With limited avenues for exposure, indie authors must be creative if they want their book to gain traction. Unfortunately, not all creative ideas are good ones. Good friend and great author, Trish Marie Dawson shares a cautionary tale.
I love writing, even the publishing myself part. Yes, yes…I admit it’s hard to get your name out there and to share your stories with the world. But there’s a right and wrong way to promote, and guess what, I have a stellar example of what I consider one of many ‘wrong ways’ below.
But first, a quick explanation (and disclaimer), though this did just REALLY happen to me, I don’t want to list the name of the other person involved or the represented author’s book title, because that would be well…it would just be mean. And I don’t like to see myself as a mean person. So, as you read the exchange below, maybe you’ll laugh. I mean, shoot, I did.
The following messages took place on Facebook. The dates and exact words have not been changed, only the original sender’s name and one book title ‘she’ mentions. I’ll just call her ‘S’. This ‘conversation’…
Today John (AKA Terry in my books) grabbed me when I entered the dog park and dragged me over to the water-pump where an attractive young lady not quite old enough to be my daughter stood.
“This is (insert name) she wants to publish. You two should talk.”
“Oh? What do you write?” I ask.
Whereupon this very nice young lady whose name I can’t remember (though her dog is Stella) tells me she’d like to write Dystopian Sci-Fi but doesn’t have a concept yet. “I’m at the word-vomit stage,” she confesses.
At this point she had to leave, so we could not continue talking. Meanwhile my brain started churning with all my thoughts about being a good writer and I had no one to pontificate to. Which is why I’m writing this post.
I’ve only been writing since 2010, self-published in 2011. I have watched dozens of others who started this enterprise the same time I did. Some have always wanted to write and even had old manuscripts they could drag out of their trunks. Some, like me, said “Hey, I’d like to write a book,” and went for it. Among my friends are writing newbies who are now making six figure incomes.
My income? Like I’d tell you. I will say sitting around in your sweats with a dog under your desk is a fine way to pay the rent.
I’m not all about money. Money equals sales, which equals readers, which is what we all want.
So here is my list of tips for anyone who wishes to succeed as a writer.
1. Write every day. Set an easily achievable goal and do it. You really do have time. Most people can knock out 500 words in the time they waste watching a Star Trek rerun. You don’t wait to exercise until you are inspired, you don’t go to work only when you’re in the mood. Treat your writing the same way you treat every other important thing in your life.
2. Create a structure for your writing habit. If you consistently write in the same place at the same time of day, your brain will be ready to write when you sit down at your desk. Just like my dogs are ready for their afternoon walk at the same time every day and will disrupt whatever I’m doing to make sure it happens.
Make sure the environment is pleasing to you and conducive to your productivity, and stay consistent. write with the same pen in the same chair or on the same computer and get ready with coffee in the same funky souvenir cup on the same coaster. Use the same word processing software.
These little details become signals that ready your writing neurons and get you salivating. It’s like AA in reverse. They tell you to get rid of that cool leather jacket you always wore bar-hopping and not to drive past your favorite bar on the way to church, even if it is shorter, for the same reason. We are all Pavlov’s dogs. Use it to your advantage.
3. If you don’t have a book going yet, start a blog. Blogs are great for getting your writing juices going and will provide an outlet for your word-vomit stage. There’s a side benefit. If you wind up with a big blog following, you will have a pre-made audience for your book when it comes out. Nick Russell’s Gypsy Journal RVing blog readers put his first novel, Big Lake, on the NYT best seller list.
4. Pick a genre and concept and stick to it. In my writer’s group (80 + self-published authors), some folks wrote series and some folks wrote multiple books in multiple genres. The books that took off were all in a series. NONE of the stand-alone books has achieved any traction. Even successful writers lose traction when they take time out to write in another genre. Granted, it’s not all about the money. Remember, money equals readerage, and that’s a good thing.
5. Yes, you need to have an original hook. It’s not as hard as it sounds.
Pick your favorite genre, the one type of fiction that you’ll read and be entertained, even when the books are mediocre.
If you are truly ready to be an author, you will be vaguely unsatisfied with much of what you read. Some writing will be too violent, some not racy enough, and some will lack description or likeable characters. You’ll follow plots and think, “If I were writing this, I would (fill in the blank).” Your niggling complaints reveal what you want out of a book. Use that.
Next look around you. Places you’ve lived, careers you’ve had, disciplines you’ve studied. How can you add your experiences to your concept?
Write what you know. Veracity of detail makes for better books, and lack of knowledge will make you look like a buffoon. I recently read a romantic thriller by a best-selling author where the final confrontation took place in a natural ravine in Chicago. You ever been to Chicago? There’s not a natural ravine within fifty miles of the city. There were other details that made no sense in the context of the story and its location. I can only surmise that the author farmed out this book to a ghostwriter who didn’t bother with research.
