother with platform, competitive analysis or chapter-by-chapter summaries, for example. I think these will help any writer in any genre. In the book I discuss the fact that some novelists might just do a synopsis instead of the chapter-by-chapter synopsis in Step #6, but I still think the former option is better, and it leads to the writing guide I describe in the book.

If you want to help your book stand out in an ever-more-competitive marketplace, be sure to do a competitive analysis. Then apply that information to your idea so you can craft a unique idea that is truly necessary in the book’s category. Fill a hole on the shelf. Produce the book your readers have been looking or waiting for.

If you don’t do this, no matter your genre, you take the risk of producing one more book like all the others that have already been written in your category.

 

4. You also provide four excellent samples of business proposals and/or business plans. What’s most important in a business NinaAuthorPicplan/proposal, and where do most writers make their mistakes when they make a plan?

Again, all the sections are important. What can make or break a traditional book deal, especially in the nonfiction category, is an author’s platform and promotion plan. These days, platform and promotion can help a novelist stand out from the pack as well.

Indie authors should keep this in mind as they create their business plans. Author platform provides the foundation for a promotion plan. It convinces a publisher you will do what it takes after book release to help sell your book. If you aren’t building platform, you likely won’t promote your book. That can mean failure for a book—and an indie publishing company. Few books just take off on their own.

 

 5. It occurred to me that in completing the training exercises, I’ve practically done the work of all those people at an acquisitions meeting! Do you think it would be helpful to share that research from the training exercises when pitching a fiction book? Or in querying an agent?

The point of the training exercises is to help aspiring authors compile the information necessary for a book proposal or business plan and to evaluate it—something most writers don’t do when they put together a proposal. They also don’t use that information to craft a marketable book.

You should, therefore, put the appropriate information from the exercises into the business plan after you have tweaked or revised your idea to make it the most marketable one possible.

 

6. I like to end with a good take-away bang. So what’s the ONE thing you want to impress on writers when it comes to The Author Training Manual?

Creating a business plan for a book may seem uncreative. It may seem like the farthest thing from writing the book you imagined. But that’s not true.

If you want your idea to have impact and to reach many, many readers, it must be marketable. If you learn to see that idea through the same lens used by publishing professionals, such as agents and acquisitions editors, and if you evaluate it in the same way—using the same tool (a business plan), you can then put your creativity to use to craft the absolute best idea possible—one that will sell to a publisher, if you want, and to readers. You can allow yourself to get inspired and to write a book—your book based on your idea—that will give your audience what it truly seeks. In this way, you can succeed as an author.

 

Nina Amir, author of How to Blog a Book, The Author Training Manual, and 10 Days and 10 Ways to Return to Your Best Self, transforms writers into inspired, successful authors, authorpreneurs and blogpreneurs as an Inspiration to Creation Coach. She moves her clients from ideas to finished books as well as to careers as authors by helping them combine their passion and purpose so they create products that positively and meaningfully impact the world. She writes four blogs, self-published 12 books and founded National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge.

 

And oh, happy day! You can win a copy (US and Canada only) of The Author Training Manual! All you need to do is leave a comment. And if you share this giveaway post, on either Facebook, Twitter, or your blog, you’ll get an extra entry for each share. Just let me know in your comment; I’m a trusting sort.

Okay, grasshopper, now you know exactly What To Do to succeed as an author. I think it’s about time you did it. (WOOT!)

Be Careful What You Learn! Says Eric Trant, Author of WINK

ImageAuthor Eric Trant is here today on a WOW! Book Tour, sharing his wisdom on branding yourself as a writer and the perils therein. And honestly, he made me smile–and nod in agreement. The man makes some good points. So on to Eric and his good points:

Be careful what you learn. I have said that over and over in my engineering career, and I will say it again to my fellow writers. Be careful what you learn!

Why is that? you may ask.

Well, I answer, it’s simple. It’s because once you learn something, and once you become good at it, people will want you to do that thing you learned and are good at.

Let’s say you like old-school sci-fi, Heinlein and Azimov and Clarke, but everyone believes Young Adult (YA) fantasy is hot right now, and so you write a YA fantasy book. It stinks, but YA fantasy really is hot and you land a contract and it’s all hands on deck, hallelujah! The book takes off even though it is not your best work, and the publisher asks that you write a second novel in the trilogy. It wasn’t a trilogy, that’s what you say, and they respond, Well, it is now. Wah-kiche.

That last part is the whip cracking.

So with bloody fingers you crank out a second novel and when you get to the third book they say, Split the last one into three books. These things stink like last week’s diapers, but the kids can’t get enough of it! Thank God for public schools!

You write more and they sell like crazy, and when you are famous and the movies are finished and you are rich and fat and completely loathing yourself for what you did to America’s youth, you begin work on your true passion, a space-opera about the last planet around a dying sun with deeply-drawn characters and stunning visuals and moral dilemmas and lessons and Holy cow, this is your crowning work! We’re talking Hugo! Heck, we’re talking Pulitzer!

Wrong. Nobody reads your magnificent space-opera because you are a YA fantasy writer who writes hack YA fantasy novels that are rebirthed as unwatchable YA fantasy movies.

So the best advice is to be careful what you learn. Be good at something you love. If you love romance, do not write YA fantasy just because it is popular. If you love old-school rock, don’t learn to play C&W just because it is popular. If you want to be a serious actor, don’t hit the stand-up comedy clubs just because it is fast cash.

Be careful what you learn!

What are your thoughts? Have you ever become good at something you wished you had not? Do you apply this rule to your writing, and to your career and life in general?

PS. I don’t mean to pick on YA fantasy or imply it is cut-rate writing. YA is nothing more sinister than a well-written story that involves children as the main characters, and fantasy is nothing more mysterious than bending the rules of reality. I personally favor that genre considerably, as anyone who read Wink can attest.

I’m right, right? Very good points. But I suppose I should add a caveat to Eric’s sage advice. You have to learn something–and be really good at it--to be branded. Which brings me to Eric Trant’s novel, WINK.

ImageIn this thriller set in a rural Gulf Coast town, Marty Jameson finds refuge in the attic from his mother’s abusive rages. But only during the day. At night the attic holds terrors even beyond what he witnesses in his home. With a family made up of a psychotic mother, a drug-dealing father and a comatose older brother withering away in the spare bedroom, Marty feels trapped.

Next door, wheel-chair bound Sadie Marsh obsessively watches Marty’s comings and goings from her bedroom window, despite her mother’s warning about the evil in that house. Evil which appears to Sadie as huge black-winged creatures.

Marty, emotionally torn by the violence and dysfunction in his family, is drawn to Sadie and her kindly mother. But if he is to save his new friend from the supernatural horror threatening them all, Marty must transform himself from victim to hero. And to do so, he must first confront what lurks hidden in the shadows of his attic.

Holy moly, that sounds good, right? And you can win a copy of the supernatural thriller, WINK. Just leave a comment–maybe answer Eric’s questions. I’d love to know what you think about being good at what you learn.

But just in case you don’t win WINK, check out Eric’s website for more information on where you can find his novel.

And P.S. You’re going to find much more than just a wonderful writer.