I am just about settled in which means that I will be getting back into the swing of things with reviews and promotions real soon. I still have a few things to do before I am back full time so I am still somewhat MIA this week, but I’d still like to get some interviews scheduled in time for November if possible.
If you are not familiar with my Introduce Yourself feature, here is a short breakdown. For more information, please do check out the first post HERE:
Introduce Yourself is a free promotional opportunity for new and established authors via an author interview on this blog. Unlike the same questions over and over again, authors have the opportunity to choose from 50 questions (SEE ORIGINAL POST) they would like to answer in the interview from writing and books to relationships, religion, and politics. But that’s not all.
To further set this feature apart, I do not just copy and paste your answers so be sure your answers are juicy and interesting! Once you have sent me your Q&A, I go over them to see if there is anything I want to add by way of commentary and you are given the chance to respond. We email back and forth until the interview sounds more authentic and real life (as if we are two friends sitting down for coffee) because that is at the core of what Introduce Yourself is all about. We want to get to know the real you. While your books and links will be promoted freely on this site, I ask that you use this opportunity to do less selling and more connecting with potential readers. This is what social media is all about.
If you are an author (Indie / Trad / Hybrid) and you’re looking for more exposure, CLICK THROUGH TO THE ORIGINAL POST HERE, choose your questions and email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will look over them, email you back so we can chit chat and then schedule your feature. All interviews are scheduled to go live the Monday of every week @ 12:00am Eastern Standard Time.
As you all know, I am preparing to go away from the online scene for awhile. Before I do I am running an eBook sale on Renaissance for any of you who’ve been waiting to get your hands on it. From now through Wednesday, August 23rd you can get it for the low price of 99cents.
When seventeen-year-old Nora White successfully graduates High School in 1922 Mississippi and is College bound, everyone is overjoyed and excited. Everyone except Nora. She dreams of Harlem, Cotton Clubs, Fancy Dresses, and Langston Hughes. For years, she’s sat under Mr. Oak, the big oak tree on the plush green grass of her families five acres, and daydreamed of The Black Mecca.
The ambitious, young Nora is fascinated by the prospect of being a famous writer in The Harlem Renaissance and decides she doesn’t want to go to College. Despite her parent’s staunch protest, Nora finds herself in Jacobsville, New York, a small town forty-five minutes outside of Harlem.
Shocked by their daughter’s disappearance, Gideon and Molly White are plagued with visions of the deadly south, like the brutal lynching of Gideon’s sister years ago. As the couple embark on a frightening and gut wrenching search for Nora, they are each stalked by their own traumatic past. Meanwhile, Nora learns that the North is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Can Gideon and Molly overcome their disturbing past in time to find their daughter before it’s too late?
From the most recent review:
“I’ve never felt more at home when reading a book until I read this. It felt like I was in history class, but I actually learned history. You know what I mean? A teenage girl aspiring to become a writer during the time of the Harlem Renaissance – that’s literally what’s going on. Within that, there’s life. Life of her, life of her parents, life of people around her. I have to say that this is my first time reading something that I had a COMPLETE grasp on. I understood everything from how they spoke to how they thought. Very impressive in my opinion. I don’t only recommend this, I think this is something that can be read in class.” – Amazon Customer Review
The summer is pretty much over but I have not exactly taken a vacation or a break. That’s about to change.
In about two weeks I will be going on a vacation of sorts and taking some extensive time off. I’ll be away from social media, and the blog. I am going completely offline from August 27th through September.
This means that I will not be here to share your posts and that all Introduce Yourself Interviews will be scheduled to go live ahead of time. Authors, this means it will be YOUR responsibility to promote your posts if your interview is scheduled when I am gone.
For those of you who are interested in being interviewed on this blog between now through September, you will need to get your questions in to me before Wednesday, August 23, 2017 so that they can be scheduled to go out. Anything coming into me after August 23rd (even Aug 24th) will be scheduled for October through the end of the year.
