Using Ebooks to Understand Story Structure

by Jami Gold on February 11, 2016

in Writing Stuff

Roof structure with text: Ebooks: a Shortcut to Story Structure

When we’re on the writing learning curve, we have to learn so many aspects of the craft that we can become overwhelmed. We have to learn how to develop characters, follow grammar rules, include settings and emotion, etc.

One aspect that many writers struggle with is learning story structure. Story structure refers to how we can organize a story so it creates a satisfying experience for readers.

If we’ve ever had a friend try to describe a movie, book, or a real-life event and they keep rambling or going off on tangents, we understand the importance of a good structure for making a story enjoyable. A story that goes off the rails will be confusing (“Wait, who was that character again?”), boring (“Sorry, I zoned out for a second.”), or worse.

On the other hand, we might have a friend who can make their daily check of the mailbox sound like an adventure. We just know there’s going to be a point to their story, so we remain enthralled with every twist and turn.

In other words, good story structure is an important element of good storytelling. While our friend could use good story structure and still be bland in the storytelling, it’s harder to imagine a well-told story that rambled or went off on distracting tangents or dragged on too long, etc.

So let’s take a look at how we can better understand what story structure is, and how we can learn from other stories how to use it in our own…

What Is Story Structure?

Story structure—at the most basic level—is how a story is put together. From our youngest days of reading, we’ve seen that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Each of those three sections (or three Acts) has a purpose:

  • Act One: introducing the story, character, and problem
  • Act Two: adding complications
  • Act Three: resolving the story or problem in some way (failure counts too)

There are many story structure systems out there that then take this basic understanding and further divide those Acts into smaller chunks. Depending on how we draft stories, we may want lots of mileposts to keep our story on track or we may want just vague ideas.

There’s no right or wrong answer. All that matters is the finished story at the end.

How a Well-Timed Joke Relates to Story Structure

In my posts about beats, beat sheets, and turning points, I’ve talked about how the most important of those mileposts are found in every story structure system. No matter what those mileposts of our story’s journey are called, certain functions are needed in a story:

  • a starting point for the main conflict
  • a twist(s)
  • an ending point for the main conflict

Like with other language-related skills, such as telling a joke, timing is important. Story structure (and the beat sheets that quantify story structure) simply give guidelines on the timing of those events to improve storytelling.

Story structure and beat sheets keep a story well-timed so a point isn’t being dragged out or shortchanged. Just as much a poor timing can doom a joke, the same can happen with our stories.

How Do We Know What the Timing Should Be?

Some aspects of a story’s timing are obvious. Characters and story questions need to be introduced in the beginning. The resolution comes together near the end. Etc., etc.

If we’ve studied beat sheets or story structure, we’ve probably seen different percentages for where events should happen. Most of the beat sheets I offer here (like the Basic Beat Sheet) include these percentages:

  • Near 25%, a starting point for the main conflict:
    • an event that drags the protagonist into the situation —or—
    • an event that forces a choice to get involved.
  • Near 50%:
    • an event that changes the protagonist’s goals/choices —or—
    • an event that adds new stakes to the situation.
  • Near 75%:
    • an event that steals the protagonist’s hope for a solution.
  • From about 80-95%, an ending point for the main conflict:
    • an event that forces the protagonist to face the antagonist.

However, the different systems don’t all agree on what those percentages are, so that tells us these numbers aren’t set in stone. They’re guidelines, not our-story-will-suck-if-we-go-over-a-page rules. *smile*

Getting “close” might mean that the story events (or the scene containing that event) occur within 5% of the recommended page number. As long as the pacing and development work, we don’t need to worry about readers counting pages to see how close we got. Story flow trumps the percentages.

Why Those Percentages?

There’s a reason we aim for certain percentages. In particular, those four story structure points mentioned above are important for our storytelling timing.

For example, around the 25% mark, the protagonist should be committed on some level to pursuing the story goal and the story questions and stakes should be established, etc. Readers subconsciously recognize this point of the story, as the introductory stuff is done, and readers are ready for the meat of the story.

Yet we need time to get those characters, goals, and stakes established in our story, so it would be difficult to reach that point in the story earlier than 20% (the 25% mark minus a 5% variation). At the same time, if we spend too long getting to that point (beyond 30%), our story beginning might feel slow, like it’s all setup and no story.

