I am honored to be able to share this next guest blog post with you all. Writer Greg Josselyn from Reedsy has reached out with a brand new post on the Blurb Factor to share with aspiring authors and writers out there. Enjoy and be sure to follow Greg’s work on Reedsy.
From botched to bestselling
When romance writer Alessandra Torre uploaded her first book on Amazon eight years ago, she only sold three on the first day. And for the next few months, she averaged a still-disappointing 15 – until one night, she looked at her book description and said: “I’m going to re-write this.”
That re-write sparked a renaissance. First, it was 100 books sold in one day. Then 300. Then 2,000. That’s when she started ranking as a top seller in the Romance category, and offers from agents and publishers came flooding in. Now, Torre is an Amazon International bestselling novelist, with over a dozen books to her name.
We can’t pin Torre’s success entirely on a book blurb – she is a good writer, after all! But we would be remiss not to poke around the subject, especially since this is a great Amazon self-publishing success story. The fact is, without the social credit and marketing budget of a big publishing house, the seemingly small things we usually save for last – like book descriptions – will make or break you.
If you’re a writer who’s planning to self-publish, this post will help improve your book description (or back cover text) and grow your profitability on Amazon. But even if you aren’t quite at that stage yet, you can apply these techniques to query letters and pitches for your book. After all, it’s never too early to start selling people on your ideas.
Step 1: Get a hook and bait
Hook, hook, hook. That seems to be all writers and editors ever talk about, and yet, most of us still wonder what it really means. When we say “hook”, we mean like a fish hook, with – you you guessed it – bait. This is particularly important in the sea of distractions that is Amazon.com. But what are the raw materials that will make up your hook and bait? You’ll require:
A brief – we cannot stress this enough – summary of the story (no spoilers, please!)
A question that the story poses (which, of course, makes the reader want to find the answer so much that they’re willing to pay $9.99 for it). What’s going to compel Suzie So-And-So to forgo her mocha lattes this week for your book?
A little typography dress-up. You don’t have to go to coding boot camp to try on bolds, italics, and colors when setting up your product page. For example, on Amazon, you can:
Make things bold: <b>Be Bold My Friend, Be Bold</b>
Italicize Things <i>don’t go overboard though here because sometimes readers breeze over italics </i>
Headline: <h1>This is a classier way to do all caps</h1>
Amazon Colors: <h2>Jeff Bezos will approve.</h2>
Indent: <blockquote>for anyone who likes a good old indent, you’re welcome. </blockquote>
Step 2: Blurb it out
Try to think of your book description in the most succinct terms possible. This isn’t a school book report; it’s like more like an elevator pitch. In other words, don’t blurt it out – blurb it out!
And when it comes to blurbs, our friend Torre is the master. If she didn’t revise the blurb for her first book, she may have switched careers instead of rising to the New York Times best seller list, which is why we always refer aspiring writers to her video tips on the subject. But in brief, she stresses these two essential facts:
The first three sentences of the blurb matter most. It’s like a teaser trailer – after those three sentences, users are going to have to click “Read More” to well, read more. To keep them scrolling, or get them to move onto the “full trailer,” as it were, those three sentences should stand out by utilizing the problem/question structure mentioned above.
One strong way to do that is to employ the classic proposition “but.” For example: “Will Byers lived a normal life in a boring suburban town. But when a mysterious alien creature shows up, his life turns upside down. Will it ever turn right side up again?” (Read More…)
Leave out unnecessary details. All too often, authors use their blurbs to share irrelevant details like character surnames, where they live, their professions, or other excess exposition to no end. Cut all of that out – just set up the problem and the stakes of the story. You can always go full-on Charles Dickens in the actual book. But don’t make your blurb into Bleak House, or you’ll send readers running for the hills.
Step 3: Demonstrate (and prove!) a social benefit
You’ve done it all so far: The blurb is short enough for a social media share. Your first three sentences set up a key question and further dilemma. You’ve omitted unnecessary details, like your character’s middle name or their township’s population.