August 28th and the entire September is open. If you want to be interviewed before October, email me ASAP so that I can schedule you for an open slot. I am dedicating this week and next to scheduling interviews. I will literally be on a plane on August 27th so don’t wait until the last minute. The deadline is 8/23. No exceptions.
If you are an author and new to this blog and are not sure what “Introduce Yourself” is, GO HERE. Read through the post, choose your questions and send them into email@example.com before August 23, 2017 if you want to be scheduled in September.
Keep In Mind
I am not an editor and will not edit your questions. If you are extremely sensitive about this please be sure your questions are edited before you send them into me. Introduce Yourself is a free service and only covers very light, basic editing using Grammarly.
I didn’t intend on posting again today but one of my favorite authors posted something to her IG that sparked something I had to share. As you see above, this author is Bernice McFadden and this is her sharing the rejection letters she received for her novel Sugar. I have this book as well as her novels This Bitter Earth, Glorious and I’d like to get my hands on Nowhere is a Place and The Book of Harlan but I digress. Needless to say, the writing is on point. Long story short, you all know that Sugar has gone on to do very well despite the 75 (yes, seventy-five…let that settle) rejection letters. For Indie Authors, we may not be looking for publishers, but we have rejection letters too. I want to encourage you not to give up when you get one:
Negative Reviews – One of our most obvious rejection letters is the negative review. While all authors, no matter how they are published, get negative reviews, for the Indie Author it can feel like the ultimate rejection. Not from a publisher or agent but from the people who we slave so hard for, Readers. When a reader rejects a book it can really put a damper (who says that?) on an author’s mood. But, think about being rejected 75 times. Would you have tried for the 76th? The next time you get a bad review, think of McFadden and how important it is not to quit on the vision. If McFadden had given up, there would be no Sugar.
No Reviews – I came into the game (for lack of a better term though I hate using it. This ain’t a game lol) late because I did not start publishing my books with Amazon in the beginning. I also did not have much insight or people around who could help me to understand this growing industry. That said, reviews weren’t very important to me (neither was Amazon for that matter). However, we are all aware by now how important book reviews are to Indie Authors. But what if you don’t have any? Or very little? This can feel like a real let down and crush an Indie Author’s mood. Especially when their peers have over one hundred and they only have one or two. I am not saying to look at what every one else is doing, not at all. But I’d be lying if I said no reviews on a book doesn’t feel bad. We’ve all been there so let’s just keep it all the way real. No reviews can feel like the ultimate rejection. Honest reviews help to prove that an author’s work is worth reading which means that none can be a real let down. A real rejection. I tell you to think of McFadden’s 75 rejection letters and ask yourself if you were her, would you try again? Would you still want to write if you had 75 bad reviews? Sheesh. That can make one depressed! Lol. But, I am showing you that it’s the same thing for Indie Authors who are their own publishers and thus rely on the social proof of readers to help people to see that they really aren’t bragging about themselves.
No Sales – And of course, need I not leave out the ultimate rejection letter for Indies, no sales! Nothing screams rejection like no one buying your book. Does that mean you should stop writing? Of course not. My first novel is full of mistakes (which is why I took it off market for now lol) but if I had not published the first book, mediocre as it was, there would not have been a tenth. My point is, just keep writing and keep trying. You know you are close to the mountaintop when everyone starts to fall off. When people start giving up, that’s when you’re close. When you feel like giving up, that is when you should push the hardest. It means you are almost there. I am not saying this to sound all “cliche”. I am saying it because it’s real. My husband was just telling me I am too hard on myself and I’d like to extend the encouragement your way. Especially since we didn’t have a “No Whining Wednesday” today 🙂
So, there you have it. Three Rejection Letters Indie Authors receive. When you get one, think of McFadden’s 75 rejection letters. That had to be depressing at some point but she kept at it and so should you.
Do you know of any more “rejection letters?” Tell us about them! What was the most heartbreaking of your rejection letters? How did you recover from it?