In other words, timing is important for the feel of a story.

Seeing the Percentages in Action

Most—but not all—stories roughly follow those percentages. So if we want to see for ourselves how hitting those marks in the “right” place helps the story (or how a story is affected if the percentages are off), we can analyze other stories.

I’ve mentioned before how we can use examples to learn beat sheets, and K.M. Weiland has a post about the ways we can analyze other stories to learn more about storytelling. In her post, she talks about marking up print books, but the process can be even easier if we use ebooks.

If we have an ereader that displays percentages for how far we are into a story (such as with many Kindles), we can watch those percentages to compare our story-reading experience with the story structure.

(Obviously, this will work best with ebooks without significant front or back matter. If an ebook has an excerpt of another story at the end, that would likely throw the percentages off.)

Learning about Turning Points

If we’re not sure we understand what a story’s turning points are, we might be able to watch the percentage on our ereader to identify those beats (assuming a story is well-written).

On virtually every story I read, I can feel a shift as the story moves into “committed to the goal” mode, and almost every time, I’m around 25% into the story. On stories where I feel like we’re limping toward the end, I often notice that there’s no Black Moment around the 75% mark.

As I mentioned above, readers don’t count pages to see if stories are off. However, subconsciously and instinctively, humans understand storytelling. And by paying attention to these percentages while reading, we might learn to identify turning points by feel.

Analyzing a Story’s Percentages vs. a Story’s Pacing

We can also analyze percentages from another perspective. Instead of just using percentages to learn to identify turning points, we can also use percentages to analyze pacing.

  • Is there an Inciting Incident around the 10% mark?
  • Is there a point near 25% where the protagonist commits to the story goal and the stakes have been established?
  • Does something near the 50% mark add a twist or new understanding?
  • Is there something near the 75% mark to make the ending seem in jeopardy?
  • Etc., etc.

If any of those story points don’t exist (or if they’re more than 5% off), how does that affect the pacing? Do we find ourselves itching for the story to start or to make progress, etc.? Or did a story aspect feel underdeveloped?

From that analysis, we might see where we disagree with the usual advice on percentages. Personally, my Resolutions are often longer than the beat sheets say because I use them to wrap up emotional arcs and subplots too.

(Of course, whether those scenes count as part of the Climax or as part of the Resolution is a different question that might depend on how we define aspects of our story. *smile*)

Or we might see why those percentages do make sense. If we start feeling like a story is slow to get going, and we glance at the percentage on our ereader and see that we’re at the 32% mark, and we’re still not sure what the story goal is, that tells us the importance of that percentage. (Or it might tell us that the author didn’t write a strong enough turning point for that 25% mark, and we missed it because it didn’t fulfill all the requirements for the beat.)

We can often learn a lot by analyzing other stories. Learning about story structure—how it affects a reader’s impression of storytelling, how it affects pacing, what to look for in a turning point, etc.—can be easier if we use ebooks and percentage-read displays on ereaders. Story structure can feel like a nebulous skill to learn, but connecting the ideas to tangible stories might help. *smile*

Do you struggle with understanding story structure? Or are you not sure what the point of story structure is? Do you ever pay attention to the pacing of stories, or how the turning points affect the pace? Have you used the percentage-read display on an ereader to analyze a story before? What did you discover?

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How to Make Beta Reading Work for Us

by Jami Gold on February 9, 2016

in Writing Stuff

Crumpled ball of paper with text: Working with Beta Readers

(Note: I just finished a brutal two-week revision under deadline, so rather than staying up until 4 a.m. (again), I’m recycling this guest post I wrote a couple of years ago for Anne R. Allen’s blog. I hope you enjoy!)

Ever struggle to make readers’ interpretations of your writing match your intentions? We probably all have.

Maybe readers come away with the wrong impression of a character. Maybe a plot twist is too obvious or from too far out of field. Or maybe our subtext is too subtle or too “on the nose.”

As writers, we’re so close to our stories it’s impossible for us to know how readers will interpret our words. A good beta reader will go through our “the best we can make it by ourselves” draft and give feedback about what we can’t see. And that’s just one reason why we all need beta readers. *smile*

Sounds Great! How Do We Get Beta Readers?

