Do you want to become an author?
Many people say they have a book inside of them but few actually commit time, energy and resources to turning their idea for a great book into a published work.
That's a shame because it's easier than ever to become an author today. The tools are more affordable and easily available than ever before. All you have to do is write your book.
In this article, we offer practical tips for becoming an author faster.
1. Pick a Writing Skill To Improve
If you're worried your book isn't good enough, work through your reps.
The more sentences you write, the stronger your command of language will become. The more clichés you terminate, the better you'll become at editing.
The more chapters you write, the better you'll be at articulating stories and ideas. And the more books you finish, the more you'll know how to write a book.
And the next book.
And the next.
No, They Won't Judge You!
In December 2016, a friend asked me to help with a street collection for a charity in Dublin. Being introverted, I procrastinated about it for two weeks before agreeing. Then, I donned a luminous bib for the charity, and I wandered out onto the rainy, cold streets.
I held out the bucket as strangers walked up and down the street. They looked at their phones their shoes, ahead, behind me. They looked anywhere and everywhere but at me and my half-empty bucket. (I couldn't blame them. I've done the same many times.)
I was jingling the coins inside and studying a billboard for a new Star Wars film when a well-dressed middle-aged woman tapped me on the shoulder. She said:
I want you to know why I can't donate today. They organised a big collection at church on Sunday, and I gave a lot, a lot.
“That's good to know,” I wrapped my hands around the bucket. “I best get back to it.”
The woman nodded, pulled her handbag onto her shoulder and walked down the street.
That night, I wondered why this well-heeled woman was so concerned about what I thought of her refusal to put a few euro into my lonely bucket.
(I wasn't even thinking about her!)
Many new writers worry their audience will judge them or what people close to them will think of their book or creative works. So they look away from the page, and they hold something back from their book.
I get it. I do it too.
2. Write More Stories
Every author should try writing a short story at some point. A short story won't take months to write either. Even if you never publish it, consider it a type of writing practice that improves your storytelling skills.
You can also try using personal stories. That's what I did.
Those messy personal stories – the party where I drank too much, called the host the wrong name and passed out in the bathroom.
Or the time they fired me because my maths wasn't up to the task. Those don't frighten me. I know how those stories turn out. It's telling you about them. I care too much about what you think.
Even professionals worry their readers will judge them.
A while ago, I was one hundred pages into a non-fiction book by a New York Times best-selling author. I was enjoying the author's way with words until he teased a personal story.
He told his readers about a time of inner crisis, only to announce it was too personal to reveal. Then, he promptly moved on without revealing anything more. I threw his book across the room.
What was the point in reading on?
This author, as accomplished as he is, was too worried that his readers would judge him.
Well, your readers want to know they're not alone. They need you to share some essential truth from your life with them.
In a world of click-bait, fake news and cute cat videos, they crave authenticity. So instead of worrying they'll judge you, be as honest as you can.
3. Don't Let Perfectionism Halt Your Writing Career
When I was in my mid-twenties, I spent years struggling to become a novelist.
I wrote dozens of short stories and abandoned them. I researched articles I wanted to write for newspapers, and then I never wrote them.
There wasn't any one moment when I learnt how to finish my work. Instead, I got a job as a journalist writing for a newspaper. There, I had to finish my articles by a deadline because if I didn't, the editor would fire me.
I know this because he called me into his office after I missed a deadline and said so.
So I overcame perfectionism.
I stopped polishing my articles until they were perfect and I finished them. On more than one occasion, my editor sent articles back to me, saying I'd left out an important paragraph or my introduction needed reworking.
After listening to his criticism, I wanted to quit.
On other occasions, the sub-editors of the paper reworked my articles. This process felt like a brutal dressing-down, but at least I was getting paid to write.
4. Act Like a Successful Writer
If you want to act like a professional or successful writer:
- Write every day and not just when you're inspired
- Commit to reaching a certain word count each day.
- Set artificial deadlines for each chapter, and stick to them.
- Tell your editor or readers you’ll have a draft ready by the end of the day/week/month.
The chapters you finish are akin to the threads of a cable, and you'll weave them together day by day until your work feels secure and you become a better writer.
Then, you'll have more opportunities to gain feedback about your book. In turn, you'll gain the confidence you need to finally finish it.
5. Conquer Your Fear of Failure
So you got a rejection letter.
So your work sucked.
So your book wasn't any good.
Accept it. Move on.
I don't mean to be harsh.
Most authors have a lot of unpublished works on their computer and know more about disappointment than success.
I failed to build a career as a news journalist. I failed to hold down a well-paying contract with a magazine I read. I failed to turn a well-paying freelance job into a profitable permanent job.
Worst of all, I failed to write and publish a book before I was 30 (a life-long goal). It's tough to get over these common writing mistakes.
On good days, I felt restless, and on bad days I felt depressed by my lack of progress.
Writing is a personal thing, and not something you can fake or dial in. If you want to finish writing your book and become a successful professional writer, you'll fail many times before you get there.
6. Study The Writing Craft
The writing craft can take a lifetime to master and often involves making many mistakes. Use these as learning opportunities that help you reach a goal.