And yet, potential readers are still scrolling to click on other book titles in your category. Yes, it could be other factors like book cover design and reviews, but still – there’s one last ingredient needed to seal the deal on your blurb. This is, of course, why the book matters to the potential buyer. What does your book provide for them? How will it make an impact on their life? Advertisements do it all the time, so why not utilize this technique to sell your book?
For example, if your book is self-help, be sure to mention that they’ll never think the same way about X problem ever again. Or if it’s fiction, show how your main character is relatable to readers, and how they overcome problems that many of us experience in our own lives.
If you have reviews or testimonials to prove this, even better: up the social proof to the max. And if you’re new to self-publishing, drawing comparisons to pre-existing works is one great way to do it (e.g. “This Gender Bending Historial Fantasy is Games of Thrones meets Queer Eye), or just stress how it’ll change the reader’s way of looking at the world (“fantasy fans and fashionistas will never be the same again…”).
In order to make a successful book blurb, be sure to include:
An enticing lead to grab readers
A question that a reader can only answer by actually reading your book
Proof that the story will benefit the reader’s life – this might be pure entertainment, or genuine self-improvement
There are endless ways to play around with these elements. Try out different options – at least three – and test them with friends and family, as well as pro beta readers. Ask: which description pulls you in? Which one doesn’t do it for you? And why? Or, do an A/B test in Amazon: swap out the different descriptions and see which one performs the best.
Still no sales? Keep re-writing and testing until you do, like Alessandra Torre. Otherwise, accept that the marketplace just may not be ready for this particular book, and start re-examining your content from the ground up.
Greg Josselyn is a writer for Reedsy, a curated marketplace dedicated to empowering authors. When he’s not covering KDP Select, he writes short fiction and makes podcasts.
Hey everyone, Author Anthony Avina here. I’m honored today to be sharing with you this guest blog post from author Madeline Sharples, author of the recently reviewed book, Papa’s Shoes, in association with Women on Writing Tours. I hope you all will enjoy it and please make sure to comment on this post and share it as well. Enjoy everyone.
I didn’t think I had another book in me after I finished my novel, Papa’s Shoes. Writing that took a long time even though I didn’t work on it straight through all those nine years. But when I had finished the tenth revision, I felt my book writing days were over.
However, I started to get itchy to write something else when I started querying publishers – exactly what I did in 2010. I started my novel while I was querying publishers for my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On.
I took one look in the mirror and realized from my aging face that I’m at that stage in my life when I have almost all of it to look back on. I just turned seventy-nine, and my mirror told me I looked it.
So I thought I could write a memoir from an old wise woman’s approach to turning eighty. I could write about the secrets of staying married to the same man for forty-nine years and living in the same house for forty years. Really where have all those years gone? And really that brings up another big question – how much time do my husband and I have left anyway, and what are we doing to prepare for our last years? Or better yet, how we’re handling our lives right now as we age – each at a different paces. Yes, I decided another memoir or even two are a real possibility. The options are endless: how we’re still working at surviving the loss of our son in 1999, what we eat, how we sleep, my health and exercise program, about our travels, and what do we do all day at our age.
Another thing that triggered my decision to write this new memoir is the many people my age who are sick or have died. Just yesterday I heard about the death of a wonderful work colleague and friend much younger than me who died of a massive heart attack. With those facts in mind I decided to bring aging healthy into the book. I am very fit for my age. I workout every day and eat healthy. Why couldn’t I write a memoir about aging healthy?
I hope readers will take a good look at themselves and what they are doing to live the rest of their lives successfully. I hope they will take my examples about what to do and what not to do as I age seriously. For example, I recently spent a few days with my cousin who is four years younger than I. She is out of shape and doesn’t eat very healthy. But while I was with her we took long, fast walks every day, and she’s still taking them even though I’m not with her. She says I was an inspiration to her. I hope to be an inspiration to all my readers.
I also have to contend with the hardest parts to write: 1) the lasting effects of our older son’s suicide death in 1999, 2) my married son and daughter-in-law’s decision to live a married life without children, and 3) some regrets about decisions I’ve made over the years. I know all of us have life experiences that are hard to write and talk about. We also have regrets. Hopefully my writing about these things will engage my readers in thinking how they’ve lived their own lives and what they can improve on for their futures.