Don’t forget that there are tons of people willing to help to spread the word about your awesome authorness! Including me. My Introduce Yourself Interviews for authors will pick back up next week. However, I am in need of authors for August! It’s a free opportunity to let us get to know more about you and your books.Click Here to learn more. Again, it’s FREE and I must say, the Introduce Yourself features do very well in views. Many of them are the top viewed on this blog which means these authors get a lot of shine! All genres welcomed. (Those of you who have already been featured, if you have updates, new books coming out, let me know so we can do an update post).
First, launch weekend was amazing. Though I did not make it to Tampa, I did make it to Sanford and, for a brief moment, Orlando. I really needed the trip and can’t thank the ladies enough for sharing this special moment with me. They treated us like royalty and the food was the bomb dot com. We had a feast of curry chicken, oxtails, red beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, plantains, the works. I am getting hungry just thinking about it. The meat fell off the bone ya’ll.
I won’t spend a lot of time explaining what Thunderclap is since there’s so much to share already about the experience. Briefly, it is a way to spread a single message online in a digital word of mouth type format. Learn more about Thunderclap in a previous post HERE.
Thunderclap is not as easy as it looks! Because the program is still relatively new (launching April 28, 2009, but just now getting real notoriety), there are still questions about it and understanding the best way to promote a campaign was pretty much trial and error for me. A lot of time was spent explaining to people just what this was and how to use it. Because of this, I’ve tried both right ways and wrong ways of promoting it.
I did not look at Thunderclap until the end of each day. I did this because checking back every three minutes does not help move anything forward. It also wrecks my nerves. I also did it this way because it added more to the excitement and made me feel accomplished and encouraged before getting back to it the next day. Here’s how to read my notes:
EOD = End of Day
Number = The number of supporters I had by the end of the day
Action = What I did that day to help promote the campaign
EOD 1- 26
Action – On day one, I sent out an email blast to my email list, posted it to this blog, and on my social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and IG). This resulted in 26 supporters, not bad for day one. This may look like a small number in the grand scheme of things, but keep in mind that the number of people following you online and on the blog (as you will see at the end of this post) has nothing to do with the number of people who will actually support you. Judge the pulse of your blog by engagement more so than numbers.
EOD 2 – 37
Action – Contacted someone who sent a mass email on my behalf. Also changed headline on blog post and tags. When I published the blog post on day one I didn’t really think it through. The headline was:
“Let’s Make Some Noise!”
Shy EC:“Umm…hi. That’snot very inviting. Sounds kinda arrogant.”
I had to check myself because that’s not the impression I want to give at all because it’s not who I am. I went back and changed it to “I Need Your Social Media Support”. This simple change resulted in more people willing to support. On Day Two, I also changed the tags to the original post.
I am not going to get deep into why tags are so important. Just know that they help people to discover your blog. There’s more to it but that’s the short version. I always include tags specific to certain days on my blog posts along with my regular tags (for instance, this post includes #Tuesdayshares because it’s Tuesday).
Since it was a Thursday, I initially used: #ThrowbackThursday #ThankfulThursday
Day two was on a Friday so I changed it to: #LinkYourLife and #BluSkyFriday
Photo Break – We were photo bombed. Check the sista in the back loll
EOD 3 – 49
Action – I didn’t do anything on Saturday. Listening to Shy EC, I put some space between the promotions to give people a chance to support it without thinking I am spamming them.
EOD 4 – 53
Action – I sneaked a peek at the page Sunday morning and saw that I was still at 49. Needless to say, business EC kicked it. Doing nothing didn’t really help my Campaign. I thought about my networks and decided to call my big sister. After talking with her about it I decided to do another Facebook shout. This time my focus was on family members and genetic relatives. I specifically tagged those of blood relation on purpose. I knew others would support me but this was to reach out to relatives to see if they would. Well, we all know relatives. Of everyone, I tagged only a few took action. However, the post did bump it up four points which was good. Every little bit helps.
EOD 5 – 59
Action – Day five was a busy day so I didn’t get to check my results until late. On this day, I sent individual emails to contacts, not on my email list. These are individuals who are great supportive influences in the blogging / Indie Author community but also very busy people. I was nervous to reach out to them at first but remembered that if this was to be successful I should step outside my comfort zone. So, on Day 5, I decided to email influencers personally and ask them a favor. To my excitement, they were happy to oblige. This taught me something about how important it is that we don’t make assumptions about anyone’s intentions. People are busy. Sometimes the best way to reach out is personally. Sending an email is like visiting them at their front door. You are more likely to get a response if you just talk to people.