Instead of wallowing in self-defeat, though, salvage what you can, and use the experience as a lesson to improve your craft.
You see, failure and rejection are pit stops along your journey to becoming a better writer.
Wondering if you've got what it takes, blaming your editor and suffering from a martyr complex won't help you write a better book next time. Feedback is invaluable. It's your chance to learn how to become a better writer for free.
Neil Gaiman offers lots of tips on becoming an author.
My favourite is his writing advice:
Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.
Learn what you can from the experience, and write a better book next time.
Besides, when you finish writing 62,386 words, your career gains momentum.
You become the kind of author who thinks of an idea, fleshes their idea out, edits, rewrites, polishes and the rewrites some more, then presses publish.
That takes guts.
7. Conquer Your Fear of Success
One new writer emailed me to say she worried what would happen if her book was a success and she became famous. After asking for more tips on becoming an author, she said:
I want to tell stories, and I want people to read them and get joy and satisfaction from them, I just don't want to become a subject under a microscope!
I get it.
Publishing a book can feel like you're walking out onto the street wearing no pants.
Will people treat you differently?
How will you react when they talk about the stories you told?
And will this change you?
Yes, your imagined answers to these questions may feel embarrassing, but your real problem isn't what people think. It’s getting their attention in the first place.
I'll Let You in on Secret
The prospects of becoming Malcolm Gladwell-famous for your work are slight. That said, it's natural to worry how those around you will react to your book.
It’s normal to wonder what will happen if you become known for being a writer.
Well, it's impossible to please everyone, so if some people aren't comfortable with your success, that's their problem. If you succeed, you'll discover a new side to yourself and your craft, which will only enrich your life.
After all, you will regret not having the courage to see your ideas and your book through later. So hold through to your values, and finish writing your book.
At the very least, you'll be able to afford some new pants or a gym membership.
Arnold would be proud.
8. Try Self-Publishing
Years ago, a young writer had to learn how to write a book, find and agent and land a book deal. Traditional publishing is a tough gig to break into when you're starting out with no name recognition.
These days, you can write and self-publish a book on Amazon for several hundred dollars. Technically, you can do it for free, but I'd recommend budgeting for working with an editor, proofreader and cover designer.
Self-publishing a book will teach you how the process works and help you discover the types of titles you want to write in the future.
It may even land you a traditional book publishing deal as happened with Hugh Howie, author of Wool and E.L. James author of Fifty Shades of Grey.
9. Take a Creative Writing Class
Wanting to become an author can feel like a strange writing goal if you're not spending much time in the company of other creatives. On the other hand, spending a few weeks or months in the company of aspiring authors may inspire you to work harder on your craft. What's more, you could form connections with future professional authors.
A few years ago, I spent a year taking creative writing classes in the Irish Writer's Centre in Dublin. At least one student went on to become a published author with a traditional book deal.
10. Explore Different Types of Writing
Writing a book can take months or even years if you don't have a plan and money to keep the lights on.
To avoid this problem, I recommend trying different types of writing including technical writing and copywriting. You could also try working as a freelance writer.
Although these types writing jobs won't help you write a book directly, they will pay the bills while keeping your foot in the door of the creative work.
11. Cultivate Book Sales
As an author, your job doesn't end when you submit a manuscript to a publishing house or upload it to Amazon. Whether you've got a traditional book deal or not, you still need to sell more copies.
Many publishing houses write off the cost of book deals because they don't believe a book will sell. Others simply don't do a great job of selling a book of behalf of their clients. To avoid this problem, learn the basics of author marketing.
- Set up an author website
- Build an email list of engaged readers
- Run promotions regularly
- Send advanced copies of your book to an early readers group for feedback and reviews
- Study how Amazon ads work and use them
Becoming an Author
Most people spend more time telling their friends they have this great idea for a book. But, they don’t spend much time turning their vision into reality.
No matter what tips on becoming an author you learn, please understand it takes a tremendous amount of hard work and mental discipline to write a book.
While it's smart to release the best possible version of your work, you're going to need some self-knowledge to finish it.
There will always be a gap between what you want your creative project to be about and what comes out on the blank page.
The best way to narrow that gap and improve the quality of your book is to put in your reps: write more often, finish your work and publish it.
Because when you're done, you're done.
Tips on Becoming an Author With Suspense Novelist Christina Kaye
In the episode, I have an interesting catch up with Christina Kaye of Write Your Best Book.
I was a guest on Christina's podcast last year, so it was good to switch roles and ask her the questions.
Christina has self-published and traditionally published a number of books, most of which fall into the suspense genre. She also coaches new authors about how to overcome some common mistakes that new authors and writers make so that they can publish their best book.
In this episode we discuss:
- How and why Christina set up Write Your Best Book
- How Christina came close to giving up writing altogether
- Why you should write what you love to read
- How Christina uses advertising on Google and Facebook
- The mistakes that new authors make
- How to use TikTok to promote yourself as a writer
- An authors mindset
And lots more.
Like the show? Leave a short review or rating wherever you're listening to it.
Christina : Procrastination doesn't happen to you, you choose procrastination. And so if you are putting it aside, if you're putting your writing aside, then nobody did that to you. You chose to.