So far, I’ve written the first draft to this brief outline:
What stage of life I am in right now
A little looking back – maybe incorporate my reunion experiences of seeing old classmates and being in the neighborhoods where I grew up
What I see when I look in the mirror
My daily routine
What I do to take care of myself
How much I like my privacy and alone time
My physical maladies
My emotional life
My depression and suicidal thoughts
I say I’m a writer, but what do I really write
My writing routine
My volunteer life: South Bay Cares and WriteGirl
My married life
How my son’s death affects my life now
What about no grandchildren – how has that affected my relationship with my son and daughter-in-law
How I spend my time
Friends and relatives – how much I back away
What I see for the future
What’s next on my bucket list
End of life directives
My beliefs or lack thereof of an afterlife, and my lack of a spiritual life
What advice I give to those heading my way
How I feel about turning eighty and repairing for my imminent
About the Book:
Papa’s Shoes, a work of fiction about immigration with a feminist and historical bent. At 99,968 words, Papa’s Shoesis a stand-alone novel with series potential.
Ira Schuman is determined to move his family out of their Polish shtetl to the hope and opportunities he’s heard about in America. But along the way he faces the death of three of his four sons, a wife who does not have the same aspirations as his, and the birth of a daughter, Ava, conceived to make up for the loss of his boys. Ava grows up to be smart, beautiful, and very independent.
Besides having a feisty relationship with her overly-protective mother, Ava falls for the college man who directs her high school senior class play. With the news that she wants to marry a non-Jewish man, Ira realizes that his plan to assimilate in the new world has backfired. Should the young couple marry, he must decide whether to banish his daughter from his family or welcome them with open arms. Even though he won’t attend their wedding, he makes her a pair a wedding shoes. In his mind, theshoes are simply a gift, not a peace offering.
· Print Length: 286 pages
· Publisher: Aberdeen Bay (April 27, 2019)
· Publication Date: April 27, 2019
· ASIN: B07R7MQ6CM
“From an insightful storyteller, Papa’s Shoes, is a heartwarming story of courage and love. Author Madeline Sharples has created an epic journey with intriguing twists and surprises along the way. From days of old in Poland to cultural and economic realities in America, this is an awe-inspiring novel about families, generational history, and the incredible power of change. You truly won’t want to put it down!”
—D.A. Hickman, author of Ancients of the Earth: Poems of Time
“Author Madeline Sharples tells the intimate story of an American family, of immigration, tragedy, renewal, and love with grace and the delicate touch of a poet. There’s a raw kind of sweetness in this rich and epic saga.”
—David W. Berner, author of The Consequence of Stars and A Well-Respected Man
“An immigrant family’s braided history – its conflicts, losses, and secrets – come to life in Papa’s Shoes. With loving attention to detail, Madeline Sharples transports readers from a Polish shtetl to the Illinois town where Ira and Ruth settle, and shows us the intimate workings of their
marriage. This family’s triumphant journey to the American Midwest will inspire you long after
you’ve closed these pages.”
—Eleanor Vincent, author of Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story
A longer synopsis
On a cold and pouring night in Sokolow Poland, Ira Schuman carefully steps over the red mud puddles on the streets, sad, weary, and soaked. He dreads what he’ll find when he arrives at his two-room house in the Jewish section of the stetl. He envisions his mourning wife, Ruth, angry he wasn’t home when three of their four boys died during a flu epidemic.
As he enters the silence in what was once a home full of the loud voices and cries of little boys is deafening. However, he can’t wait to embrace Ruth, comfort her despite his own grief, and tell his surviving son about his love for America.
Ira’s goal is to become Americanized and bring what’s left of his family to a small town in Illinois, when he has enough money and an established business. Ruth doesn’t want to leave Poland and the graves of their three dead sons.
After their initial cold and difficult reunion, Ira keeps his promise to impregnate Ruth before he goes back to Illinois. Three years later he sends her the money to follow him to Illinois with their son age 10 and little girl, Ava, age three. Ruth agrees to leave Poland because of fears that the Russian army will recruit her son.