Toss all the things you know and love into the blender and see what you come up with. Somebody had to invent Jane Austen with Zombies. Please yourself, and there are sure to be others who appreciate what you do. Try to play to the market, and chances are you will please nobody and be miserable doing it.
6. Respect structure. Don’t sneer at the basics. You want to be different? Great. The roof still goes on top of the house. You will never see a building with a roof in the basement.
You can go crazy reading all the how to books out there, but winging it without any knowledge will likely end up in an overblown mess. My favorite books are: Write your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King and Hit Lit by James W. Hall. I also like Fiction Writing for Dummies by Peter Economy and Randy Ingermanson.
7. If you don’t have a good grasp of grammar and spelling, find a retired English teacher to proof-read for you. Spell-check alone is not enough. Nora Roberts may get away with a dozen spell check errors in one of her books. You will not.
8. Know your process. Some folks are avid out-liners and never write the first word until they’ve decided what happens in every chapter and where the postman’s nephew was born. Others are (seat of the) pantsers and begin their book with nothing more than a basic premise.
I’m in the middle-ish. I have my cast of characters and a few ingredients I’m going to throw in the pot, Like a kleptomaniac Beagle or a neighborhood Fourth of July parade. I know who’s going to die and I know Lia and Peter are going to catch a killer in the end. I know where they’re going to find the body. Beyond that, I honestly can’t figure out what happens next until I write it.
Figure out what works for you and don’t make yourself miserable trying to do the other way.
9. Understand your characters. Nothing turns readers off like characters who don’t act in line with their motivations. It’s the first thing beta readers will point out to me. Even if your story is a plot driven thriller, your characters still have to make sense.
A writer I know once wrote a billionaire going incognito to a ball game, driving a twenty year old station wagon and dressed in farm clothes. Then a vendor in the stands treats him rudely and said billionaire snarls, “Look at me, boy, Don’t you know WHO I AM?” Huh?
Someone recently told me about a book that got hundreds of bad reviews based on characters that acted inappropriately, starting with the romantic hero lusting after the hot babe he just met, with his best friend’s newly (and violently) deceased body lying nearby. Um, yeah, I’d sure be thinking about sex at a time like that.
You’re not four years old, and while Barbie might be a paleontologist one day and Supergirl the next, your characters may not.
The benefit of knowing your characters is that they can then tell you what happens next. When my mind goes blank, all I have to do is consider how each of my characters is reacting to what’s happening, based on who they are.
10. Have fun. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but the more fun you have writing, the more fun your readers are likely to have reading what you write.
I recently made a number of water-proof and idiot-proof (so far) dispensers for poo bags that I hung around the dog park.
Usually, people hang bags of their used grocery bags on the fence at the park. People wind up using them as garbage bags, discarding full poo bags, cigarette butts, cans, bottles, you name it. They are open at the top, so rain falls in them. So stinking your hand into one of these bags is a serious risk, at least to your sensibilities.
They are simple to make. Take an empty gallon waster jug and cut a hole in the front of the bottom big enough to stick your hand in. The bags are stuffed in this hole. They will not fall out. You just reach in and gab one when you need it.
I don’t understand why, but everyone assumes that you remove the cap and pull bags out of the top. So I super-glue my caps on, write instructions, then wrap it with tape. The tape doesn’t really do anything except reinforce the idea that you aren’t supposed to remove the cap.
Then I add instructions. to the front. Like I said, idiot-proof.
I hang them on the fence using zip-ties or string through the handle. Easy-peasy. The park maintenance guy assigned to Mount Airy forest Dog Park really likes them and they get a lot of use. Some people even load them up for me.
I am now experimenting with decorating them. This is difficult since very little sticks to the plastic for long. I will let you know if I am successful.
This is a photo of two dogs experiencing the joys of canine friendship. Wiley (the one with the teeth), is in a tussle with the love of his life, Jessie. The better two dogs know and like each other, the harder they play, to the point where it’s difficult for someone who isn’t familiar with the dogs to know it’s not an attack.
If an unfamiliar dog approached Wiley or Jessie with the same level of intense play, chances are, a fight would break out. It’s not that different with humans. Close friends may insult us freely in jest. Strangers had better not.
Just like people, some dogs have better manners than others. When you are in an environment with strange dogs, it’s up to you to be aware of your dog’s tendencies and police their behavior or protect them when needed.
In the case of play between dogs, watch for signs that your dog or the other dog is being overwhelmed. Hunched posture, tucked tail, running away, are all indicators that a dog feels intimidated. If your dog or the other dog is displaying anxiety, it’s a good idea to separate the dogs. If the anxious dog opts to return to the tussle, you can assume they are just working out some jitters. You will sometimes see this when a dog is new to a dog park.