Introduction: Welcome to the Become A Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here you'll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: Are you ready to become an author? Hi there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become A Writer Today Podcast. In this week's interview, I catch up with Christina Kaye of Write Your Best Book. And Christina Kaye has self published and traditionally published a number of different books, mostly in the suspense genre. And she also coaches new authors about how to overcome some common mistakes that new authors and writers make so that they can publish their best book.
Bryan: But before we get into this week's podcast interview with Christina, here's a quick personal update. So I'm actually finalizing the draft of my latest book which is a story-driven book about parenting. I've got three kids aged between two, 10, and 14. And I've rewritten the book a couple of times and I'm probably running a little bit behind schedule, but I guess sometimes that can happen with creative projects and also when you're in the middle of a pandemic.
Bryan: But I've actually switched up by writing routine to work on this particular book. So in the past, I've talked about how I like to get up early in the morning around 05:00 or 06:00 to write for a couple of hours before the day job or before the kids get up. But at the moment, I've actually been writing later in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. I guess it was partly inspired by reading Barack Obama's autobiography over Christmas and in that book, he talked about how he likes to write longhand late at night. He said, there's something about the way the light hit the page. Certainly not writing longhand, I don't think I would have the patience for that.
Bryan: I'm actually using Scrivener for this particular book, but I've been working on it from about 08:00 or 09:00 in the evening to about 11:00 or half 11. And then the following morning, then I'll read over whatever I wrote the previous night. And I kind of like this workflow, because if I get stuck on a particularly challenging chapter in the book, I find that a nice sleep gives you a bit of time to think over it. And then typically I can fix that section relatively quickly the next day.
Bryan: So my plan is to hire an editor for the book, a developmental editor. I'll probably use a service like Reedsy for that. And once I get a developmental edit on the book, then I'll close out all of those edits and then I'll send it to a copy editor and then I'll get ready to publish the book sometime later this year. I've written a couple of books over the past few years. And one of the mistakes I made is when I wrote my first book was actually not spending enough money on an editor and editing is something I want to invest more in because it helps me write better books and learn more about the craft.
Bryan: And even though hiring editors can be expensive, particularly for starting out, you'll end up with something that you're more proud of and something that readers enjoy more. After all, a book is a long-term project that goes against your name. It's not like an article or even a blog post where you just go back and change that later on.
Bryan: So that's probably one of my key tips if you're getting ready to write a book is to budget for an editor. Some other tips that I often talk about are to study the writing craft. You can take an online course or you could read some great writing books. I'd also recommend exploring different types of writing and to consider whether you're afraid of success or whether you're afraid of failure, and not to let perfectionism halt your writing career. And I've got an article about some tips that would help you become an author, which I'll include in the show notes.
Bryan: But I also wanted to talk to another expert on the topic. Her name is Christina Kaye and she coaches new authors about how they can finish writing their book and publish it with an emphasis on fiction. And she writes a lot of suspense and is actually the winner of a national book award in the United States. So that's what we cover in this week's interview. But I start off by asking Christina how she began her writing journey as a suspense author.
Bryan: And before we get over to the interview, if you do enjoy it, please could you leave a short review on the iTunes store or wherever you're listening because more reviews and more ratings would help more listeners find the podcast. With that said, let's get over to Christina for this week's interview.
Bryan: It's very nice to talk to you today. I was a guest on your show in 2020 and it was really nice to be interviewed by you. So, now we're going to do things the other way around and I'm going to interview you about your writing journey and Write Your Best Book.
Christina : Yes. And I'm so excited to be here, Bryan. Thank you so much for having me. It is nice to kind of switch things up a little bit.
Bryan: For sure. For sure. So could you give listeners an idea of how you set up Write Your Best Book and what your background is as a writer?
Christina : Sure. In the background, my career actually went to college for and had a career in paralegal work, which is basically we support attorneys. As a nurse is to a doctor, that's what a paralegal is to an attorney. A lot of people don't know that, but so I worked this corporate job. About 10 years in, I just started to want to write again, which I had written as a child and as a teenager, just fun, creative things, but nothing like a book. But about 10 years in, I decided I want to try to write a book.
Christina : So I did and it was awful and it just didn't go anywhere. I tried to get agents and I just thought, "Well, hey, I'm a good writer." I naturally was talented with spelling and grammar and those kinds of things, math, not so much, but spelling and grammar I did. So I thought, "Okay, I've got a good story idea. I can write well, so that's all you need, right?" So, no, it's not, but I didn't know that at the time. So I sent it out to agents and all these things and just crickets.
Christina : And I come to find out, I had made the number one mistake that almost all new authors make, which is you just dive right in and start writing. Where you can't really do that, and we'll get into that later when we talk about mistakes that authors make, but I dove right in. So then I decided, "Okay, let me take a step back." And I started learning the craft and watching, back then, 12, 13 years ago, there was not that much support online anyways for authors, but there were books and there were some articles and things you could read. And I just decided to learn the craft, learn as much I could.
Bryan: Any particular books that came to mind?
Christina : Of course, Stephen King's On Writing is the very first one I read.
Bryan: The classic. Yeah.