After a short stay in Chicago, the family moves to Danville IL, where Ira joins his brother in their shoe-making business. Though free of his long hair, beard and forelocks, and wearing modern clothes without the four-cornered yarmulke he threw into the Atlantic Ocean, Ira wants to bring a semblance of Orthodox Jewish life to his family and his new town. He creates a synagogue, hires a rabbi, and arranges the delivery of kosher meats. He also begins an affair with a chubby but curvy redheaded widow. Ruth, who smothers Ava and tries to keep her a little girl, has grown fatter and more unkempt, always wearing the same tight-fitting black dress she wore in Sokolow. She wants no part of Ira’s synagogue work.
Ruth keeps her hold on Ava, antagonizing her daughter. They argue continuously throughout Ava’s school years. Ava gets the lead in her senior high school play, and she and the director, a student at the local college, strike up a relationship – she tells her parents they are just friends when he picks her up to take her to school events.
Her brother, in law school in Chicago at nights and working in the textile business during the day, comes home and warns his parents that if they don’t move her away from this gentile, he will take her to Chicago himself. Ira agrees to let Ava go; Ruth does not. In the end her brother’s argument wins. Ava, ever respectful of her parents and out of her love for her brother, tells her director friend that she must leave. They are devastated but stay away from each other until the day before her departure.
In Chicago, Ava’s brother introduces her to a suitable man. He’s a bit of a milk toast, messy, and not very motivated in school or business, but he’s nice and attentive so she goes out with him for quite some time. Her rationale is that dating him will protect her from meeting someone she could actually fall for. She also experiences the modern ways of young women in the 1920s. She goes to dance halls and speakeasies, speaks flap talk, works as a seamstress, designs her own short and swingy dresses, and lives freely away from her mother. Her suitor proposes, but Ava says, “What a pretty little ring,” instead of yes.
After continued pleas from her director friend and her still undying love for him, Ava returns to Danville as a mature and determined young woman. She withstands a blow-up with her parents when she tells them she wants to marry her gentile friend. Ira throws her out. That night he goes to the synagogue to say the mourner’s kadish for his daughter but decides to break up with the red-headed widow and mourn his relationship with her instead. To assuage his guilt, he makes her a pair of shoes that she wears at her wedding.
While Ava is sad not to have her family with her at her wedding, she is hopeful that her mother and father will come around. Her biggest fear is that she will never see her brother again, the man she loved and looked up to all her growing up years. However, she is happy with her decision to marry her love no matter how they feel.
About the Author
Madeline also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1, 2 and 3, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems have also appeared online and in print magazines, e.g., in the 2016 Porter Gulch Review, Yellow Chair’s In the Words of Womyn 2016 anthology, Story Circle Network’s journals and anthologies, the Best of Poetry Salon 2013-2018, and the Vine Leaves Literary Journal: a Collection of Vignettes from Across the Globe, 2017. And her articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, Naturally Savvy, Aging Bodies, PsychAlive, Story Circle Network’s HerStories and One Woman’s Day blogs, and the Memoir Network blog. One of Madeline’s essays has also appeared in the My Gutsy Story Anthology by Sonia Marsh.
Madeline also co-edited Volumes 1 and 2 of The Great American Poetry Show, a poetry anthology, and wrote the poems for two books of photography, The Emerging Goddess and. Besides having many poems published in print and online magazines, writes regularly for Naturally Savvy, and occasionally for PsychAlive, Open to Hope,and Journeys Through Grief and The Huffington Post.
Lisa Haselton interviews well known author and memoirist Madeline Sharples about her latest novel “Papa’s Shoes” – the story of a Polish shoemaker and his family as they settle in America. This insightful interview is one you won’t want to miss!
Beverley A. Baird shares her thoughts after reading the touching story of a Polish shoemaker and his family as they settle in America – “Papa’sShoes” by Madeline Sharples is a book that is sure to please readers!
Today’s guest author at Words from the Heart with Linda Neas is none other than well-known author and memoirist Madeline Sharples. Today, her guest post is titled “How I reinvented myself from a technical writer and editor to a creative writer – and at my
age.” Heart from Madeline and learn more about her latest novel “Papa’s Shoes”!