EOD 6 – 62 *Passed the 100,000-social reach mark *
Back to my regular checking time of about 6 pm (that is when I close for the day….mostly), I didn’t do anything to promote the Campaign on this day, giving people time to put in their support organically and again, it didn’t increase by much but I did pass the 100,000-social reach mark with 100,222. I did a little happy dance but restrained my excitement. It wasn’t over. I sent more personal emails before I went to bed as well as thank you’s.
EOD 7 – 65
Action – By now I am seeing a trend. We are jumping 3 points on days where there is little to no promotion. At the end of Day 7, I complained spoke to my husband about it.
Moshe – “So why don’t you just get on your grind?”
EC – (*Laughs inwardly. He something else*) – “I don’t know what else to do. I can’t keep posting to social media. People will get tired of seeing me. I don’t want to spam them.”
At the end of Day 7 I took a step back. While I managed to reach more than half of my goal in seven days, I wasn’t jumping around about it. Over half is not all. I needed to think of ways to keep the momentum going until the goal was met.
EOD 8 – 69
Action – After thinking over yesterday’s results, I realized I couldn’t count on ‘blasting’ the message out too much. What seemed to work best is reaching out to people individually so that’s what I did. I also did some research on the best way to promote a Thunderclap Campaign to see how others have done it and how they fared. In addition to reaching out individually, pictures of the campaign itself also helps. I have found the more transparent you are, the more people will support you. Updates with screenshots of the campaigns growth helps a lot.
Photo Break – I got to attend a graduation while I was in Florida. Congrats again on your Bachelor’s big baby. You did that.
2016 Thunderclap Results – 35%
2017 Thunderclap Results – 109%
I am humbled to see such tremendous growth between my network last year and this year. When I started my campaign my husband told me I would exceed 100 people even before I got my first supporter and I did. Still, I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks to everyone who shared and re-blogged my blog posts and shared it across social media when I promoted the campaign.
In the end, I reached 170 thousand people in ten countries and 59 cities in 44 days. On July 15th, when the book released, my message went out through the platform of these 109 people. This is when your Thunderclap Campaign “Tips”. It means that because you reached your goal, your message was shared.
I won’t bore you by going over every single day. After week one it was touch and go and doing a lot of reaching out. Toward the end, it was more and more challenging the closer I got to the goal. And then, eight days before the deadline, I got great support from genetic relatives on Facebook who pushed me over. With plenty of time left on the clock, I was able to sit back and chill, letting more support trickle in organically since by this time, whatever support I got was extra being I was already at my goal.
On the one hand Thunderclap is a great way to promote your book. However, it is best suited for those with large enough platforms. By this I don’t just mean your numbers but people who will act on your behalf. While I met my goal, I would not have had to work as hard if my network was bigger. Since I met over half of my goal in the first week maybe next time, as I grow, I can set a higher target and a shorter window.
My biggest suggestion for those of you who choose to use Thunderclap is to please be realistic with everything. The time-frame for your campaign and the goal you wish to reach must both be realistic.
Give yourself enough time to promote and build support
Choose a goal that is realistic for your network
I chose a little over 30 days because my platforms are small. I found both positives and negatives about this:
It gave me enough time to gather the support I needed. I read somewhere that someone did a campaign for just eight days. Had I copied this I would not have made my goal. This is what I mean by the strength of your network. I was only striving for 100 supporters and that was hard (lol) but in the future, that will be easy as my network grows. Which leads me to the negatives.
Although 30 days gave me lots of time to build support, it also drained me. I discovered quickly that Thunderclap works best when there is something done to promote it every single day which means I’d recommend putting some kind of plan together. It doesn’t have to be anything big, just something you can do everyday to move it forward. If your campaign is too long you may not be as committed to pushing it as you would on a shorter time-frame.