Once we have fans and readers of our published work, we might be able to find volunteers who would love a sneak peek at our stories in exchange for feedback of issues they discover. Until we reach that point, however, volunteers might not be as abundant.

Most writers in that position exchange work with other authors in an “I’ll give you feedback if you give me feedback” beta-reading arrangement. Check out my blog post with a massive list of ideas for where and how to find beta readers.

Do Beta Readers Need to Be Familiar with Our Genre?

We probably want most of our beta readers to be familiar with our genre, but it’s possible for beta readers outside our genre to be valuable too. No matter what genre they read, good beta readers can provide valuable feedback like:

  • identifying confusing sections,
  • evaluating the pacing from a big picture perspective,
  • looking for too much telling versus showing, and
  • finding weak/missing character motivations, etc.

More importantly, beta readers who don’t love our genre can tell us what we don’t need to worry about:

  • Did they hate the main character, but love the voice?
  • Did the pacing and story keep them reading despite their “meh” feeling toward the genre?
  • Did they connect to the main character so much they plowed through a plot they didn’t like?

Sometimes our harshest (i.e., best) critics are those who aren’t predisposed to love our story. They won’t gloss over issues just because “that’s how it’s always done.” We’re always trying to get distance from our work for editing purposes. What better way to gain that distance than by finding a reader who won’t have any predispositions to what we write? *smile*

How to Establish a Beta Reading Exchange

Step 1: Offer to Beta Read for Someone Else

Almost anyone can be a beta reader. The most important qualification is having a critical-enough eye to point out issues like:

  • confusing sentences or plot events,
  • where their attention wavers, and
  • whether they find our characters likeable or sympathetic, etc.

For example, when I send out a manuscript for beta reading, I ask people to mark:

  • Anything that takes them out of the story (confusing wording, voice/characterization seems off, too repetitive, no conflict/tension, etc.)
  • Pacing issues (too slow, feels too “one note,” not enough of an arc, scene goes on too long, etc.)
  • Emotional feedback (stream-of-consciousness emotional reactions)

That’s it. Beta reading isn’t about the reader’s knowledge of the craft of writing, but about what works and doesn’t work for them as a reader.

(Don’t miss my Beta Reading Worksheet with ideas of what we can ask readers to look for—or what we can look for ourselves when we give feedback.)

Step 2: Provide Good Feedback

Not all feedback is created equal, and we know we’re not likely to reuse a beta reader whose suggestions are 90% useless for our goals. The same applies in the opposite direction. For great beta reading relationships, we have to find a good match and we have to be the best beta reader we can be.

Here are three tips for how to increase the helpfulness of our feedback and become a better beta reader:

Tip #1: Focus on Making Their Story Better

We must work toward making their story better. We shouldn’t focus our comments on how we’d do it.

How we’d do it is irrelevant. Our voice is not their voice, our goals are not their goals, our themes and worldviews are not their themes and worldviews.

The only exception to this rule is when something about their writing doesn’t work for us. Maybe the writing is passive or the characters lack motivations, etc. Then—and only then—can we provide an example and say, “This doesn’t work for me because of xyz. Maybe something like abc would be stronger.”

Tip #2: Suggest Changes Only When the Writing Doesn’t “Work” in Some Way

Just because the writing is different from how we’d do it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. For all we know, the impression we’re left with is the impression they wanted.

If the writing works, suggested changes like word choice or sentence structure aren’t helpful. At most, we should share one comment along the lines of, “Words like a, b, and c create an impression of z, and I’m not sure that’s what you want.” Unless the writer asked us for line-by-line, copy-editing-level feedback, nitpicky suggestions are more likely to mess with their voice than provide useful information.

If the writing doesn’t work, we should focus on why it doesn’t work for us. Separating our thoughts on whether a section doesn’t work or if it’s just not how we’d word it can be tricky sometimes. So we should ask ourselves why we want to change the writing:

  • Does the current wording take us out of the story (confusing wording, voice/characterization seems off, etc.)?
  • Are the stakes, goals, motivations, etc. unclear or weak?
  • Do we not like or care about the characters?

If we can’t come up with a reason, we should leave it alone.