Last week, readers at Words from the Heart with Linda Neas read a guest post penned by Author Madeline Sharples and today, Linda will share her review of Madeline’s latest novel “Papa’s Shoes”. This is a blog stop you won’t want to bypass!
Fellow author and memoirist Linda Appleman Shapiro shares her review of “Papa’s Shoes” by Madeline Sharples. Don’t miss Linda’s insight into this touching story of one Polish shoemaker and his family as they move to America!
Nicole Pyles reviews the latest best selling novel “Papa’s Shoes” by Madeline Sharples – readers will delight to hear what Nicole thinks of this crowd pleasing story of one Polish shoemaker and his family!
Author Anthony Avina here. How is everyone today? I’m here to introduce this amazing guest blog post from writer Emmanuel Nataf on the five mistakes authors make on their first time writing books. I hope you guys will enjoy this amazing article and be sure to follow Emmanuel on all of his writing adventures!
Aristotle wrote, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” In other words, there’s literally no way to learn certain things other than by actually doing them — and writing a book is one such thing.
That being said, aspiring authors can definitely prepare themselves for the process of writing a book by learning from others. With that in mind, here are five common mistakes first-time authors make — and how to avoid them!
If your preferred method of writing is to let your pen lead the way, then you’re probably a big fan of freewriting — which is a great exercise! But, in general, setting out to write a book without creating at least a loose outline tends to result in an ever-growing pile of unfinished manuscripts.
Just like you would consult a map to help you drive from Point A to Point B in unfamiliar territory, creating an outline before you start writing a book can help you get from “Once upon a time” to “Happily ever after.” Simply check your outline any time you feel you’re starting to lose the plot.
Here are three popular outline methods you can try out:
The Beat Sheet — makes note of just the book’s significant beats (important incidents in the story). Check out an example of Toy Story 3 mapped out by just it’s beats here.
The Character Driven Outline — maps out a story through character development.
The Synopsis — a detailed and holistic story outline that touches on all important story aspects: characters, conflicts, themes, etc.
2. Not getting to know their characters well enough
If you were to go on an extended trip with someone you barely know, chances are that conflicts of personality or unexpected challenges would come up. However, if you were to travel at length with someone you know well, you would already have an idea of how to navigate any potential conflicts, and would likely find your journey a bit smoother.
Writing a novel is like going on a trip with your main character(s). You’re going to be spending long hours with this character, exploring unfamiliar territory together, and basically relying on one another for a meaningful outcome. So before you set out on the journey of writing a book, get to know your protagonists as much as possible.
If you’re writing a science fiction novel, chances are you’ve probably read Frankenstein, The Time Machine, and other sci-fi classics. It’s unlikely that someone who’s never read a single fantasy novel will suddenly decide to write a book involving an intricate magical system.
That being said, there’s a difference between reading for pleasure vs. to understand a genre.
If you’re planning to write genre fiction, pick up some classics as well as some newer publications before you begin. Read them with a discerning eye, looking for tropes that pop up again and again, new elements that the books bring to the table, and trends that have come and gone within the genre. This will help you get a sense of readers’ expectations, how to ensure your book stands out, and whether your story feels timely.
4. Not devoting enough time to developmental editing
While every writer knows the importance of meticulous proofreading, it can be tempting to rush the stage that comes before a proofread: developmental editing, which involves fine-tuning the story. It can be difficult for authors to do this themselves, as they’re often too close to the story and might not recognize things like plot holes or unclear worldbuilding. So it’s a good idea to consider working with a professional editor or beta readers.
If you do decide to do your own developmental editing, here are a few questions to keep in mind as you edit:
Language: Are there any words frequently repeated throughout the manuscript? Are there too many instances of passive voice? Are there filler words that can be removed?
Characters: Does the development of the character match the development of the narrative? Are there any instances where a character acts inconsistently?
Structure: Does the sequence of the scenes feel logical? Is the structure easy for readers to follow? Does the structure of the scenes allow the story to develop in the best way? Are there any scenes that aren’t completely necessary to the story?
Plot: Are there any plot holes? Are there any plotlines that are unresolved?