I would therefore not recommend Thunderclap for new authors with little to no platform. It will overwhelm you.
Choose a Realistic Target
Thunderclap gives you the option of 100, 250, or 500+ far as the number of people you can try to reach. Be realistic about this. If you are virtually unknown, have never used Thunderclap before or have a small platform don’t try to reach for a number that is not realistic for you. Think about your platforms. Look at it and break it down into realistic figures: How many of these people are going to put forth action vs. those who will just like your post?
While there are other programs similar to Thunderclap that will allow you to set smaller targets, Thunderclap carries the most weight because it is most known of crowd-sourcing. While running the campaign, I found that people will like your post and think they have supported the campaign. You will have to tell them that they must click on the link and follow through for it to work. When I told people this, I got more support. Again, most people won’t know what Thunderclap is. You will have to walk them through it or they won’t support because they don’t know how. Keep this in mind when promoting your campaign. Reach out to people and check on them. It may not be that they don’t want to support but that they don’t know how.
Thunderclap also asks for permission to post on your behalf and access to certain information which people aren’t comfortable with. This requires the host of the Campaign to reassure individuals that their information is not being shared and that the process is safe. I’d like to add here that most of the Apps we download to our phones request access to certain information as well. You’ll be surprised to what extent, from access to passwords and text messages to permission to record your conversation. Reassure your supporters that this is a one-time message posted to their page and that it is OK. They may not even notice it when it posts.
Photo break – The ladies and me trying not to look hungry as we wait for the food to be ready.
When your campaign goal has been met and your message hits social media, this means your Campaign has tipped and is now being shared. I’m not feeling how the message is displayed once it tips. This is my second time working with Thunderclap but my first time tipping. I thought it would be just the message with the link to where to get the book. Instead, it shows on Facebook in a similar fashion to when you are promoting the campaign, with the Thunderclap link. To me, this doesn’t look very authentic or enticing. It looks, in fact, more like an Ad. I did not like this.
So, yes or no to Thunderclap?
Yes– If you have a platform
Yes– If you are willing to work it
Yes– If you schedule it ahead of time
Yes– If you think you can get at least 100 people to act
No– If you have little to no platform
No– If you don’t have time to promote it
No– If you can’t schedule it at least one month in advance
No– If you don’t think you can get at least 100 people to act
Be sure to check out my latest interview with the beautiful Nadine on her website HERE. It is part one with the second part coming tomorrow.
“Storytellers are responsible for telling the truth. For writing the shackles off history.” ― Yecheilyah Ysrayl
Also, be sure to join me and fellow Rave Reviews Book Club Members Mary Carlomango, Jennifer Owenby, and Kerry Hall in another episode of Rave Waves “TAG TEAM 2* 4* 5*”, hosted by John W. Howell and Gwen Plano on Saturday, July 22, 2017 @ 12:00p.
Welcome to Introduce Yourself, a new and exciting blog segment of The PBS Blog dedicated to introducing to you new and established authors and their books.
Today I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Sarah Zama. Welcome to The PBS Blog! Let’s get started.
What is your name and where are you from?
I’m Sarah Zama and I’m an Italian from Verona. Well, actually, I’m from Isola della Scala, which is a small town 20km south of Verona. I feel I should acknowledge it, since Isola is where I was born, I grew up and I still live. But honestly, I feel a much stronger affinity with Verona. And I know I should not brag about it, but let me tell you Verona is a beautiful city, with over two thousand years of history, no wonder it’s a World Heritage site. Aside from being Romeo and Juliet’s city, it’s just charming walking by the river, especially at night, or wondering among her narrow mediaeval streets and the plazas, or visiting the castles or one of my very best favorite places, the Roman Arena.
Fine, fine, I’ll just stop before you start thinking someone is paying me to advertise my city!!
I learned my English in Dublin, which I consider my second home. I lived and worked there for over a year, and even if I left almost fifteen years ago, I still visit as often as I can. I love Dublin nearly as much as Verona.
Sarah, you are definitely bragging. I’d love to visit. What was your childhood dream?
