Author Credibility in the Age of Alternative Facts

All authors face an uphill climb to credibility and none more than independent authors. In this digital era, the internet is like the wild west and author after author enters their book into the mix, hopeful as a gold miner looking to strike it big.

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Advertisements saturate our devices, turning choice into a chore. Netflix is nailing the streaming game, making it acceptable to binge entire seasons in a sitting. Individual time is eaten up quick as movie popcorn (handful after handful smashed into the mouth until life is chewing, butter, and previews). And that’s not including work to pay off the debt that floats the economy. Everyone has a side hustle these days. Hopefully your side hustle doubles a passion project.

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The best route to credibility as an independent author is likely to garner a multitude of positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Having champions in various genre forums and subreddits to sing your praises is crucial. Getting on a powerhouse mailing list like Bookbub is also a solid boost to the reputation. Paid advertisements get the author’s name out there, but what is the point if no one knows the name? And then there are competitions.

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Many competitions exist for independent authors, some more legitimate than others, yet all offer potential glory. Note: these competitions tend to cost $50-150 USD to enter and usually require that the author mail multiple copies of the book, so factor extra postage into the expense.

After carefully researching the available competitions, I entered Daughter of Shadow into four this past summer. DoS was a finalist in two competitions and two were never to be heard from again. The 2017 IndieReader Discovery Awards gave this fine review, even though DoS didn’t end up placing.

“In DAUGHTER OF SHADOW, a must-read for all fantasy lovers, the world is splintered into light and dark and a young female warrior struggles to choose a side. Author Tyler Sehn takes great pains to lay out a richly detailed realm of magic, monstrous creatures, and political upheaval. ”

The Colorado Independent Publishers Association chose DoS as a finalist for the EVVY Awards. 2017 was the 23rd annual CIPA EVVY Awards, which in independent publishing is practically prehistoric.

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*Turns out illiteracy killed the dinosaurs*

DoS finished with Merit. Not #1, but not bad. Not bad at all. That’ll do book.

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Plus I got these neat stickers to slap on the cover for the next little while. And THAT is what makes the competition worthwhile. A literal seal of approval. A symbol of authenticity to instill trust. An image to catch the perusing eye and make the hand pick up the book.

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What say you, reader of blogs? Have a success story about entering a novel in a competition? A not so success story?

 

 

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Finding the Spark

Writing is an amazing activity, as a few thoughts or concepts can spiral into a story that is grander and more beautiful than the writer ever intended.  Editing is crucial to the process because it cleans up mistakes and smooths out the instances when the writer got carried away.  Lately I’ve been doing much more editing than writing.  Important work, no doubt, but much more on the analytical side of things.  Not much in the way of free-flowing creativity.  Getting back into the groove of writing can be surprisingly difficult.

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Self-doubt creeps into the corners of the mind, whispering that your ideas are weak.  How did I even write this story in the first place?

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Distraction is everywhere.  For me that means the NBA and NHL are starting up.  Wooo sports!

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But I did it—I cranked out some new chapters.  And it felt great.  Momentum is a crazy thing, it wants to move.

Every writer knows about “the spark,” that lightbulb moment of inspiration that seems to provide limitless motivation.  The instance when those fingers dropped whatever they were doing in order to spin straw into gold and create a work of art.  The spark—initially bright as a beacon—dwindles, then goes out completely.  How to attain another spark?  Most people don’t know what they did to get the previous one in the first place.  Sitting around waiting for another spark simply doesn’t work because inspiration is a dynamic phenomenon.  Chances are that you actively found that other spark, perhaps unknowingly, so now it’s time to find the next one.  What sparks your imagination?

Everyone loves a good story, but writers may be guilty of being borderline obsessive.  Writers dig deep into the material by rooting out underlying themes, savoring nuances, and imparting themselves into the story.  This type of reading is an intimate act, providing the kindling for emotions, and has the ability to light the fuse of inspiration.  The same goes for TV and movies.  All are stories, the only difference is the mode of reception. 

On the intellectual side of things: stories spark questions.  The same stories that are setting fire to your emotions are now starting to activate the grey-matter gears in your brain.  Ask questions.  Questions are a powerful tool for discovery.  Follow these questions down the rabbit hole.  And this part is vital: take notes of what you discover!  Documenting these musings, thoughts, queries, and ideas establishes a stockpile of material for the eventual story.  With enough building blocks, dependent on one’s own particular style, the construction can begin.  Time to write.

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What are some activities, TV shows, movies, books, etc that inspire you?  Please leave a comment.

Radio Interview

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By way of a serendipitous encounter I will be speaking with Gail Vaz-Oxlade on her podcast which airs on NewsTalk 1010.

Gail has written 13 books on personal finance, numerous financial articles, and hosts the television shows Princess and Til Debt Do Us Part.  She recently finished a lengthy Canadian promotional tour for her new book, Debt-Free Forever. Suffice to say, she is a powerful personality and I look forward to the interview.

