I am really encouraged by your responses to these lessons--thank you, and please keep going! If you haven’t yet posted a response to one of my prompts, please consider joining in.
As I’ve reviewed your long term goals and the small steps you’ll be taking to get there, it seems we have those two ends down pretty well. I’d suggest that one of the next steps you take very soon is to pull out a calendar and put your milestones in from next week out to when you’re going to have that work finished, submitted, and so on.
In our last lesson, I offered a hard hearted secret to success--quit dreaming, start working.
Working towards a goal is one of the best ways I know to make progress.
Want to make more progress? Work smarter--and harder.
And before I go too much further, I want to remind everyone of another hard hearted truth
In order to become successful, you cannot write crap. You only get to write crap AFTER you’ve become successful. In general, if you write crap, if your cover art is crap, and if your book’s blurb is crap, then you’re not going to be successful.
Therefore, do not write crap, do not have crappy cover art, and do not have crap for a blurb.
The only exception to “not writing crap” is your first draft. Although you want to write the strongest first draft possible, the main and most important objective in drafting is to finish the draft. Dialog could be stronger? Yes, it could--make a note, keep writing, finish the draft. Want to warm up by editing yesterday’s work? You can, after you complete your writing task for the day--finish the draft. How about a creativity exercise? Great, after you get another scene written--finish the draft.
I don’t show my drafts to others and I don’t look at others’ drafts. A draft isn’t ready for feedback until I’ve done the best I can with it. After I’ve revised it, edited it, and proofread it, then I’ll ask others.
Now moving on to your book’s concept.
In this lesson we’ll get more specific and take a hard look on your concept.
What is your concept for your book? Do you HAVE a concept for your book?
Is your concept crap?
Before you answer, let’s make sure that we understand what a concept is:
“A cowboy rides the range” is not a concept.
“A troubled woman deals with the unfairness in her life” is not a concept. While it may be the Lifetime channel, it is not a book concept.
“An homeless woman has a vision to save the world.” That’s not a concept either.
“A motorcyclist travels the country.” Nope; not a concept. That was the TV show “Then Came Bronson.” If you remember that, why are you still working and not on a beach someplace?
So what is a concept?
There are many flavors of concept.
There’s “high concept,” which is all the rage in Hollywood and works for some writers as well.
“Apocalypse Now meets Star Wars”
“Harry Potter but with Greek Gods”
“When Harry met Sally, only with vampires”
“Titanic but with a monster”
“The brave little toaster, but with a Neti pot” (ewwwww!)
“Cowboys vs. Aliens”
“Wizard of Oz, only animated, with otters.”
You may find it handy to have a high concept for your book, as it gives both you and others a quick, accessible understanding of what you’re writing. If you’re writing a “murder mystery, with a zombie detective who races NASCAR” then that’s a concept both you and readers can understand, even if you have no idea how it’s going to be written.
There’s a comprehensive concept, a term taken from Novelist’s Boot Camp. A comprehensive concept includes :
Your hero and/or heroine
Your hero/heroine’s objective--something tangible, touchable, personally important, and visible.
Your setting in time and place
All combined into one or two sentences.
Or your concept may be a combination of genre and a twist:
“It’s a medical category romance where he’s an Quaker and she’s a werewolf.”
“It’s a mystery in which an emotionally traumatized former FBI profiler pursues a sadistic serial killer through Chicago’s affluent suburbs.”
Whatever your concept--HAVE ONE! The clearer, simpler, and more direct your concept is, the greater your chances of success--success not just in terms of writing a book people will read, but also in terms of writing a book that you will finish.
What if your book mixes genres and types and categories and pushes the limits and and and and...?
No rule against that--that’s why we have vampire romances, boarding school boy wizard fantasies, and the whole genre of erotica--because some authors challenged the status qo. Go for it.
Just remember that crossing genre boundaries is not an excuse to write crap. You want to mix motorcycle non-fiction travel stories with fantasy and mystery? Go ahead--but it had better be damn good. You cannot say “My book is an erotic vampire NASCAR mystery” and expect that just because it has sex, vampires, NASCAR, and the hunt for a killer in it, you can write crap.