5. Not following the golden rule: show, don’t tell
This is one of those “rules of storytelling” you hear so often, it’s hard not to roll your eyes when it comes up. And while there’s nothing that encourages you to break the rules quite like art, there are certain tricks of the trade that are long-standing for a reason. “Show, don’t tell” is one of them.
But what does it actually mean? Well, showing instead of telling aims to immerse readers in a story by putting us in the character’s shoes. Instead of saying “Joe was shy,” we see Joe off to the side at a group event, nervously playing with his cufflinks, avoiding smalltalk by texting on his phone. As Anton Chekhov put it: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
While the best way to learn anything is by making mistakes — and then learning how to fix them — I hope this post will help you sidestep some of the more common ones so that you can focus on simply telling a great story.
Emmanuel Nataf is a founder at Reedsy, a marketplace and set of tools that allows authors and publishers to find top editorial, design and marketing talent. Over 4,000 books have been published using Reedsy’s services.
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I’ve always written. I remember sitting at my parent’s Underwood and typing out stories, probably about dogs, cats or spacemen. In college, I wrote for the school paper and a couple of local papers, the Berkeley Barb and the San Francisco Express-Times. In 1979, a friend asked me what I wanted to do with my life. “I want to be a writer,” I said. She said: “Write for television. That’s where the money is.”
I took her advice and cranked out a few spec scripts for TV shows I liked. One of them got the attention of the producer of Buck Rogers, and I wound up writing two episodes, which got me into The Writers’ Guild. Then the Guild went on strike, and I, with a family to support, needed work. A local company, Filmation, was looking for writers for a new cartoon show, She-Ra, Princess of Power (cartoon writers were not in the Guild). I got on staff at the show, wrote and edited a bunch, and spent the rest of my TV career writing ‘toons, along with a few non-fiction books for kids.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
This sounds like a line from a bad movie, but it came to me in a dream. I was sitting in an office with – of all people! – Mindy Kalin, who was reading a script I’d written. In my waking life, I’d never have thought of pitching to her. She put it down and turned to me: “This is pretty good. Did you write it?” My dream self was offended, and I replied: “No. I got it from the Story Store.” (it’s a writer’s jokey answer to the question, “where do you get your ideas?”). My book, once called “The Story Store” came to me. Of course pretty much everything including the title, got changed.
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I don’t think much about messages. I mostly write things I’d like to read. A reviewer pointed out a theme in Losing Normal of “screen addiction.” So let’s go with that.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
I’ve always written for kids. I am a twelve-year old boy in an old man’s body.
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
My first thought was, I’d like to ask Sophie how she could think that adoration from mind-numbed people had anything to do with ‘perfection.’ That seems pretty tongue-in-cheeky, though. I ought to have a more serious answer.
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
None of them so far. I have some Facebook friends, a few Twitter followers. But I’m lousy at it.
7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Don’t wait for ’inspiration.’ Find other writers, either IRL on online, and share your stories. Do something for your writing life every day.
8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
My current project is promoting the hell out of Losing Normal (hence this prompt reply to your questions). Books: I’ve got more stories to tell than I have time to write. KillGirl is my next one (currently 50K+ words in a 2nd draft): a teenage girl seeks revenge for the murders of her grandparents. After that, a middle-grade adventure (maybe a series), about a young boy in WW II England; and a science-fiction story about the multiverse.
Francis Moss has written and story-edited hundreds of hours of scripts on many of the top animated shows of the 90s and 00s. Beginning his television work in live-action with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, he soon starting writing cartoons on She-Ra, Princess of Power, Iron Man, Ducktales, and a four-year stint on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, writing and story-editing more episodes than you can swing a nuchaku at.
One of his TMNT scripts, “The Fifth Turtle,” was the top-rated script among all the 193 episodes in a fan poll on IGN.COM. A list of his television credits is at IMDB.COM.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I wrote some when I was a kid and teenager. My wife and I started a family early and married when we were twenty. For the next fifteen years I wrote very little. It was about working, putting food on the table, and spending time as a family. Once I established a job as a paramedic I was so sick of reading technical books that I developed a deep hunger for fiction. I wouldn’t call it a problem, but definitely an addiction. I read a lot trying to make up for lost time.