I will be discussing my novel, Daughter of Shadow, as well as the self-publishing process and writing in general. The interview takes place Monday February 15 @ 11:10PM EST.

NEWSTALK1010 LINK

 

Writer vs. Author

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You are a writer. Words are your friends. Stories move through you like the wind amongst the leaves of a trembling aspen.

You are an author. A high quality finished product is the culmination of your writing. Readers purchase your books (at least in theory).

A writer has their own style. An author has their own brand. Different hats worn by the same person.

A writer dabbles in creation. An author dabbles in marketing.

An author is, and always will be, a writer, but with the achievement of publication comes greater responsibility. The job title carries more weight. When I was on the college basketball team I was a basketball player, but now, I play basketball.  A slight shift in connotation drastically influences the mindset.

Historically, the realm of authordom was carefully guarded by the moats, walls, and soldiers. Only writers invited by inhabitants within the realm could enter. Self-publishing has changed all of that. An individual with a tenuous grasp on the written language and a rubbish story can upload to Amazon and let the novel sink into the e-book abyss. The walls are breached and the outsider is strolling through the palace gardens, claiming to be an author. But is the claim justified? I suppose this hypothetical individual would technically be an author but I would argue that they have missed the point on what an author truly is.

I think an author is a writer who has decided to go professional. The exact same decision made by an athlete who has signed a professional contract. Yes, you play basketball but now the how and the why have much more meaning. Yes, you are a writer, but now…

And this is where the schism occurs. Traditional publishing is outraged by the ever increasing amount of people who have taken it upon themselves to become “pros.” How can they be professionals? They aren’t even playing in the same league! But self-published authors are drawing from the same pool of readers so they are most definitely a threat to industry earnings.

A similar event occurred in the 1960‘s & 70‘s when the ABA arrived to rival the NBA (another basketball reference, I know). The ABA was flashy and free-flowing, instituting the 3-point line as well as the Slam Dunk Competition. Tickets were inexpensive compared to that of the NBA. The ABA was a game for the people. A lack of big money television deals eventually sealed the fate of the ABA but it had been successful enough to force a merger between leagues. The longstanding NBA was forever altered by the upstart. Traditional publishing, like the NBA, never thought it could be challenged, but the rise of a legitimate rival is changing the game.

This thought brings me around once again to the concept an author being a professional. The successful self-published authors wear this responsibility, expanding on their skills and knowledge, putting in the work to be regarded as equals by the established regime. For many writers, myself included, it is a steep learning curve filled with trial and error, of how to be an “author” once the novel is finally finished. Completing the story was the goal for such a long time and then all of a sudden it’s there in your hands. Now what?

Numerous resources advise that an individual build an author platform by blogging/tweets/Facebook/etc, utilize online marketing, accumulate reviews, produce more stories, attend conferences, stay up to date with the state of the industry, and many other tricks of the trade. It’s a lot to cover. This is after you’ve done the grunt work of sending the novel to beta readers, having it professionally edited, having a professional cover made, and formatting for e-book & print. What does any of this have to do with writing? Well, you’ve graduated into authorship and there’s work to be done.

Do you want to be a professional? Do you have what it takes?

Fellow writers, I’d love hear your thoughts on this subject. Please leave a comment about how you approach being an author. If you have yet to publish, why not? What’s holding you back?

The Sport of Writing

I love basketball. I like to play basketball, coach, watch it, talk about it, study and analyze it. Some might find this hobby obsessive but everyone has their “thing” and besides, there are plenty of fellow enthusiastic hoop-heads out there.

The talent level of the NBA is astounding: the power, the speed, the skill, the team play, the focus, the awe inspiring. It’s a great time to be a basketball fan.

Before pursuing my dream of being an author I dreamed of being a great basketball player. Spoiler alert: I didn’t make the NBA.

My love for reading and writing came before basketball but took a backseat once I made that first club team. The wider world of elite (I use the word loosely in this instance) athletics rocked my previous experience of playing small town junior high basketball. After witnessing the skill of other players, the knowledge of the coaches, the intensity of the competition—I was hooked. That was the inception of the dream, the sprouting seed of hope in my teenage mind. Maybe I could play professionally!

The team success and my individual growth as a player were motivation to work harder, to improve my skills and try to get really good at basketball. This inspiration put a decade long process in motion. During this time I continued to be an avid reader but the only writing I completed was for academic assignments. Eventually, the basketball dream slammed into reality and I realized that I needed to put the stinky sneakers aside for awhile.

Change was entering my life whether I was ready or not and choices had to be made. I decided to broaden my skill set, actively participating in new experiences in order to turn interests into hobbies. Basketball was no longer my defining characteristic. I picked up the pen and started writing.

