Friday, April 30, 2010

Climbing Pyramids and Other Writing Exercises

Patti's post on Wednesday was excellent and thought provoking. If you haven't read it yet, I invite you to do so. She wrote about a well-known CBA author who is taking a sabbatical from writing, partly because she's discouraged. Patti said, "If this young woman who has reached for excellence and risen to heights I only dream to achieve and still hasn't found a broad audience, what am I to think about that? Should I give up now?"
I was fortunate enough a few years ago to hear Ted Dekker speak at Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference. I was already a fan, and enjoyed immensely what he had to share. One thing in particular impacted me in a very positive way. He said that writing is like a pyramid. At the base you have a huge number of people who want to be published authors. Move 1/3 of the way up the pyramid and you have a significantly reduced number of people who will actually write to be published. We all laughed when he said that, but there's a good deal of truth to the point Ted was making. Move another 1/3 of the way up the pyramid and you have an even fewer number of people who will hone their craft enough that what they write is publishable. Move to the top, and you have a fraction of the people who persevere until they accomplish their goal.
I left that conference determined to make it to the top of the pyramid, no matter how long it took. I was still two years away from getting my first contract, and fought discouragement with every page I wrote. But I had a sketch of Ted's pyramid at my writing station, and I was going to make it or die trying.
Then came the day when I signed that contract, followed a few months later by the day I received the first copy of my published work. On Monday, each of us NovelMatters authors wrote about how that felt, and in a word, it felt incredible. All the hard work had finally paid off ... but wait. In reality, the hard work had just begun. We've shared a lot on this blog about the life of a writer, before and after publication, so I won't go into that again here. But it's staggering to learn that someone of the caliber of the author Patti wrote about is stepping back because of discouragement. Discouragement based on the factors Patti covered, but if she's like other discouraged authors I know, we could probably add lagging sales numbers, income that equates to a less-than-minimum-hourly wage, added demands of one's publisher, and the gargantuan task of trying to reach the readers out there. It could make any one of us throw in the towel.
I'm fairly certain every writer among us has dreamed that he or she would be the one to beat the odds; that he or she would become an award-winning, best-selling author, whose books would find critical acclaim and soar to the top of all the right lists, and become a movie to boot. It happens. And it could happen to you. But it won't happen without climbing our way to the pinnacle of the pyramid, as Ted suggested, by working hard, hard, to hone our craft. By writing books that are comparable to the best books out there, whether CBA or ABA. By digging deep and writing from the tenderest places within us in order to reach the tender places in our readers. By giving them something to talk about. I've read a few books -- only a few -- that apply, and am amazed when their success is mediocre at best, because even when we do our best, it often isn't good enough.
That's why I'm thrilled there's a platform such as SheReads to help spread the word about many of the fine authors being published in CBA. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but when you read a novel that you love, regardless of whether the author is well-known or brand new, sing her praises to everyone you know. Send an email to your whole address book encouraging them to buy and read it, then make sure they spread the word to their circle of friends. Let's not make a ripple effect as influencers -- and anyone who reads is an influencer -- but rather a tidal wave that helps put our favorite books on top. Otherwise, the finest among us, like the author Patti discussed, won't be there when we're looking for that next great book to read. We're in this together, readers and writers alike, and dang it, let's make some noise!
The one person who has promoted my novels above anyone else, and I mean anyone, is my funky hairdresser, a young woman covered in tattoos, with a heart wide open to Jesus, though she doesn't know him yet, who tells everyone who sits in her chair they HAVE TO read my books. And they do! Whose praises can you sing today? Let me start. They Almost Always Come Home by new author Cynthia Ruchti is a MUST READ! It's available May 1, and is an excellent story, exceptionally well written, one you can't put down. Trust me, you don't want to miss this one. Now what favorite book can you share with us?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I just ordered one from Angela Hunt I'm excited to read.

As far as hiking up the pyramid-- what an inspiration for you and now for me. Better put on my crampons (though I'm not sure why I would for pryamids, not ice or snow)and get climbing.

And your hairdresser, now there's a character if I've ever read one. And how cool that she is such a fan!

Lisa Karon Richardson said...

Lisa Harris' Blood Ransom is great.

As for that pyramid. I'm scaling it inch by inch. But I think this is even harder to do than the healthy food pyramid!

Cynthia Ruchti said...

I was reading along, enthralled as I always am by what the Novel Matters authors present on this blog, nodding my head and saying, "Yes, yes, YES!" to Sharon's community marketing technique of "tell everyone you know" and then was blindsided by joy when the book she chose to mention was They Almost Always Come Home!Thanks, Novel Matters! My novel-that-I-pray-matters releases tomorrow!

Jan Cline said...

Funny, my hairdresser is fascinated that Im a writer. For some of us the climb has been with only a few steps a year for many years. Im thankful that the last two years for me have been encouraging enough to scoot me up the pyramid a little faster. Here's to more of us making it to the top!

Nicole said...

I've done blog posts about the untapped power of "the reader". They don't seem to realize they are the lifelines to the authors who depend on their recommendations to others.

In addition to the great joy of reading a good novel, I rave about them because everyone needs to have a chance to pick up a good book. I'm a champion for authors I like--and even some I don't because if I learn of a reader's interest in their type of writing, I can recommend them to that reader.

If there is a flaw in the CBA system, I'd have to say it's their heavy concentration on their perceived major base audience and somewhat excluding their potential for reaching a greater audience. Included in this seems to be their inability to rightly market some of their best novels and authors. JMO and not to criticize without merit.

She Reads said...

Thank you for your kindness, Sharon. We're doing our best to let the reading public know about great books.

“Word of mouth is – even in this age of mass communications and multimillion dollar advertising campaigns – still the most important form of human communication.” -Malcolm Galdwell, The Tipping Point

Each of us has the power to push great authors toward that tipping point of success.

I once heard of a custom in ancient Israel where thanks were given, not to the person who did a good deed, but to everyone else. The idea was to increase the reputation of the one who blessed you, for your friends and family and co-workers to think highly of them as well.

My challenge to every writer who dreams of reaching the top of that pyramid is to increase the reputation (and thereby sales) of author's they love. Thank them for their service publicly.

PatriciaW said...

I've read some definite keepers from the CBA this year, but I can mention one from outside the CBA that I really enjoyed? In the Midst of It All by Tiffany L. Warren, Christian fiction in which she takes on the subjects of mental illness and Christian cults.

My lament is that there's Christian fiction beyond the walls of the CBA that doesn't get much recognition because of its "outsider" status.

Anonymous said...

Cynthia, I wish you the best on your outstanding novel. I'll be one of your biggest promoters. Always a pleasure to see you here.

I'm glad I've been able to give some of you a visual to hold onto. It continues to help me.

Ariel, I really appreciate the outreach of She Reads and all you're doing to promote good Christian fiction.

Patricia, we always appreciate your comments ... and the recommendation of any good book.