Christina : It's a classic, because actually what happened was I was about to give up. And then my dad, who I hadn't told my family, I'm giving up on writing because I did one and it sucked, that Christmas my dad was so excited to give me a copy of On Writing. And it touched me and I was like, "Oh, he doesn't know I'm going to give up." But then I read anyway and I'm so glad he gave it to me and I'm so glad I read it because it just lit that fire again. And that's when I decided to start reading. So, good question. It wasn't until later on that I read Jeff Goins's book, You Are a Writer. That's another great first book to read when an author wants to learn the craft. And there's a couple others I just can't think of off the top of my mind, but we all know Stephen King.
Christina : So then I wrote again, after learning for about two years, I just devoted myself to learning the craft. I wrote another book, which long story short led to getting an agent, getting a three book publishing deal, and I ended up winning a national book award with that book. So it just goes to show that taking the time to learn the craft and seek help and all the things that we should be doing is exactly what we should be doing.
Christina : So then, and since then, I wrote and then people started asking me to help them write their books and that turned into a side hustle of author coaching, which I didn't know that's what I was doing at the time. Fast forward to about two years ago, I was turning [inaudible 00:07:27], I was starting 40 and ready to do something different with my life and get off the corporate hamster wheel. So I started planning and preparing to launch Write Your Best Book and make my author coaching side hustle a full-time job. So January, 2020, I did just that. I quit my corporate job, walked away, started Write Your Best Book and the podcast and the rest is history.
Bryan: Yeah. We're a similar age, we have a similar story. So I worked for a corporate company as well as a copywriter. And then I took a career break to write. So yeah, I can definitely recognize the steps that you've taken in my own journey too. I'm curious though, because you said that you didn't know the craft and then you studied the craft and now you write a lot of suspense, did you always want to write suspense or did you figure out through reading all these books that suspense was for you?
Christina : Great question. No, I did not know that. I mean, I did deep down, but I hadn't realized it yet. What I did was, again, since I dove right into writing, I just thought, "I'm going to write what sounds like a good story. Oh, this sounds like a great idea." And I tried women's fiction. I tried with a little comedy, which don't ask. And then I wrote a young adult paranormal, fantasy. I wrote, I think, historical fiction, I think I wrote five, six books in that time while I was practicing and learning the craft of varying genres.
Christina : And then I heard Stephen King's advice and other experts' advice that basically in a nutshell say, "Write what you love. Write what you know." That kind of thing. And I start realizing, I only really watch movies and TV and things like that that have to do with scary things and twisty mind bends and whatever. So maybe I'll try a suspense book. And then when I had the idea, it came into me about how to write Like Father Like Daughter, when I wrote that book, that was my first and it just clicked. And I'm like, "Okay, yeah, this is what I need to be writing in."
Bryan: Yeah. I had a similar experience with Robert McKee. So he's the Story Doctor, a lot of Hollywood screenwriters use when they are struggling with their scripts, but he has a great book called Story, but I met him at a workshop. I said something similar to what you have described and he basically said, "Write what you love to read."
Christina : It's so true. It's so true because you're going to naturally be a little better at that.
Bryan: Yeah. Because at the time I was trying to write a lot of thrillers because that's they sell quite a lot. And I was actually reading a lot of non-fiction and personal essays and that kind of stuff. So I leaned more towards non-fiction after that moment. It's kind of a relief, but I was able to narrow down on the specific type of writing.
Christina : Yeah, it does help. And I get that question quite often and maybe we'll get to more detailed later, but people want to have the openness to write in different genres and you can do that, there's just an approach to doing that. I still have ideas that come to mind that, with historical fiction or fantasy, but I write what at the end of the day, I know I can write well and that I know and that I love. So at least for beginners, that's where you should start for sure.
Bryan: Yeah. I would definitely agree with that. What about writing your first book? How long did it take you once you'd figured out that suspense was for you?
Christina : Funny thing, I don't remember the exact, but it was under three months. I want to say six to eight weeks it took me to write that one. I'm a fast typist for one thing, because I've been in the corporate world for so long. I type 100 words a minute, so that kind of helps.
Bryan: Wow. That's fast. I thought I was fast. I'm about 70 on a good day, or 80.
Christina : Yeah, well I had to type all day every day at work and I got up to about 100 words. And so that does help a little bit, but I had a full-time job and kids and a husband at the time and all this. So I still managed to get it done in about eight to 10 weeks, I would guess. But I was like night, all night, and then every weekend, all I did was write because I just caught that bug.
Bryan: Did you have your novel outlined in events?
Christina : That book, no, I didn't. I had it planned in my mind.
Bryan: Is this Confessions Of An Old Lady, Christina, or is this something else? One of your other ones?
Christina : No. Like Father Like Daughter was my first published novel.
Bryan: Okay. Okay.
Christina : No, I kind of pantsed the first book. I mean, I had it in my brain, but I'll tell you what, when I learned to outline and started doing that, which was about three or four books in, I started outlining and it made it go a little faster, easier, better. So yeah, the outline definitely helps. But no, I didn't do it the first time. But I'm actually kind of still between the two, pantser and plotter, I'd call myself, I have different terms for it, but basically I don't outline in great, great detail. I decide my three act structure, what's going to happen in the beginning, the middle, and the end. And then I personally love the hero's journey so I use that and I just outline a very brief point, point, point, point, some people call them beats, every chapter what's going to happen in one brief sentence. And that to me is enough outlining to make the process so much smoother for me.