This may sound obvious – I mean, lot of kids have the same dream – but I wanted to be an archaeologist. I read a lot about ancient history and about archaeology and archaeologists’ lives. I loved the idea to go hunting for something that used to be alive and breathing and could still be the same if I could unearth it. Archaeological items aren’t dead. If we know their language, they can tell us so many things we’d never know otherwise.
In the end, it didn’t happen. I suppose my passion resided elsewhere. But I think writing, its pretty close. When it is any good, it also tries to unearth the unknown.
I like that. In your own words, what is humility?
It’s knowing that there will always be someone better than you at something. There will always be someone that will know more than you, in one field or another. You’ll always have the possibility to learn from other people, which is our good fortune, because learning and caring is the essence of life.
Nice. What do you wish you knew more about?
Folktales. I’ve been fascinated with folktales since I was a child, then, as an adult, when I learned what folktales truly are, I became even more fascinated. Thinking that some of the folktales we learned as children go back to Prehistory is mind-blowing. Can you imagine how much we can learn from them?
When I first read Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories, one thing he said stuck with me. He said we often wonder about what went lost over the millennia about those stories, things we will never know. And we should instead care about what did come to us though the millennia, because that’s what important to us.
Sarah, are you employed outside of writing?
I’ve been a bookseller for almost fourteen years, a job that I love. The company I work for not only owns the bookshop, but a publishing house too. I learned so many things in the years I’ve work there.
It’s a small independent company based in the university lot in Verona, run by man and wife. And I know it sounds clichéd, but really it is like a family, which – aside from the actual job – is something I really like.
That explains why you’re so well read. I am enjoying *listening* to you. What job do you think you’d be really good at?
Anything visual. I’ve always been a visual person, I used to draw when I was younger (ink was my favorite medium). Now I just don’t have the time to pursue that passion anymore.
Although who knows? Recently, I’ve been attracted to Photoshop. I’d like to learn to use it in an effective way. Maybe, sometime soon.
Indeed. I am striving to learn Photoshop better myself. What takes up too much of your time?
Commuting. Because I live in Isola della Scala but I work in Verona, I have to travel to Verona and back every day, which takes up some three hours of my day.
But I commute by train, which is good. I like travelling by train. I find public transports to be fascinating; you see all kinds of people. I’ll admit… err… that I like people-sighting and eavesdropping, but don’t tell anyone.
And on the train I can read. I do much of my reading on the train to and from work.
Eavesdropping huh? Are you nosy Sarah? Lol
Nosy? I wouldn’t say so. But I think that noticing things and especially details is a storyteller’s secret weapon. So I think that storytellers are naturally inclined to notice things… and of course, to notice them, you first have to watch and listen.
I suppose this makes us the Confucian creature with the big eyes and ears and the small mouth. LOL!
When did you publish your first book? What was it like?
I published my first book (which is actually a novella, not a novel) last year in March.
I self-published it, which surprised many of my friends because I had always said I wasn’t interested in self-publishing. Trad publishing is still my chief goal for my trilogy (which involves the same characters as Give in to the Feeling, my novella), but I think in the future hybrid writers will be the norm, so knowing both field is very important, I believe.
But this isn’t the reason I finally decided to self-publish.
Two years ago, when I had the first novel of the trilogy ready, I started submitting it to agents. I did two rounds of submissions, and nothing came of it. Agents are always very spare of comments, so I couldn’t really know what exactly was wrong with my samples, but they were of course not good enough. Besides, the first three chapters of the novel had always bothered me. I had in fact rewrote the first chapter at least thirty times, and it was my own fault, because at the very beginning I made a decision that then turned out to be wrong. Unfortunately, although the decision (regarding voice and information giving) was wrong, the inciting incident is right, so I had to rework the first chapter making it as different as possible, keeping it the same.
After the first round of submission turned out so disappointingly, I once again rewrote the first three chapters. It didn’t make much good, though, because, although the agents’ tone changed on the second round, they still turned me down.