In my thirties I attended one of Chuck Palahniuk’s book launches. Lidia Yuknavitch was his guest reader. I read her book The Chronology of Water. That memoir blew me my face off. The way the tragic coupled with the humorous. The heart left on those pages. A year or two later I realized Lidia was teaching fiction classes at my local community college. With the kids getting to that age where dad (I) was way less than cool to hang with, I found I had a little extra time. The first class turned into a second. The end of the second class rolled into a weekly writing critique group for the next couple of years with some of my peers.
Writing was my outlet for all the things I saw at work, all the things I had neglected in my head throughout my life, all the emotions I’d pushed down because I didn’t want (or know how) to deal with them. Writing became my therapist. The cheapest and most fulfilling therapy I’ve ever had. I told Lidia that one day during my mid-terms conference and she didn’t laugh. She just nodded. I can, without question, point to that first fiction class with Lidia Yuknavitch as the catalyst for everything I’ve published since.
What inspired you to write your book?
It’s really just a product of continually upping the ante. The first goal was just to get a story published. Anywhere. Then to get five published. Then to get one hundred rejections. After creating and reworking a story every week or two for a number of years I had somewhere around thirty stories published in different places and a bunch of unpublished pieces. At that point I felt like I’d stopped moving forward and was moving in circles. That’s the story I tell myself.
The real story is that my writer-ly friends kept asking, “So when are you going to write a book?” And after some self-evaluation, I realized that I kind of already had.
What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Definitely the themes written on the back jacket are in there (life and death, identity and race, change and resistance to change). There are also themes that question presuppositions about family and masculinity and decision making. But hopefully readers get more out of it than I even realize I’ve put into it. And I hope they get a hold of me and tell me what they find.
I use writing as a way of sorting out what’s confounding about myself or the world or a specific idea. In a sense these stories are writing themselves while I’m trying to pull pieces of answers out of them to build a more comprehensive picture. I’m hungry for these pieces. Every time someone tells me what they’ve gotten from a story they’re given me another piece. It’s like we’re filling in this puzzle together. A puzzle with no box picture. No edge pieces.
I guess what I’m saying is that I know what these stories mean to me, but I’m more interested in hearing what somebody else sees in them. I’m so much more interested in my blind spots.
Part of what’s always drawn me to short stories is their conciseness. Everybody has time for a short story. There’s an economy to them. Every word is essential. There’s this close, tight world that you can explore these big ideas through. Short stories are sneaky like that.
Also, some of my favorite authors have great works in the genre. People like Junot Diaz, Amy Hempel, Larry Brown, Joy Williams, Scott McClanahan, Elizabeth Ellen, Roxane Gay, Denis Johnson, Mary Gaitskill, Ray Donald Pollock, Lorrie Moore, and so many more. To be able to feel or invoke such emotion from so few pages is like a magic trick. BTW if you haven’t already read Friday Black and Heads of Colored People seek them out. These collections are bringing short story to the cultural foreground.
If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
I would ask Lacey from Inner Workings what she ever saw in Uncle Timmy. Because, really, she’s better than that.
What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
As much as it pains me, I’d probably have to say Facebook has been the most connecting social media to my readership up to this point. I can link people to my blog, places to buy the book, and promote upcoming readings the easiest there. But to be honest I’m not a great social media user. I don’t get it like my kids do. I’m a little afraid of it. And probably for these reasons, even though I’ve gotten the best results from Facebook, vs. Instagram or Twitter, they’re still not good.
I was just talking to a fellow author and friend at Indies First and he was saying how the best way for indie authors to find their audience is still face-to-face, at readings and bookstores. The downside is that it’s on an individual basis and amounts to small handfuls at a time. It’s a grind and, unless you travel a lot, it’s largely regional. But it’s a start. Unless you’re getting major media or large publishing house help the personal gigs might get you the most loyal bang for your buck.
What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Read. A lot. Write. A lot. Read more than you write, and write a ton. While you’re doing that, have people that know more than you be honest with you about your writing. And understand that they’re not doing it to hurt you. Unless they are. Either way you’ll learn where you need improvement. Be thankful for them.