Bryan: Okay. And do you have the characters and their motivations mapped out in your head as well?
Christina : I sketch those out as well. What I do is I create, and I give these to my clients too. I create what I call character sketches. It's exactly that, I have six things that I tell all my clients and I do it for myself, that you have to plan out, you should plan out ahead of time before you even start writing.
Christina : So they are the physical attributes, which everybody has different opinions on how much or how little, but you need some physical attributes described. You need personality, predetermined. Are they witty? Are they funny? What are they? And then you have their backstory, super important. Their emotional wound, their motivation, and their goal. If you can determine those things in whatever way works for you, whether it's on a Word document or a spreadsheet or even Pinterest or a TikTok aesthetic, whatever it is, if you can determine those things in advance before you really start writing, makes all the difference in the world.
Bryan: Yeah. I can imagine it's like a character sheet. And do you write it in Scrivener or Google Docs or something else?
Christina : I don't. I'm an old school, because I'm turning 43 this year or this weekend. I don't mind to tell you, but I still love Word, because ultimately it helps when it's time to upload to KDP. And then for those who are seeking agents, they are still leaning toward Word documents. Scrivener's great, and actually I work with them sometimes on some partnerships, but it's not super user-friendly. And I've told then that too. It takes some learning curve.
Bryan: It does have a steep learning curve. I use Scrivener quite a lot, but yeah, I was a bit overwhelmed when I started using it.
Christina : It is. If you can learn it, I think it's a great tool. If you can take the time to learn, if there's YouTube videos that are very helpful, it's a great tool, but no, I'm old school. Just knock it out on Word and call it good.
Bryan: And are all your books with traditional publishers or did you self publish as well?
Christina : I have been a hybrid author up until very recently when I decided to go completely self-publishing. I started traditional. So my first one, two, three, four, five books, I believe, were all with medium-sized publisher, I guess you'd call it. I did have to have an agent to get into this particular traditional publisher and I got the five book deal and then I got a little, I don't know, say jaded, but I decided I wanted to try self-publishing.
Christina : So Presumed Dead and A Thousand Tiny Cuts, those last two books that I've published have been self-published books. And so now, funny that you ask, I just got an email from my publisher this morning asking if I wanted to renew my contract. And I told them, "No, I want to self-publish them." So I have jumped all in the self-publishing pool at this point.
Bryan: Did you jump into self-publishing pool because you have more control over your work or for a different reason?
Christina : So many reasons, Bryan. It's like, I'm kind of weary about where the traditional publishing market is headed and I'm no expert in that department, so I'm not going to make predictions, but for practical reasons, it's about maintaining more of my revenue because I'm in control, like you said. I'm in creative control. No one can tell me what kind of characters or what color their hair is or anything. It's all on me. It's a faster process. You don't have to wait.
Bryan: Certainly faster. Yeah.
Christina : Yeah. You don't have to wait forever to get through to the query process and then the submission and then the... So it's faster. I mean, there's just, to me in my mind, there are so many benefits to self-publishing. But that being said, I still support authors who want to go the traditional route because I understand that dream. And I understand that drive to want to go that way. So I still help authors with querying and things like that. So, but for me, no.
Bryan: So if you're self-publishing, you must be pretty comfortable with Amazon ads and marketing your books?
Christina : I'm comfortable-ish, enough that I can get it done. I'm not a marketing guru by any regards and actually I usually refer my clients out at that point in the process because I know how to get things set up. Am I an expert? No. I definitely could still stand to learn more for sure, but I know how to set things up and how to get a Google ad going and an Amazon ad going and a Facebook ad going and things like that. Yeah.
Bryan: Oh, you use ads on Google as well and Facebook?
Christina : Yeah.
Bryan: Which platform is driving the most sales for you at the moment?
Christina : Amazon is for my books. For books, and for me as an author, still Amazon ads. Yeah. I mentioned the Google and the Facebook because I do use them. Facebook would probably be second and then Google third. But with my business end, it's a little different. But yeah, as an author, definitely Amazon and Facebook, then Google.
Bryan: Yeah, that actually brings us to the other part of the interview where I want to talk to you about Write Your Best Book. So you set up Write Your Best Book two or three years ago to leave your corporate job and work on something more creative full-time. So, what kind of services does Write Your Best Book provide and who do you work with?
Christina : Right. Thank you for asking. I work with authors of basically any skillset, anywhere in the writing journey, any genre. There's really not much that I won't work with or can't work with, except for, of course, everybody has personal limitations. I prefer not to do erotica or violent themes, but basically whatever your skill level is or wherever you are in the writing journey, whether you're a new author or even you've self-published three or four books, but you're still stagnant, I help you.
Christina : And here's how I help. I offer, through Write Your Best Book, author coaching, which I do have one-on-one coaching, it's at a higher price point, it is because I don't have a lot of time business-wise to do that, but I want to still provide that service. So there's that option, they can do one-on-one author coaching. Or I also have several writing courses online that I now have, well one is launching March 1st. I don't know when this podcast will air.