So I decided I needed to go a step further and work with an editor, but I knew I couldn’t afford to edit the whole novel. I thought that I could edit a short story, though. If my writing had inherent problems, the editor would catch them in the short story and then I could apply what I learned on the novel.
It turned out to be a fantastic experience, I learned some very interesting things about my writing and when I had the novella ready I thought: well, why not going all the way through and experiment with publishing and marketing my work as well?
It felt like a waste to have this novella professionally edited and polished and just leave it in a drawer.
After a year, I’m not sure I have the characteristics to be a successful indie author (I’m a very slow writer, for example, and I don’t write in a definite commercial genre), but this doesn’t mean I’ll leave self-publishing. I do think in the future belongs to the hybrid authors, so I want to pursue this path still, though at my own pace.
But I’m very happy of the experience itself because it was very educational.
Thanks for sharing that experience with us! So, tell us more about the genre you write in and why.
I’ve always been a speculative writer, I think I’ll always be, though the way I express that speculation mind has changed over time.
I’ve been a classic fantasy writer for most of my writing life. I’ve read all the classics of fantasy and I’ve watched fantasy evolve in the early 2000s with great pleasure, though sadly I have to say that lately the genre seems to have taken a step back.
I’ve always been interested in history too (that was my favorite subject at school already) and when I started working in the bookshop I discovered anthropology (such fascinating subject). I think these two subjects in particular moved my interest to more modern settings recently, though – truth be said – I’ve been fascinated with the Deco period since I watched b/w mysteries on TV with my granny as a kid. So it probably doesn’t come as a surprise (it certainly doesn’t surprise me) that I ended up writing fantasy stories in a contemporary setting, particularly the 1920s.
I had been writing my trilogy for a couple of years when I stumbled upon the concept of dieselpunk and I immediately felt an affinity. I got involved with the dieselpunk community and I really feel that is my home, though the kind of dieselpunk I write is so soft and fantasy-oriented that even some dieselpunks don’t consider it such.
But I like to refer to one of the head figures of the community, Larry Amyett Jr. who has a more open concept of the ‘genre’.
Anyway, expect a lot of history and some very significant fantasy element in all of my stories.
Alright now. I love history so I am sure we’ll collaborate on some things in the future. What do you hate most about writing advice? What do you love?
One thing I hate about writing advice is the attitude of some writers towards rules. On the one hand, you’ll have writers that stick to the rules to the point it becomes flat. They won’t accept any creative use of the rules. But writing is creativity. I don’t think it’s wise to try to encage it into stone-written rules. It is also an evolving activity, so rules and conventions that were good yesterday might not be as good today. Many writers who give advice on workshops and forums don’t seem to grasp this and will question you even when you explain why you made an unconventional choice.
On the other hand, I also hate when writers are too slack with rules. I have read time and again writers who say they are not interested in learning the rules of storytelling because if you are a true writer you’re going to break them anyway. Well, personally, I don’t think you have any chance at creatively and meaningfully breaking any rules you don’t know and don’t muster. Rules are there to make storytelling stronger and more coherent, so it’s a writer’s best interest to know them inside out. Only in that case, when you do chose to break one, you’ll do it knowing why you want to break it and what the effect will be. Then it will become meaningful. Otherwise, it’s only a mess.
What I love about writing advice is that, when it is thoughtful, you’ll learn a lot. I’ve been part of an online workshop for seven years—The Critique Circle—and I can’t even start to tell you how much I’ve learned from being critiqued as well as from critiquing other people’s work. It’s an extremely educational process.
The first thing I learned is that my work isn’t perfect. No matter how much I work on it, there will always be things other people see and I don’t… until I’m pointed out. Being too protective towards our work makes a great disservice to us, to the story and to our readers.
The second most important thing I learned is asking questions. When we write, everything makes sense to us, both because we instinctively know much more about our story than will ever get on the page and because we know where the story is supposed to go, so we are focused on getting there. But when someone who knows nothing about the story reads it, he/she will have a lot more questions, some of which will be very ‘embarrassing’. Let’s face it, most of the time the answer to the question, ‘Why does this characters do this thing?’ is ‘Because I need him to go from point A to point B’ (that certainly is true in the first draft… at least for me). When you start to have your work critiqued, you’ll learn very fast that readers are a lot more attentive and demanding than you ever thought. They have lots of sensible questions you thought were not worth pursuing, and when you let people critique your work, you’ll learn how to ask yourself those questions before readers do.