Tip #3: Always Give a Reason for Suggested Changes

The only time I make a change and don’t give a reason is when I find a missing word. Those are fairly self-explanatory. *smile*

Every other suggested change has my explanation of why. With that reason, the author can judge whether my suggestion comes from me not getting their voice, misinterpreting something, being confused, etc.

If we don’t give a reason, crossing out their writing and replacing it with our own is disrespectful. On the other hand, if we have a real reason, even nitpicky things like suggestions about word choices and sentence structures are helpful.

Leaving a comment like “I’d use x word instead of y word” isn’t a reason because it doesn’t respect their voice. In contrast, “I don’t think the character would use x word (would they even know that word?). Y seems more like their voice” is a real reason. The author now has enough information to decide whether or not to make the change.

Step 3: Be Gracious with the Feedback We Receive

First, no matter how much we disagree with (or are hurt by) the feedback from a beta reader, we should say thank you. They did spend time on our work, and for that, they deserve our thanks. If their feedback doesn’t work for us, consider it a lesson learned to not exchange work with them again.

Second, we need to evaluate our writing based on that feedback. Maybe we’ll slap our forehead and say “duh” to their comments. Maybe we’ll ignore their suggestion and instead just tweak our writing to fix a confusing plot point or character motivation. Maybe we’ll decide their misunderstanding is exactly what we wanted and not change a thing.

We don’t want to blindly implement changes until we decide what kind of story we want to tell. If a suggestion will help us tell that story better, we should make the change. If a suggestion would take us further from that story, we shouldn’t implement it.

Regardless, feedback is almost always a pointer that something is less than ideal for that reader. 99% of the time there’s a kernel of truth in a beta reader’s criticism, so our default should be to try to discover that truth and make the feedback work for us.

If we’re willing to provide good-quality feedback for others, we’ll usually be able to find other writers with whom we can exchange work. There are thousands of writers in the world, and we need to find just a handful to be beta buddies. Hopefully this post gives you some ideas on how to make that happen. *smile*

Do you have beta readers that you can rely on? How did you find them? Are they fans of your genre? What makes them good beta readers for you? Do you disagree with any of the suggestions here?

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Stick figure at a chalkboard with text: What's Your Pricing Plan?

It’s time once again for my monthly guest post over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. We’ve been walking through the process of making choices for what path we want to follow in our indie publishing career.

My series about Indie Publishing Paths at Fiction University has been highlighting some of the choices we have to make and giving us a few guidelines for figuring out how to make the best decisions for us.

We started off talking about knowing our goals. There’s no end to the conflicting advice out there about self-publishing, and to add confusion, the “rules” from retailers and others change frequently. So we need to have an understanding of why we’re choosing certain paths so that we can adapt as the industry changes.

Once we know our priorities, we might make different choices about distribution, release schedules, or pricing. I’ve been focusing on each of those areas in the next segment of the series, calling them the where, when, and how much of our decision process.

Janice Hardy's Fiction University banner

Over the past two months, we’ve identified three options for the pricing strategy of our books—the how much. We can…:

  • price high,
  • price in the middle, or
  • price low.

And we’ve discussed the pros and cons of the most common (and yet controversial) pricing advice—to price low.

As we mentioned last time, there are many good reasons we might (or might not) want to price our books below the typical $2.99-$4.99 “sweet spot” (for novels). But before deciding whether that strategy would work for us, we need to understand more about how or why the advice is supposed to work so we can see if it applies to our situation.

A big part of our decision for choosing the best pricing strategy for us comes down to understanding what we want to accomplish and investigating whether a strategy could meet that goal.

For example, some of the possible reasons we might want to price our book low include:

  • using our low-priced book as a “loss leader” for our other books (introducing our work to more readers, with a potential for more income down the road),
  • hoping our low price leads to more sales (maximizing income), or
  • hoping our low price leads to more exposure and/or better rankings (an amplifier that can lead to more readers or more income).

However, the concept of “maximizing income” doesn’t apply if we price our books really low…as in free. So some goals can’t be met with a freebie.

The choice to go free also brings up different considerations that we might not have thought of. Before jumping on the freebie bandwagon, we want to think through how our freebie connects to our other books and how a free book might affect reader psychology.

So this month we’re taking a look at the benefits and risks that apply specifically to the option of pricing our book for free. We want to ensure that our free-book strategy won’t end up being short-sighted.

