by Jeanette O'Hagan
Way back in 2012, when I launched back into my writing dreams, I was introduced to the 'Snowflake Man Randy Ingermanson. Randy developed a nonlinear system of plot development - the Snowflake method - but that's a post for another day (you can find out about it here). He suggested three things are needed to get published - Content, Craft and Connections
'What you know'. Randy says everyone has content that is unique to them. It might be your life experiences or story, or a skill or professional expertise, or it could be your imagination. No matter if you write fiction or non-fiction - who you are, your story, your personality, your life and your imagination will infuse your writing so that it is uniquely yours.
Even so, it's important to refine and test your content. Make sure you have a story worth telling in a way that's compelling and impactful.
Knowing what you want to write is important, but so is knowing how to tell it. There's a joke about someone on a tour of (let's say) an aged care home. The director takes the guest to the recreation room where a group have gathered. One old woman shouts out 23 and the whole group falls about laughing. A man says 12 and by this time the group is in stitches. The guest turns to the director and asks for an explanation. The director says, 'This group have been together so long, they know each other's jokes, so they've assigned numbers to them to save time. A few more call out numbers, much to the merriment of the group, until a man stands up and mumbles, '34'. Dead silence - not a chuckle, not a snicker, not a smile. The guest turns to the director mystified. 'What happened there?' The director shakes her head, 'Ah, Sam could never tell a joke. He always gets the delivery wrong.'
It's not quite enough to have a good story, we also need to know how to tell it. That is the craft - learning the techniques, the strategies, the rules of writing. It includes knowing reader expectations and being aware of changes over time. If as writers, we want our stories to be noticed we need to hone the skills of the craft.
The next C is connections. This, I think works on a few levels. Randy mentions going to conferences to make connections with agents and publishers. Not that this is an invitation to stalk or hound or to button hole. Make genuine connections.
I think connections can be much wider than that and include being part of the writer community - encouraging and supporting each other. Other writers are not the opposition. Rather, we are stronger if we support each other through many and diverse ways - maybe providing constructive feedback in critique groups or as beta-readers, buying, reading and reviewing other authors' books (especially those who write in a similar genre or area) or maybe through encouragement and prayer.
And the other important group to connect with are readers and fans.
But it's not quite as simple as that in my experience. I would add three Ps and a U.
Add in the P's
If we plant a young mango tree today, we would be mad to expect it to provide us with a bumper crop tomorrow. Fruit trees take time to grow and often don't fruit at all for the first several years. Most authors do not experience instant results. So one of the most important tools in a writers' toolbox is patience. Allowing time for things to happen. it takes time to write a book - and then to rewrite it, to prune and polish it. It generally takes time to publish (whether traditionally or as an Indie). And it takes time to build an audience - and generally it takes more than one book. And the hardest thing is being patient when nothing seems to be happening, no one seems to be taking notice.
Being an author is not for the faint-hearted. It requires hard work. It can be a rollercoaster ride of excitement (typing 'The End' for the first time, holding the first book in our hands, reading a glowing review, the first royalty payment, having a bunch of sales, having a fan come back to buy the next book, winning a prize) but it is also packed with times of disappointment (getting negative feedback, receiving the umpteenth rejection letter - or no letter at all, having sales drop or getting no sales at all, discovering a scathing one star review, having hardly anyone buy your latest book, and 'crickets' - the long periods of silence). And there are so many things to juggle, so many things to spend money on for, often, so little (monetary) return. Moreover, there's a lot of trial and error - of working out what works for you and your books among the multitude of options and possibilities
If you see a successful author (however you define success) you see an author who persisted despite the setbacks and disappointments.
And as Christian writers, we should add prayer. Why do we write? What is our motivation? Whatever we do, we should do to honour our Lord. And in whatever we do, we should seek His guidance, His wisdom, and His provision. In the fallow times, when nothing seems to be happening, we can and should trust Him, rest on Him, wait for Him to do His work through us. And maybe, that's the hardest lesson of all.
Then there's the U
What does U stand for? Unlimited? Unexpected? Unequalled? Ultimate? Unerring?
It stands for YOU.
Yes, you. You have a unique story or stories to tell - even if it's the 1000th retelling of Beauty and the Beast - or Pride and Prejudice - you can put your own imprint on it, if told well.
But it's more than that, because in the end, the buck stops with U. No one else is responsible for your story. The world does not owe you a reading of your book, no matter how hard you worked on it.
There's that saying 'If you build it, they will come.' (From the movie Field of Dreams). But just because you wrote a book, even a book the Lord has called you to write, doesn't mean you can stand in the field and wait for people to discover it. Don't stand around asking what others can do for you - rather, be proactive and consider what you can do, what you need to do to bring your dream and calling to fruition.
Trust in God does not mean quiescence, standing still and doing nothing. It may mean waiting in active faith but it also means stepping out of the boat in the middle of the storm and walking on the waves.
Omega Writers Book Fair & the Omega Writers Conference
There are two upcoming opportunities - the Brisbane Omega Writers Book Fair (31 July) and the Omega Writers Conference and CALEB dinner (October) - opportunities to meet with other Christian writers, to learn from others and - with the Book Fair - to connect with readers and, perhaps, sell some books. Even if your book is unpublished, it's still worth coming to the Book Fair to connect with other writers, to do the workshop or panel - and maybe to win a prize. Mark the dates in your diaries and - if you can - please come.
It's one thing to write the book, another to get it published and a whole new level to make it visible. It's a steep learning curve and can often feel overwhelming but there is nothing better than connecting with enthusiastic readers.
She will be one of the panellists on Marketing and Promotion for Writers at the Omega Writers Book Fair, along with Sally Eberhardt and Lynne Stringer and moderated by Nola Passmore. 11:30-12:15 am, Saturday 31 July 2021. Find out more here.