A number of years ago, I attended a workshop given by Dean Wesley Smith–a two-part session at the Surrey International Writers Conference. It was incredibly inspiring, and in many ways it was truly a game-changer for me.
But, while his talk gave me a number of things to aspire to, it also highlighted the differences between our respective experience and situations, demonstrating several points at which I would need to diverge from the methods he used on his path to success.
If you’ve visited his fabulous blog, you’ll know that DWS is very persuasive–and he’s even more so in person. His presence is friendly, humorous, accessible and in all immensely personable.
What inspired me:
–the idea that if you keep writing and keep working at honing your craft, working your prose, story after story, you’ll get better, and will eventually be good enough to get published (this was before the rise of the self-publishing movement of the last couple of years, so we’re talking published with journals, magazines and book publishers).
–his talk of not rewriting, and of continuously improving, prompted me to change my approach writing. I didn’t mind planning and preparation. But I knew I disliked rewriting and editing. During the workshop, the dawning realization came upon me, that in writing a draft, and then rewriting and reworking it until it felt “right”, I was developing my skills at editing and reworking, instead of getting better and writing clean[er] first drafts that needed minimal cleanups. I didn’t want that–I wanted to write a better first draft. This prompted me to change my paradigm. I now plan in far greater detail, working out character and arcs ahead of time, so that when I start writing, the draft that emerges is far cleaner and tighter. The scenes have more purpose and don’t meander as I try to figure out what everyone is talking about, and why. The result? I actually don’t mind edits as much, because they’re far less onerous than they used to be.
–the notion that it’s about getting your work out there, under consideration by editors, etc., instead of trying to create and craft the perfect, ideal book that has been exhaustively reworked a multitude of times (some would disagree with this, and that’s fine. It’s a divergence of aesthetics. I’m a genre gal, who aspires to solid prose, but nothing groundbreaking). I would add that for me it’s about putting out the best thing I can manage at the time that I worked on it, and fixing any problems I know about re character or plot. But, problems discovered after the work is “completed” must be left. That’s my particular threshold, however–everyone has a different dividing line on this.
—promoting will make you good at promoting. And writing will make you good at writing. Don’t get carried away by the former, to the detriment of the latter.
Even then, however, his discussion of 1) prodigious output and 2) not doing rewrites raised flags for me.
During his talk, it became clear that we are in different leagues when it comes to output. Period. DWS is an extraordinarily fast writer. If I haven’t managed to get there by now, I’m unlikely to ever do so. So, any plan that is contingent upon extraordinarily voluminous output must be adjusted accordingly. I can usually manage about a book a year, when I’m not in law school or otherwise occupied by life. This I know.
Similarly, while his talk about not rewriting did inspire me to try to minimize the amount of rewriting I need (often abandoning flawed books, or writing them from the ground up a second time, if I liked the premise but felt the execution required extensive reworking–in order to teach myself to write as clean a first draft as possible, story-wise). But, I still find I need to do some reworking. Much less than before, if I’ve planned ahead, but without those rewrites, I feel as though I’m not doing right by my story. The final book may be flawed in ways I hadn’t noticed when I was working on it (and once it’s out, that’s where I draw the line, because otherwise you fall into the infinite rewrites trap), but I feel as though putting out a story that I know has flaws that I haven’t addressed just isn’t doing right by the characters and the tale. And since I usually like my characters, I feel I have to do right by them insofar as I can (this is different than being kind to them. I’m usually not very kind to my characters, I must admit).
These days, I notice he’s saying “don’t promote”–something along the lines of “if you build it, they will come”. This may be somewhat true. I’m surprised that anyone has managed to find my little cluster of romances on the vast and Alexandrian repository that is Amazon.com’s kindle store.
But, to really grow your sales, beyond the occasional one here and there, I believe that you have to promote. You have to follow up with readers who contact you, and ask if they’re willing to post a review. You have to blog, and have a presence in social media, so people can find you (and find your books). You basically have to create as many paths as possible to access the destination that is your books. The majority of people won’t take those paths. You’ll just chat with them, and in the process, meet fabulous people and make some great new friends (really–what could be better?! It’s win-win!).
So, to clarify: Dean Wesley Smith might not need to promote. Between his output and his current following, I suspect he does very well without promotion. He already has many paths via which people can find him and can access his work. But frankly, most people don’t know me from Adam. And so, I do need to promote. I need to build the brand and the presence that is Kathryn Anthony, on the interwebz (and beyond), such that people will start associating a certain type of book–or cluster of types of books–with me as an author. ‘Nuff said.