In the post, I cover the only business reason for offering a free book, how a free book can help (or when it wouldn’t help), and why “free” might affect our reviews.

I hope you’ll join me at Fiction University for this month’s post!

Have you seen advice for authors to offer a freebie? Do you agree that it can be a good strategy for some situations? Have you considered offering (or do you already offer) a freebie? If not, why not? How does a freebie fit into your long-term plans?

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Nourishing Our Creativity to Help Our Writing

by Jami Gold on February 2, 2016

in Writing Stuff

A palette of water colors with text: Writing as Art

Writing is an art form, and yet I don’t usually think of myself as an artist. Maybe that’s because when I think of art, I think of visual arts or musical arts, and I’m utterly incompetent at both.

(I draw stick figures, and I don’t play an instrument or compose music beyond humming when I’m happy. *smile*)

Logically, I know there are plenty of other forms of art, but I have to remind myself to include them—along with writing—in the “art” category.

I mention this obvious fact because it occurred to me how all types of artistic endeavors have the concept of a muse or a gut feel for when something is working—or not. Then I started wondering if we could use that general “artistic muse” concept to help us with our writing, especially when we suffer from writer’s block.

At some point in time, most writers will struggle with writer’s block. Maybe we’re not sure what should happen next in the story. Maybe we’re not sure how to get from where the story is to where the story is supposed to go. Maybe our muse or our characters aren’t speaking to us.

Regardless of the specifics, when faced with writer’s block, we need to do something to shake up our subconscious or walk away from the computer. Sitting at a keyboard and staring at a blank screen for hours at a time leads only to frustration.

Many blog posts suggest ideas for how to get unstuck in our story, get in touch with our muse, or deal with writer’s block. Today, I want to focus on one technique in particular.

Changing Our Creative Playground

Whether we call our subconscious mind simply our subconscious or our muse, one way to kick start our subconscious muse is to give him or her a different creative outlet. (Yes, I know muses are traditionally female, but mine is male, and he made me include the him. *smile*)

Sometimes we can jump into another writing project:

  • brainstorm a new story
  • work on a blog post
  • beta read for a friend

But sometimes that’s not enough. Writing of any kind might have become an exercise in pulling teeth, and we might have no ideas—about anything.

In extreme cases like that, it can be helpful to remember that creativity is creativity, across the arts. As writers, we’re often creative in areas outside of writing. And spending time exploring those hobbies can get our creative juices flowing too.

Improving Our Writing through Creative Hobbies

There are many ways non-writing creative hobbies help us develop skills that we can carry over to writing. For just a few examples, consider:

  • Visual arts, whether painting, photography, or computer graphics and animation, provide us with an opportunity to observe details, like how a change in light or color can affect our interpretation.
    Compare to: how one tiny tweak can cause a domino effect in our story.
  • Dance gets our blood flowing, and coordinating our movements with the rhythm and beat forces us to listen to something subtle.
    Compare to: how our subconscious can be very quiet and subtle.
  • Playing a musical instrument can help us see the beauty and patterns locked up inside the notes on the page.
    Compare to: how we create subtext behind the words of our story.
  • Composing music draws our muse into a form of storytelling where emotions reign even more prominently than using words.
    Compare to: how connecting with our emotions can help us feel our way through the block.

Breaking Writer’s Block through Non-Logical Thought

Beyond those traditional forms of art, any project where we have to make decisions based not on logic but on our gut feelings can get our subconscious back into gear. We can find a way to tap into our instincts almost anywhere:

Designing a Garden:

  • Which flowers should go where?
  • What color patterns do I want?
  • Do I feel like tomatoes or zucchini this year?

Decorating a Room:

  • Which paint colors will be the perfect not-too-light-not-too-dark shade?
  • Should this chair go here or there?
  • Is it too cluttered?

Organizing Our Closet:

  • Are these jeans too out of style?
  • Will I be that size again?
  • Do I have anything to go with this shirt?

Personally, I’ve painted and decorated rooms, I’ve created faux stained glass, I’ve gardened, I’ve sewn, I’ve done landscape and home design, and on and on. I designed my own website, and I enjoy taking landscape photographs.

Whenever we use our instinct to accomplish things, we’re forcing our subconscious to speak up. We’re asking our muse their opinion, and we’re listening to their answer. This give and take can strengthen the connection between our conscious mind and our subconscious mind.