It may take a few low key visits and some ‘time outs’ for a nervous dog to become comfortable in the park.
Exposing their belly is a sign that they are conceding dominance to the other dog, and may or may not be part of acceptable play.
Some dogs, young dogs especially, have a poor sense of boundaries and do not recognize signals from other dogs to ease up or back off. If a dog pursues a dog that is clearly trying to get away, it’s time for the owner to step in and call the dog off. If the rude dog is pursuing your dog, feel free to ask the owner to call their dog. Chances are, you’ll get a response like, “Aw, Cujo’s just playing.” In which case you can respond, “He may be, but Poopsy doesn’t like it. It’s too rough for him.”
Cujo may just be playing. But just like humans who are teased too much, Poopsy may just explode.
Note: at our park, small dogs will take shelter behind their humans or under picnic tables to get away from larger dogs in pursuit. In many instances this is part of the play. Check the small dog’s attitude. Is it sneering or cowering?
Every dog is different, and they are different with different dogs. When Shadda was a puppy, Max would drag her around the yard by the scruff of her neck or wrap her jaws around her head. Shadda allows this from Max. Any other dog who attempts to dominate her is likely to get snapped at.
Chewy has been attacked by larger dogs and gets anxious if large, strange dog gets too close to him. On the other hand, I know mastiffs that shrug off provocation. The better you know the dogs around you, the better you can anticipate problems and separate dogs before a fight happens.
Note: If you have a small dog, keep it away from larger dogs unless you are well acquainted with them. If there is a designated area for small dogs, keep your dog there. Keep small dogs close to you if there is not a designated area.
Tiny dogs are about the same size as squirrels and other prey. On very rare occasions, a small dog will stimulate a larger dog’s prey instinct, especially if the small dog is roaming about alone.
I don’t want to be alarmist, but it is important to be aware of strange dogs entering the park, and to maintain awareness of the dogs within fifty feet of yours. If you notice a strange dog “stalking” your small dog from behind, pick your dog up until you determine the nature of the dog. Play stalking is usually within eyesight of the other dog. Stalking from behind is hunting behavior.
So far, we’ve been talking about one on one behavior between dogs. That’s the safest way to have rough play. Sometimes two dogs will gang up on one in play, and it’s okay, if they know each other. But the more dogs who enter into the situation, the more likely it is that a fight will break out.
Dogs are pack animals, and as a pack they are unpredictable. It’s natural for them to congregate to watch when two dogs are tussling. If you see them crowding in and/or joining the fray, it’s time to separate the dogs before play turns into true aggression.
How often have I heard those words? Especially right before sweet, friendly Poopsy, on her first visit to the dog park, lit into one of the regular mutts?
The weather has been awesome lately. The first T-shirt weather of the year, with mornings that make you want to forget you have anything to do for the rest of the week. Far cry from last winter’s record snows.
People who would never romp outside with their dog when it’s ten degrees in the sun are now waking up with the notion that it’s a great day to go to the park. There’s an influx of newbies up at Mt. Airy Dog Park, most of whom have not been to a dog park in over six months, if ever.
Most people who own breeds with tough reputations know to be alert in a strange environment. Owners of Golden Retrievers and other family friendly dogs are often convinced their babies are harmless, regardless of how little socialization the dog has had.
Last week a pretty Golden/Sheltie mix showed up with her mom. It had words with one of our regular pups as soon as it came in the gate. My friend John suggested to this woman that the dog was not suitable for the park and brought his three dogs back to the rear of the park where a number of us were hanging out.
The stranger followed with her dog, about 15 yards behind. As soon as she got within 20 feet of our pack, her dog began milling in with the regular crew. When it got to the center of the pack, it went after a grey hound, then after Penny again. Whereupon John waded in, grabbed the offender by the haunches and lifted up its hind end (SOP for ending dog fights).
The dog ceased attacking Penny and bit John several times instead while her owner stood there and did nothing. The dog was wearing a pinch collar. Pinch collars are not a substitute for a regular dog collar. You can’t grab a pinch collar, so no one could haul the dog off John. Most of us were consumed with keeping our dogs out of the fray and could not help.
John had many unkind things to say to the newcomer, which I will not repeat. I will say he was loud and his face was purple.
It doesn’t matter who your dog is. If you go to a dog park, there is a good chance your dog will get into a fight at least once.
Sometimes a dog just doesn’t have the temperament for social behavior. Sometimes two dogs that get along well with everyone else, despise each other for inexplicable reasons. Mostly it is a result of owner ignorance of canine behavior and can be prevented.
Chances are I’m preaching to the choir. but I’m going to tell you what I know about preventing dog fights anyway.