I knew how to write but at this stage I wasn’t a writer. The skills were there but they were lackadaisical and unrefined. Thankfully, I had years of training to fall back on. Through basketball I had learned how to break down individual skills into component aspects in order to proficiently execute them. These skills could then be put together to build a solid foundation. The foundation is then expanded upon in different situations and scenarios. I looked at writing like it was another sport. Success would only come through diligent training and study.

I looked at my favorite authors in a new way, analyzing them just like my favorite NBA players—copying their distinctive moves and taking different aspects of their styles and incorporating them into my own. And I wrote. Pages and pages. When I was inspired and when I didn’t want to at all. I equated every word put down on the page to another jump shot taken in the gym. It is said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take—so I practiced. I got better. Confident enough to send some material to competitions and other readers. Club team tryouts all over again. Maybe I could write professionally!

Sometimes on the basketball court a sense of zen is achieved, one feels freedom, every movement effortless, one is in perfect harmony with the rhythm of the game. A similar sensation can occur when writing, often called finding one’s voice. In such moments it’s as though the words are pouring out as fast as the fingers can move, the writer part of a flowing consciousness that defies dissemination. Both acts are moments of creation. Understanding and skill have been focused by purposeful intent and delivered by a joyful passion. 

Lately, basketball has taken a backseat to writing but I have been given the opportunity to be the assistant coach of senior high boy’s team. The twelve guys are a coach’s dream: hardworking, attentive, unselfish, respectful, and actively wanting to improve.

At a recent tournament during a team dinner after a victory, a couple players were discussing how well they shot the ball during the game. The banter was harmless enough as they relived their minor glories but I took the instance to make it a “teachable moment.”

Player One: “Man, my jumper was so nice! Nothing better than a perfect swish.”

(General agreement from the others)

Me: “Yeah, you shot the ball pretty well, but a jump shot is like a hot girl.”

(All eyes turn to me because the only topic these guys think about more than basketball is the opposite sex)

(Pause for dramatic effect) “To build yourself entirely around the jump shot is tempting but risky. Other guys see you what you have and are jealous, wishing they had the same, but if you get cocky the girl, and the shot, will leave you, and then you better have more to your game or else you’re left with nothing.”

Player One: “I never thought about it like that before but I’m going to think about it now.”

Player Two: (Looks at me) “That’s why you write books.”

Yes, I write, but I still love basketball. The two are forever intermingled.

Capturing a Story

Ever get lost in the internet? Just lose yourself in the connections until they begin to make sense—almost. Then the internet becomes the most distracting thing ever invented. The activity is habit forming, the addiction insidious and sudden.

I only wanted to check a few sports scores, some social media updates, then do a little research for a new story. Stories don’t write themselves, not yet anyway, but I’m sure someone will make an app for that soon enough. Where did all the time go? What happened to my motivation? All I have to show for the last couple hours are eyes made bleary by electric fuzz and a digital path of haphazard clicks.

I was hunting for a story, where did I take a wrong turn?

I’m coming apart at the seams. The warring aspects of my body are stretching the space between my ribs, creating streams where moments rush through like silver minnows. The pressure of competing polarities make certain there is nothing fast or exciting about my dissolution. I am made heavy, slumped in front of the screen. I couldn’t catch a story if it crawled onto my lap.

This process happens to people everyday, I’ve seen it in their blank expressions, eyes duller than worn out pavement. A person numbed into an inhuman material. Reduced to becoming a receiver of incoming stimulus. At best a reflector of chatter. How to reanimate? To take a break from the static?

I need to get the blood flowing.

Go to nature, says the body, quietly observe the trees whispering to each other.

Ah yes! Outside!

I hear the wind brush against stone, see trickling water effortlessly bend the land, investigate mysterious rustling as creatures hide from my interloper footsteps. Nature does not need my presence to continue, gracefully accepting of my entering into the flow. I exhale. My ragged lungs rejoice as I inhale the unbothered rhythm of nature.

Find a woman, says the body, nothing allows for a grip of the here and now like the curve of a feminine hip. I could lose myself in another, be swallowed by lust, become intoxicated by the softness of offered lips. But my lover has gone away. No sweet embrace this day.

Oh well, says the body, it is hunger that truly rules. There is an intrinsic truth felt in the grumble of an empty stomach, yet hunger can only be temporarily satiated, always returning just as fiercely as before. Thankfully, my present circumstances allow for this dilemma to remedied easily enough. But now what?

The body shrugs noncommittally, go to sleep. But I can’t, hunting as I am. So I plod onward.

A city never sleeps, nor does a forest, and neither does a body. There is always activity buzzing beneath the surface of any environment, moving parts of a system subtly chasing their own ambitions and unknowingly contributing to an overarching process. Countless individual stories swirling about and intermingling. A story is what I need. If only I could snag one, tame it, make it my own, then reintroduce it to the wild.

Here is where the hunt ends. All I managed to procure was a blog post. Maybe I’ll catch a story next time. Better upload this to the internet. Full circle.