Christina : And then [inaudible 00:18:04] has been kind enough to allow me to host my second writing course, which is about writing suspense, on his website starting February. So I've got the online courses as well. I also have a book editing department. I no longer edit books, but I have a staff of five editors that are all highly qualified, vetted, wonderful, skilled editors. So you can have your book edited by a professional. And then I also have downloadable resources and products that we sell through the website. The products are coming soon-ish. But-
Bryan: That's quite a lot.
Christina : Yeah, it's a lot. We have big aspirations. We have big dreams.
Bryan: So when you're working with new authors, could you give me an example of some of the mistakes new authors make? I know we talked at the start about the craft and knowing what you want to write, but what other mistakes do new authors make?
Christina : Well, I just want to emphasize that one really quickly if that's okay. Definitely the biggest mistake is diving in first, head first without learning the craft. So let's emphasize that and reiterate it, because think about it this way, let's say you wanted to be a concert pianist. Well, you wouldn't go buy the most expensive, huge piano and book concert hall and sell tickets first. What you would do is you would get some sheet music, learn to read sheet music, might hire a piano instructor, preferably someone who knows what they're doing and they can help you. And then you would knock it out and you'd learn Mary Had a Little Lamb and you'd learn Chopsticks. And then you would graduate to where you could finally perform in front of people. And that's the same concept. So, that's definitely the first and biggest mistake.
Christina : Then once we get into the writing process from a technical aspect, I think the biggest root mistake is not at least preparing before you write. So you can be a pantser and you don't have to technically outline everything, but you should do some preparation and planning before you start writing. And like we discussed earlier, creating your characters and developing them. Have at least some knowledge of what your characters are going to be about and who they are. And then at least know your story arc, your three act structure, that kind of thing. That's another big mistake is just, still kind of similar to the first, diving in. If you want a couple technical mistakes that authors make as far as the writing itself, head hopping has got to be number one.
Bryan: Head hopping? I'm not familiar with that one.
Christina : Head hopping is authors get a little confused with the tense. So let me back up. When you first start writing and you're in that planning phase, there are three questions that every author should always ask themselves. First is, what tense am I writing this in? Is it going to be past tense or present tense? That's pretty much, I mean you have future, but no one does that. And then you want to ask... Yeah, I hope not. It's been done, but usually it's past or present.
Bryan: I can imagine. Yeah.
Christina : Yeah. it's past or present. And then second question is, how many PO, am I doing one person's POV? Like the main protagonist narrator? Or am I doing multiple POV's, meaning two or more? And then finally the third question is, am I doing this from the limited first person, limited third person? What am I doing that from?
Christina : So back to head hopping, where the mistake comes in is you haven't planned that out ahead of time and you think you have, but since you haven't really written it down, you get a little confused, and then they try third person, they think they're writings third person limited, but what they're really doing is omniscient, which is kind of old school, kind of outdated, and it does lead to head hopping and confusion.
Christina : So third person omniscient is when you're like God almost. You know everything that every character is seeing, doing, thinking, feeling, all that. And that's okay, you can write third person omniscient, but the point of head hopping is that, within any given scene, you still have to keep to one character's mindset, that what they can see, think, feel, hear, whatever. And head hopping is when in one scene you go from like, Mary's talking and you tell what Mary's thinking. And then in the same scene, the very next paragraph is what Tom is thinking and feeling and experiencing. And you can't do that. So that's a very, very common mistake.
Bryan: So I thought of a book that I read years ago that was head hopping, but I think the author got away with it, probably because he's super talented. It was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
Christina : Oh, yeah. And Ayn Rand, or however you say her name, I can never say her name right. Ayn Rand or whatever. I know what you're talking about, and actually one of my all-time favorite books did pull off the head hopping. I didn't like that part of it, but the reason that I'm including this head hopping as a mistake is because new authors should not try it.
Christina : Like you said, it was experienced, very talented, very already kind of knew how to make it work perfectly kind of authors, otherwise it can lead to confusion in the reader. So in Where the Crawdads Sing, for example, by Delia Owens, phenomenal book and for whatever reason, she didn't do any head hopping until the very end, the trial scene, which I won't give away. But then there was some head hopping thrown in and I was like, "Why'd you do that?" But she pulled it off. It worked.
Bryan: Yeah. You take Lord of the Rings or, excuse me, Game of Thrones relies on head hopping.
Christina : I don't think he does because in my opinion, at least it's been a couple years since I read the last book that he ever wrote, but if I remember correctly, he went the correct route, which is to give each... People complain that he's got like 20 POV's per book, but he did it right. He gave Cersei a chapter, even if it was two pages. And then he gave Bran a chapter that was five pages. And so that's actually the proper way to do it, in my opinion.
Bryan: Because it's confined to a single chapter, rather than multiple points of view in one chapter.
Christina : That's my view. I mean, there are people who are going to say different things and that's actually not right or wrong, but in my view, I think it makes for a much smoother, easier reading experience for the reader.