If nothing else, we’re assuring our muse that we want to hear what they have to say. That, in turn, can encourage them to share more of their ideas. And a vocal muse might be just the thing we need to break through our writer’s block. *smile*

Writing as Art

Why is any of this important? Because maybe by thinking of how writing compares to other art forms, we can work out problems.

If a scene isn’t working and we can’t figure out why, maybe stepping back and looking at our writing like a sculptor will reveal whether it needs to be built up or carved away. Or if an emotional scene is reading flat, maybe thinking like a music composer will help us focus on which emotional notes we need to hit harder or draw out longer. Or if the tone of a scene feels off, maybe thinking like a painter will point out where the scene is too light or too dark.

We all know writing isn’t an exact science, but even beyond that, the techniques other types of artists use to solve their problems might help us too. In short, if you’re anything like me and don’t usually think about writing as being a “true” art form, maybe it’s time to change our attitude. *smile*

Do you think of writing as an art form? Which art forms do you think writing is most similar to? What other creative outlets do you have? Have you ever used them when you’re suffering from writer’s block or when you’re burnt out on writing? Have they helped or not?

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If We’re Serious about Writing, We’ll…

by Jami Gold on January 28, 2016

in Writing Stuff

Stack of paper with text: What Do

Well, today’s the day I’m going to make one reader happy and disappoint a bunch of others. Sorry! I really wish I could provide you all with a seat in James Patterson’s Writing Masterclass because I hate disappointing people. *sigh*

However, congratulations go to Kimberly S. Barton! Yay!

Like I mentioned last time, we shouldn’t think that not winning this giveaway will prevent us from being successful. There’s no secret to success lurking in any workshop or conference that we’re going to miss out on if we don’t pony up the money—no matter what the hard-sell tactics might say. *grin*

Slimy Sales Pitches, Part Two

After my last post about how I’m tired of sales pitches playing on our fears, Kerry Howard, one of my readers, reminded me of a similar tactic:

“The tactic I find particularly offensive goes along the lines of ‘if you are not serious about writing and not prepared to take action but want to leave choosing success until 2017 like a loser and miss out on lots of money then this course is not for you.’

Ok, so maybe I’ve elaborated a bit, but that is the implied message…”

Ugh. Yes, I’ve seen tons of sales messages along these lines.

The emotion triggered in these types of sales pitches isn’t quite the same as the fear-messages we discussed last time, which implied: There’s a secret to success, and I won’t learn what it is unless I buy this.”

Instead of exploiting our fears, however, these “If you’re a serious writer, you’ll…” pitches play on our self-doubt. Either way, they’re emotionally manipulative.

About “If We’re Serious about Writing, We’ll…”

Unfortunately, we see these “if you’re serious…” messages all the time in the writing world. I bet we’ve all seen at least one of these:

If we’re serious about writing, we’ll…

  • write every day
  • write 2000 words a day
  • plot our stories in advance
  • use character sheets/scene notecards/chapter outlines, etc.
  • focus only on the Big 5 publishers
  • focus only on self-publishing
  • make writing our top priority
  • be willing to sacrifice time and money
  • hire a cover artist/editor/publicist, etc.
  • Etc., etc.

Just two weeks ago, author Neil Gaiman tweeted a hyperbolic message:

“If you want to be a writer, you want to go to Clarion, NEED to go to Clarion.”

Of course, he didn’t attend this writing workshop, so he knew he wasn’t making a statement of fact. But I think the way his tweet blew up with writers taking him seriously (and being angry with his “directive”) speaks to how many of these “if you’re serious…” messages surround us every day.

He later made sure everyone knew his true thoughts with a follow-up tweet:

“All you need to do to be a writer is to write. Clarion & other such workshops will teach you skills, & help. Help some a little, some a lot.”

As I’ve said many times before, we each have our own goals, which means we each have our own path. In addition, there’s no “one right way” to write. So messages that imply there’s a “right” way—that there’s a serious and professional way and then there’s the loser way—can fill us with self-doubt no matter how good of a writer we are.

It’s really that emotion of self-doubt that the sales pitches are after. If we’re doubting ourselves, we’re more vulnerable to their messaging.