And believe me; the story will come off a lot stronger.
I love it. Sarah, what’s the most difficult thing about being a writer? The most exciting thing?
The most difficult thing is to keep believing in yourself and your stories no matter what.
We writers will always have doubts about our writing. We will always be scared that we are not good enough. That’s one big reason why some writers will never let anyone read their stories, let alone critique them. Which is a real shame, because I think storytelling is communication, and there is no meaningful one-way communication. A message (which is what a story is) needs to be given, but also to be received in order to exist. When the message is received, that’s when it comes to life, not when it’s issued.
Problem is, when we let people read our stories, more doubts will arise rather than be quenched. Many people won’t like our story, and often we will never know why. Even when we understand this is natural (and believe me, this is not an instinctive understanding), it will be hard to accept it.
The rejection (I don’t like your story) and the unknown (but I’m not going to tell you why) are very hard to manage, but let me tell you, we’re not going to learn if we won’t practice. We need the help of our readers in order to become better storytellers, but this mean we also need to face rejection and handle it in a positive way.
I won’t hide it, this is hard. We need to muster the ability to tell when a critic is objective and when he isn’t, when it has something to offer and when it doesn’t, which needs a clarity of mind unaffected by feelings. But when we achieve that mastery, we will be on the right way to becoming better writers.
On the other hand, when our story is received enthusiastically… well, I think there are few feelings which are better than this.
Wow. Very informative answer! *Takes notes*. Speaking of writing, does blogging help you to write?
I wouldn’t say it helps me to write, but I will say it helps me to be a writer.
For a great part, blogging is listening, it’s looking for a connection, it’s sharing, and this is a huge help when it comes to learn to accept the reader’s rejection as well as being more critic towards our writing.
Blogging will require to make lots of decisions and you’ll see the result of the decisions you’ve made pretty soon, so that you’ll have the possibility to act on it fast enough to see a result. This is often not possible when writing and publishing a book, and that’s why blogging may help.
When I first started blogging, I did a number of mistakes, both because I didn’t know any better and because I just made the wrong choice. The only solution is to keep learning, not just because there is always something new to learn, but also because blogging – as all things internet – changes very fast. We need to the attentive and flexible.
But sometimes, we just make the wrong choice and we need to be listening in order to realize it. I have a macroscopic example of this.
When I started my blog, I decided that I wouldn’t blog about the 1920s in spite of that being a subject I had researched extensively for my stories. I didn’t feel (I still don’t feel) I’m an expert on the subject. I’ve never done any academic study, I’m just very passionate about it and I like to learn about it. But when one year later I decided to take part in the AtoZ Blogging Challenge, I realized there weren’t many things I could blog about every day, therefore I was kind of forced to write about the 1920s.
It was a success. I was shocked! People actually liked what I was writing and found it interesting and informative. As for me, I understood my mistake and changed gear. 1920s social history is the main focus of my blog now, and blogs about 1920s life are still the most popular with my readers.
So blogging gave me the possibility to make a mistake as well as to see my mistake by trying something different. It has given me the possibility to listen to the readers’ reaction and act upon it. It has also given me the possibility to believe in myself that little bit more, though honestly I should have known better even before. I might not be an expert, but I do know a few things people don’t normally know about the 1920s, and I can definitely give what little I know.
Storytelling is mainly about giving, I believe, and though we cannot give what we don’t have, what we do have, small as it may be… well, why not give it?
There’s a quote from Leonard Peltier’s Autobiography that I love and that I apparently need to remember more often: “We don’t need to be perfect, we need to be useful.”
What a wealth of information you are Sarah! Thanks for spending this time with us today.
Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.
After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.
Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.
In 2016, her first book comes out, Give in to the Feeling.
She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.
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