Bryan: Yeah. [inaudible 00:23:53] you mentioned tense, so funnily enough, I'm working on a book at the moment and I've been changing some of the chapters from present tense, which I always like writing in to past tense because it makes more sense for this particular book, but how would you recommend your clients or new authors pick a tense for their book or should they just let it emerge?
Christina : Honestly, there's not a right or wrong in my opinion, as far as present and past tense, but there are some things to keep in mind when deciding between which one. So in present tense, it is easier to slip back into past tense on accident for some reason, I don't know why, but it happens to everybody. So you'll be writing and you'll have two or three paragraphs that sound great in present tense. I go to the store, I look left, I walk up to the cash register and I say, "Hello." That's all present tense.
Christina : And the next thing you know you slip into, "And then I walked out the door." I don't know why, I think that past tense seems to be a little more natural for people to write in. I don't know what the reason is behind it. So that's one thing just to be wary of is whatever you pick, try to be consistent in that tense. And then with present tense, I feel like you're a little limited as far as being able to tell much of the story, because you're only able to say from this moment, this is what I know, see, feel, think, observe whatever. So I think it's a little [inaudible 00:25:13].
Bryan: Yeah. That could be an interesting constraint because forces you to kill the backstory.
Christina : That's true too. That's true too. So that's why I say there's no right or wrong. It's things to consider. If that works for your story though, if it works better to, like you said, kill the backstory, just move from now, this moment here and now, it might work better to do present tense. So, you just need to, like anything when you choose POV's, when you choose tenses ahead of time, you want to think about maybe do a little light research online just to make sure you're doing the right thing for your story. And that's the best advice I have for anybody when it comes to those. I'm never going to tell anybody, "Oh, this has to be in past tense," No.
Bryan: Yeah. Study the conventions of the genre.
Christina : That's true. And there are some conventions and what we would call restrictions of each genre, but definitely I'd recommend that, study those conventions and those expectations of readers. That's a big thing you'll hear me talk about a lot is reader expectation. And so that's something to keep in mind too.
Bryan: So we've covered head hopping, tenses, the craft, outlining. Are there any other mistakes that new authors make that you think are particularly worth remembering before embarking on the first book?
Christina : No, those are the biggest. I mean I can probably list a thousand little things as far as writing in passive voice. We want to avoid that. Passive voice is when, it's hard to explain, but when you would say... Like you're writing in past tense and then you... It's hard to explain it. I could show it to you if we could share screen, but do a little light research on what's passive-
Bryan: Passive voice. Yeah.
Christina : And try to avoid that. I think another mistake that authors make is not really related to the craft, if it's okay, I could talk about more mindset.
Bryan: Sure. Yeah.
Christina : So mindset problems that a lot of authors, all authors at some point, experience are perfectionism, lack of motivation, imposter syndrome, those kind of things. And I actually recently wrote a really, if I do say so, great blog post called All Those Writerly Feels. And I delve a little deeper into all those feelings that we as writers experience naturally that we don't really talk about that much.
Christina : And so I won't get into all of that. You could just check the post out if you want, but basically one of the biggest things that actually hinder your writing is procrastination. And that happens because people choose to. And this is the part that people don't like to hear, but it's so true. Procrastination doesn't happen to you, you choose procrastination. And so if you are putting it aside, if you're putting your writing aside, nobody did that to you. You chose to.
Christina : Now true, we all know, especially nowadays with people having to homeschool their kids, do their job from home, all those things, sure, they have to come first. If you've got that free time and you decide to play a video game instead or you decide to Google or play TikTok or whatever on your phone, that's you choosing to procrastinate. So, that's a big mistake that writers make. And I think that they procrastinate because of other issues, such as intimidation and fear of rejection and all those other fields that come in there. But that's a big one. You need to set yourself a, not rigid, somewhat flexible writing schedule for every day.
Bryan: Yeah. I would agree with that. I mean, I used to say that television was a way of me procrastinating. And then more recently, during the lockdown in Ireland, I was complaining that it was difficult to find time to write because I was minding the kids with my wife and then was doing stuff and running the business. And so I was making excuses to myself, but then I looked at the screen time report on my phone and I was shocked at the amount of time I was wasting on it. So basically I was procrastinating.
Christina : Yeah. Exactly. And I do the same thing. Even today I still do. I catch myself doing it, especially when it comes to TikTok. I go down that rabbit hole like no other. But yeah, you have to at least say, I always like to say, 30 minutes. It won't kill you. 30 minutes a day, you should get a chapter done. A small chapter.
Bryan: 30 minutes is easy. Yeah. It's not so long that it's going to ruin your day or you put it off. Anyone can do 30 minutes.
Christina : Yeah. You should be able to squeeze in 30 minutes. And I always say, set a timer on your phone or whatever app, there's apps even that you can drown out background noise. There's all kinds of cool apps for that, but set a timer for 30 minutes. And I can tell you that eight out of 10 of my clients who, once they started doing this, told me, "You know what, I couldn't stop at 30 minutes." Once they put all those distractions aside, shut down their notifications, and just wrote for 30 minutes, by the time that 30 minute mark hit, they were like, "30 more. [inaudible 00:29:47] I'll keep going."