Learn to Identify a “Negging” Sales Pitch

In a way, these pitches are the marketing world’s equivalent of “negging” in the dating world. “Negging” comes from the pickup-artist community, where backhanded compliments (or just plain mini-insults) are meant to undermine a target’s confidence.

For example, a stranger might approach someone they’re interested in and point out a minor flaw (“You’ve got a spot on your shirt”) or slip “helpful” criticism into a compliment (“You’d be even prettier if…”).

As the Urban Dictionary says, negging is…:

“Low-grade insults meant to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to your advances.”

Hmm, messages that increase self-doubt to make the target more vulnerable. Sound familiar?

Those are the same emotions affected by “If you’re serious about writing, you’ll…” sales pitches. They can make us…

  • doubt our ability to be successful on our own,
  • want to prove to…whomever…that “no, really, we are serious,”
  • forget that there’s more than one way to be successful,
  • accept their definition of success or professionalism (even in irrelevant aspects),
  • think we’ll miss our opportunity if we don’t act now,
  • fall for reverse psychology, etc., etc.

Serious, Schmerious—What Works for Us?

Whether the message is related to sales or not, we want to remember that just like how there’s no “one right writing process”—all that matters is whether we have a quality, finished book at the end—there’s no “one right way” to be a writer.

Even if we’re trying to be a “serious” writer, we get to decide what that means for us. Serious could refer to:

  • our content, such as our writing style or topics,
  • our dedication, as far as time invested or words on the page,
  • our obsession with quality writing craft or editing,
  • Etc., etc.

We don’t have to let others define what “serious” means to us. We have the right to ignore those messages that act like we should live up to their definition of the word. And that “right to ignore” goes double for sales pitches.

As I mentioned last time, we have a hard enough journey in the writing world without thinking that we have to sell our first-born child to be able to afford this “essential” class or that “necessary” software. Yes, writing can require sacrifices, but there are options (often free), so we shouldn’t feel like we’ll never succeed unless we buy x, y, or z.

In one of my comments on that previous post, I shared:

“My main point with this post is just to make sure that no writer feels like they can’t become a writer because they can’t afford to attend this class or that conference. I also don’t want anyone to be taken in sales pitches that get them to spend more than they can afford…

Either of those situations is sad, and I hope this helps vulnerable writers be able to tell the difference.”

Hopefully by learning to identify these slimy sales tactics, we’ll be better prepared to avoid them. Or at the very least, we might be able to look past the hype and see if their claims even apply to us, our situation, and our goals. *smile*

And congratulations once again to Kimberly! (I’ll be in touch!)

Do you feel pressure to be a “serious” writer? What expectations have you seen attached to that word (word count output, participating in a writing program, etc.)? How do you define “serious writer”? Do you consider youself a serious writer? Have you seen “negging” sales pitches, or ones that focus on our self-doubt?

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The “Secret” to Success Can’t Be Bought

January 26, 2016 Writing Stuff
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Unfortunately, some writers believe that paying for a workshop, class, or conference is necessary to succeed, and some sales pitches play to our fears by implying they can teach us the “secret” to success. But while these resources can help us as writers, they’re not required to succeed.

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Giveaway! James Patterson’s Writing Masterclass

January 21, 2016 Writing Stuff
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Have you seen the ads for James Patterson’s Writing Masterclass? Here’s your chance to win a seat in his online class!

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Writer Dilemma: Private Life vs. Public Figures

January 19, 2016 Random Musings
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Many of us struggle with maintaining a sense of privacy online, yet being a writer requires us to be “public figures.” That means we have to find a balance between privacy and public sharing to be an author. Let’s take a look at some of the privacy issues we might run into in our writing life.

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Author Newsletters: 6 Tips for Smart Strategies

January 14, 2016 Writing Stuff
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Approximately seventy bajillion new books are released every day (give or take a few bajillion). Our newly released books might have a hard time being noticed, so when we find readers who like our work, we want to make sure they’re still in our audience for our next book. Enter the email newsletter.

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Writer Sanity: Recognizing Takers & Setting Boundaries

January 12, 2016 Random Musings
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Last week, I challenged writers to think about how they’re giving back to the writing community because it needs our help to thrive. Yet no matter what I recommend, there will be takers infecting our community, so let’s learn how to recognize them for what they are.

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