Find a way to love the editing process. Millionaires on Mtv’s Cribs always used to say, “This is where the magic happens,” and then open the door to their bedroom. For us writers the magic happens on the cutting room floor. Start butchering. Maybe leave a little fat for flavor. Foreplay for a well-honed piece is the Backspace button.
Once you’ve finished the feedback loop of cut up, dressed up and re-critique then send that baby out into the big bad world. While it’s out keep honing other pieces. Know that your words, experiences, and perspective matter but they might take a while to find a home. It’s really just about making the right match. Anybody on dating sites probably already knows that can take some time.
Finally, if you have the chance to take a workshop or class with an author you really respect, do it. It could prove to be an invaluable experience.
What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I’ll keep promoting Momentary Illuminations of Objects In Motion to try to give it the best shot possible, but I’m always writing new pieces. I’m always sending shorter stuff out. I’m also currently researching and plotting for my first novel. It takes place in the early to mid-1900s in a West Coast resort town that ended up slowly falling into the ocean.
Jason Arias’ stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Momentary Illumination of Objects In Motion is his first short story collection.
He has worked as a hospital patient food courier, charter bus after-event cleaner, DMV records consolidator, lithography product deliveryman, one-hour photo developer, cashier, vinyl windows warehouse worker, UPS loader, EMT, paramedic, firefighter, LYFT driver, specimen collector, and sometimes a writer.
Let me start off by saying this: I love NaNoWriMo. I’ve participated twice in the last four years, and each time I felt myself challenged, excited and creatively supercharged with each passing day. The process of writing in 30 days a full 50,000 word or more novel is exhilarating to say the least. So this post is not a knock to the event at all. In fact the event is still a very huge presence in my writing in the month of November.
However, for any authors out there who are not participating or can’t participate in the event, know that it is ok. You do not have to participate in the event to be a great writer in life or even just in the month of November. I struggled for a couple weeks on whether or not I wanted to participate in this year’s event.
Am I participating?
So many factors came into play when it came to my ultimate decision. I am working four jobs right now, all of which take up a lot of my time. In addition to this, I have responsibilities at home that take up even more time of my day, so by the time I get to the point where I have time to write, I’m either exhausted or have very little time to write, only getting a few hundred words in at most. I also have a project I am deeply committed to, but I am already at over 40,000 words. I’m not sure how many more words my project will end up taking on, but I don’t want the pressure of having to write another 50,000 just to satisfy the goal of NaNoWriMo and writing more than I really needed. Each story is unique (as many of you writers know), and should not be constrained by word counts for the sake of statistics. It usually sacrifices the story and flow of the novel overall as a result. I started coming up with an outline for a short story anthology I want to write to create a whole new project to work on, but with all of the other factors in play, the timing for NaNoWriMo 2018 just didn’t feel right.
So I decided ultimately to hold off for the year. I felt at first like I was failing to join the writing community or failing to be the best writer I could be. Then I started to ask myself: why? My day jobs consist of writing. I have a whole project I’m in the midst of working on that will include more writing. I’m neck deep into the world of writing. Why should I feel any less of a writer just because I’m not participating in the event.
There is no shame in taking your own path when it comes to writing. Whether you have an existing project, a project that doesn’t require 50,000 words or more or already is near that goal, you don’t have to commit to an event to feel like a great writer. The best advice I can give to a writer is to just be you. Write what you love, and write it on your own terms. Whether it takes you a month or ten years, don’t let anyone else tell you, (although, unless you are writing the next great novel, ten years is a bit long. Just kidding). Even I am still growing as a writer, and learning that you cannot rush the creative process or a project as a whole. To anyone participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck to you guys and I wish you well. I look forward to reading some of these projects in the future, and to interacting with you guys throughout the month as we all write alongside you. To everyone else, be you, and write on your own terms.
What do you guys think? Does this help any of you writers out there? Do any other authors have advice for anyone not participating in NaNoWriMo? Leave your comments below and be sure to share this post on your social media sites.
Check out my latest review of Firstborn by Tosca Lee here! Also grab your copy of my first two YA novellas in the Nightmare Academy series here!