First things first. If you nave never been to a dog park before, consider your dog’s level of socialization with other dogs. How does it act when you meet other dogs on a walk? Does it ever have dog visitors or play dates? How does it respond to other animals at the vet? The less exposure your dog has to other dogs, the more careful you need to be.
What is your dog’s temperament? Is it ever food aggressive? Does it challenge you, or is it submissive? The best dog for dog park visits is somewhere in the middle: not a bully, and also not likely to be threatened by overtures from other dogs.
If you dog tends to bully other dogs, it may not be suitable for dog park visits. Fearful dogs can be socialized, but it’s best to go slow.
If you pull into the dog park and you see 50 cars in the lot, perhaps save your first visit for another day or a quieter time. There are too many unknowns when there is huge crowd.
Do not make your first visit when you get home from work. Most of the dogs at the park after work have been cooped up all day long, and they are wound up. Meanwhile, their owners are exhausted and perhaps less alert.
Early in the morning is a better bet (that’s when I go). People who tend to their dogs before breakfast are generally knowledgeable owners. Many are older and have older, more settled dogs. And the park is likely to be emptier.
Whenever you approach a dog park, watch the dogs who come up to the fence carefully. Are they making bright, happy yips and bouncing? Are they trash talking? Or are they menacing and throwing themselves at the fence? Dogs love mock battles. Learn the difference between “Yo’ Mama” and “I’m going to rip your lungs out and eat them.” If you’re not sure, ask the owner.
The most opportune place for a fight is at the gate. Dogs are territorial, and may see the park as their domain with the gate as the portal. Dogs think it’s their duty to guard portals if they are anywhere nearby. Guarding may just mean standing on the other side of the gate and sniffing the new guy when he comes in. Or it can involve the aforementioned lung-ripping.
For this reason, I like to hang out in the rear of the park. It reduces guarding behavior. If you are in the corral, and a dog inside the gate is menacing, do not hesitate to call the owner and ask them to remove their dog from the gate so you won’t have any problems when you enter.
If there’s a crowd of dogs just inside the gate, go around the pack, not through it. Dogs that frequent the park will form packs. Pack behavior is more volatile than one-on-one behavior with dogs.
You may see a crowd of happy, friendly dogs hanging out and think, “Oh, good, lots of pups for my little Fido to play with.”
DO NOT APPROACH A DOG PACK.
I can’t stress this strongly enough. Fido is likely to stick close to you, at least until he feels comfortable. If you approach a group of people (who are incidentally surrounded by their dogs), he will go with you and may feel obligated to check them out for your protection, no matter how uncomfortable he is. It’s the equivalent to walking into a biker bar on Saturday night. Anything can happen.
Walk around the park with Fido in areas where there are no dogs, or single dogs with their owners and let him get his bearings. Let him meet new dogs one-on-one. After he’s used to being there and is familiar with some of the dogs, he is going to be more comfortable around a group of the same dogs, and they will be more likely to accept him into the pack.
Let your dog proceed at a speed he is comfortable with. Don’t try to force him to meet dogs if he is uncomfortable. If he displays aggressive behavior (not play fighting), remove him immediately.
Some dogs with dominance issues will attempt to hump every dog in sight. Some dogs will accept this behavior and some dogs go ballistic. Some dogs are possessive with balls and toys, some are food aggressive (the reason food and treats are banned in many dog parks). Get to know the temperaments of the dogs around you.
My Shadda only lets Max dominate her. If anyone else tries to mount her, she gets snappish. If a new pup is bouncing all over her, she will sometimes start a low growl that tells me she’s upset. I’ll try to shoo the other dog off and keep it away from her. Meanwhile, the owner of the big, friendly lug is waving it off, saying “Oh, he’s just a big baby, he’s really friendly.” Meanwhile, I’m desperately trying to keep a fight from breaking out because the “friendly” dog ignores boundary signals.
When a bouncy dog with dominant tendencies runs up to a strange dog, you have no clue how the other dog is going to react. If the other dog has been previously attacked, it will feel threatened and act accordingly. If the owner is freaking out over your big, friendly lunk, they may not be afraid of your dog. They may be responding to the level of anxiety their own dog is feeling.
Never disregard another owner who is trying to keep their dog away from your dog. They know something you don’t. Never disregard your dog’s signals. If they are uncomfortable, remove them to another part of the park.
The “sweet” Golden mix that attacked Penny was probably very nervous when it walked into the pack. While we didn’t see exactly what happened, it is likely that “Goldie” was on edge when the Greyhound, a known butt sniffer, checked her out. Similar to getting bumped in the previously mentioned biker bar, it set off a chain reaction.
Goldie probably would have been just fine if the Greyhound had sniffed her out without the crowd around. Or maybe not. But it would have been easier to intervene without a dozen other dogs around.