Bryan: Yeah. I spoke to Francesco Cirillo, he's the inventor of the Pomodoro Technique, but he recommends, well I think he's more specific about it, but 24 to 27 minutes, he says, you always got to take that break because it gives you a chance to recharge and then you'll find the next session much easier.
Christina : That is a great technique that I don't know enough about, but I know in generalities what it's about. And I do support what I know about it. I think that that is a good way to approach it and definitely breaks are important. If you do keep going past the 30 minute mark, or I don't really constrict it to any time period, but yes, I agree. Take a break, get up, stretch your legs, walk around, change positions, but don't get back on social media because you'll get distracted again. Just take a breather, have a cup of tea, whatever it is that you do. But yeah, definitely think that procrastination is one part of our writerly feels is what I call it that we can control. And so that's a big, I guess, mistake that I think that we could work on.
Bryan: Are you working on any new books at the moment?
Christina : I am. I just recently started a new book that I'm really excited about. It's another suspense novel. I also have to, at some point, I say have to, I don't have to. I need to go and do book two of The Cut Series. I'll get to that probably after this one, because I'm really excited about this one. I don't mind to tell you in generalities that it's another suspense novel, female protagonist as usual. And it's about secrets from the past, which is odd space, you're like, "Oh everybody writes about that thing they did in high school." Yeah. But it's a little different. I got a really cool twist planned. So I'm really excited about this one.
Bryan: Sounds interesting. Before we finish, what would you say is one or two of the key conventions or requirements in a good suspense novel?
Christina : Oh my goodness. That's great. So a great way, and when you're writing a suspense novel and I'm right in the middle of all this now, because as I said, I've got a whole writing course built around how to write a suspense novel that will be on [inaudible 00:31:49] as of right now, it's supposed to be out in February. So it should be something you could check out soon.
Christina : But we discuss in that course, there are certain elements that every good suspense novel needs. That doesn't mean it has to have it, but a really good suspense novels should have some version of a twist. These days that's really pretty much expected, once again, reader expectation in that genre anyway, to have some sort of near the end, around the climax or right thereafter, a twist reveal, a big shocking reveal. So you kind of have to do that nowadays.
Christina : And in fact, one great device that I try to employ, Dennis Lehane is a master at doing this, is the two twist method, which is, you think that the book is ended, you think that the conflict has been resolved and the protagonist, whether you like that ending or not, it's wrapped up. And then boom, something else happens to throw you off guard and put the protagonist into another brief, but yet another conflict. He's just a pro with that, Dennis Lehane. And I try to study his craft quite a bit.
Christina : So there are other things like red herrings. You can use red herrings, which basically is when you present something to the reader in one light, but in reality, [inaudible 00:33:03] as being something else so as to distract them. They're all great plotting methods and devices that you can use. You could also do, it depends on what your storyline is like, but there are methods where the protagonist is revealed to be not reliable. I don't prefer that method, but they're popular. So there's an unreliable narrator/protagonist aspect, like Girl on the Train where she's the drunk the whole time.
Bryan: Yeah. I find kind of points of view quite frustrating, but-
Christina : I do too.
Bryan: ... if people are more interested in learning about writing suspense or getting help from you, Christina, where should they go?
Christina : Absolutely. I would start at our website, because although it's kind of under construction, it's still got all the info you need. And that's writeyourbestbook.com. Our podcast, appreciate you mentioning that, that Bryan was on last season is Write Your Best Book, conveniently, right? You don't have to remember a new name, but that can also be found on our website. So I would start there, writeyourbestbook. You can reach out to us through that page. You can find our social media through that page. You can learn about our services, learn about everything you need there. But if you want to follow us on social media, we are on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and TikTok, all at @writeyourbestbook.
Bryan: Okay. How's TikTok going for you? Just curious, because my daughter's on it.
Christina : It's going great. I just figured out, we kind of plateaued when we got to 85,000 followers and for two months it's plateaued. And I found out why, I joined the Creator Fund and that is apparently toggling and killing everybody's viewership. So I just got out of the Creator Fund and it's going back up again. But yeah, we're at 1.6 million video likes at this point.
Bryan: Are you putting craft advice or something else on your TikTok?
Christina : It's almost all complete craft advice. Well no, writing advice. So it gets into mindset. It gets into craft, a little bit of publishing, some light marketing, basically anything that an author would need to know. I try to cover FAQs.
Bryan: Yeah. I must check that out, because my daughter uses TikTok a lot. I think I set up a profile and put up a couple of videos, but...
Christina : It comes with a warning. It should come with a warning. You will go down a rabbit hole. Once you get into where expect yourself on TikTok, because at first you get into this mindset where you're like, "I am not doing TikTok." But once you get there, then it's like, "Oh my gosh, I've just spent an hour and a half on TikTok." In fact, the data shows that it's the longest time people spend on any social media is TikTok.
Bryan: Oh God, I don't know if I need that.
Christina : [inaudible 00:35:30] we were just talking about procrastination, so here you go.
Bryan: Yeah. Well, it was great to talk to you today, Christina and I will be in touch when your episode is live.
Christina : Yeah. Just let me know. Anytime.
Bryan: Thank you.
Christina : Okay. Thanks Bryan.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes store. And if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com/join and I'll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.
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