So how do you know if your concept is crap?
There are two general measures.
The first measure is “is the concept commercially viable?” In other words, is a well-written book based on this concept likely to sell appropriately for its market?
Here’s the answer: Nobody farouking knows.
Oh, they pretend they know. In conventional publishing, agents and acquisition editors can produce all kinds of figures about sales of certain genres and then make predictions based on those figures, but nobody, I repeat nobody, knows.
In conventional publishing these figures, this history, and a healthy resistance to change and a desire of “more of the same, only different” are all used as reasons to reject many a concept.
But nobody really farouking knows, because they pretended to know that a tale about vampires in love wouldn’t sell, that nobody would buy erotica, that a story about a boy wizard going to a magical boarding school while facing off against a wizard who embodies evil and who killed his parents wouldn’t sell, and on and on.
By the way, markets change over time--so what they know about what won’t sell today may change tomorrow. Yes, yesterday’s crap concept might be tomorrow’s best seller. Conceptually, at least.
And right now, stop whining about the short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness of conventional publishers. Just cut that off at the knees. They are not paid to be visionaries; they’re paid to do something else.
So the first measure really isn’t worth much, unless you have a contract or have established yourself as a writer of a certain flavor of novels.
The above applies to mainstream publishing, of course. With the rollout of real ebook readers, you can build yourself a nice niche to work in, make a profit, and never see one of the traditional NY houses publish your book.
The ladies of Ellora’s Cave are living proof--and this was before e-readers.
Even then, remember that nobody really farouking knows.
The second measure comes from inside you. This measure is a combination of your answers to several questions-- can you build a comprehensive concept for the book (see above)? Does it call you to be written? Is there a story there? Is it a book you would want to read when it’s done? Do you catch yourself working on it--actually scratching out a scene list and actually writing scenes, no matter how “bad?” Does it feel like the kind of book you love to read, only a different flavor in some way? Can you explain your concept in one or two short sentences to someone else?
If your concept is clear and succinct and specific and complete (see above) and your are compelled to tell that story, then your concept is probably not crap, regardless of genre (or genres), commercial viability, or what your critique group says.
Now for an important bit of psychological insight.
There are a whole bunch of us writers, especially novelists and poets, who write from our wounds. By that I mean that we’ve been hurt, wronged, cheated, treated badly by life, Providence has turned away, etc etc. It’s been said that some romance authors write romance because they lack enough romance in their real lives. I met a woman at a conference who said she wrote erotica because she enjoyed variety in her sex life, but “her husband was a simple man.” Some write from anger (Twain and Tom Sawyer, for example).
Human beings are emotional, not rational, beings. We like to pretend otherwise, but that’s the truth. So you can’t escape your own emotions and you do not want to eliminate them from your writing (even if you could, and you can’t), because you’d lose any emotional connection with your reader. Novels are about creating strong emotional reactions in a reader. Yes, even literary novels.
What you have to do as an author is to manage your emotions in your concept and in your work. Otherwise, your story is “poor pitiful victim me, please love me,” which is not a story but whining, and this is a no whining zone.
If you fail to first realize what your emotions are and then fail to manage them in your writing, then what you will get is crap--in your concept and in your writing.
You cannot write crap and be successful.
You may also be writing crap because you don’t understand or are not practicing well certain fundamental techniques.
Notice I said “practicing well.” You can, for example, write bad dialog. That would be writing crap.
And we don’t want to write crap.
We’ll talk about some of those techniques in the next lesson.
For today, we’d like to do a couple of things
First, if you are a published author (or if you have a great motorcycle magazine), please post the title of you work, its concept, and a link to where we can get it. If you have several works, please post them all.
If you have one or more books unfinished “under the bed,” on your computer, etc, please post their concepts.
If you have one or more works in progress, please post those concepts.
Don’t worry, no one will steal your ideas.
For our yet to be published authors, this will give you a set of examples as to what complete concepts look like.
For you authors who have already published, this is practice on works you've already completed and on works you have yet to complete.
You'll then be better able to generate and evaluate book ideas before you commit hours of effort or take them to market.
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