Turning Whine into Gold
Why should anyone pay you for your writing?
Few aspiring authors give enough thought to answering this question. It is your key to effective marketing, yet many writers would rather skip the tough questions, whine about discoverability, and resort to gimmicks.
Yet I have never bought a novel because it came with a cupcake, a blinking pen, or a candle with a custom-designed scent inspired by one of its scenes. The novels in which I invest my time and money have inherent worth. They are stories that offer new perspective and deepen my understanding of what it means to be human. They are entertaining, engrossing, and enlightening—books I will recommend to my friends.
The marketing edge many authors seek can be found in the answer to one question: “How can I make my writing matter more?”
The following questions, answered quickly, might lead you in a useful direction.
Humans are intensely interested in this primal question: Is it a boy or a girl? And if it's not clear, or a bit of both—ooh, even more intriguing! Male and female roles are always evolving. How can you make gender matter more in your story?
This speaks to what moves you. And what moves you will move your readers.
* Part-time income
* Pain relief
* To inspire others/self
* To entertain
* To learn
* To work something through
* To educate
* Other: _____________________
This question speaks to how you define "what matters."
Different genres reveal your concerns by raising different questions. Will the hero and heroine get together? Who will win the war? How will inner conflict be resolved? Will evil be vanquished? Will your dark character ever find hope? Invest us in their concerns by showing us their deeply felt motivations and laying bare the dire consequences should they fail to meet their goals.
Characters you feel deeply about can lead you toward your true story material.
This speaks to the way the settings we choose reveal us, as authors and characters. An interesting contrast can be found between the central barroom in Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist J.R. Moehringer's memoir, The Tender Bar, and the tennis courts on which Andre Agassi plays out inner conflict in his autobiography, Open (ghost-written by Moehringer).
This is an inciting incident: the moment beyond which all changes, that raises a question for your protagonist and your reader and tips him into the story. What happened that mattered so much it rocked your world, and inspired the story only you can tell?
This speaks to a powerful point of view—the perspective of your story. Readers will relate to this perspective because at some point or another we've all felt the pain of being an outsider.
You don't have to work hard to build philosophical underpinnings into your story. They will simply be there, revealed in every decision you make. Identifying the beliefs revealed through your story, however—even after they reveal themselves to you in the first draft—will help you make the most of them.
10. Think of a story you like to share about your own life. Think of a favorite movie. Now think of a favorite book. What do all three have in common?
What does this say about what matters to you?
BONUS: You wrote ten books before you died, and now your fans have gathered at your funeral. What would you like them to say about you?
I'll share my bonus answer: At the end of my life, should I be so lucky as to have a group of readers at my grave to see me off, I hope they'll say, "Those books were so her."
How about you? Would love to hear your bonus answers in the comments.
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy, out May 5.
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.
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Even before I started to write seriously, I used to say that come the end of my time, If I made them laugh and I made them think , then I've done my job. I think the same would apply to my books-- I hope they say I made them laugh, feel and think deeply.
I love that Dory— a goal to intensify human experience. Nice.
"I'm going to miss her characters."
Beautiful, Kathy. In high school, after reading The Big Fisherman, I mourned for a couple of weeks at the loss of those characters!
GREAT questions, Kathryn. I'm sharing this with my local writing group and printing out for further contemplation. So helpful. Thank you.
Oh good, Erin! I hope they lead you to new awareness of the importance of your work.
I really enjoyed this, thanks.
(My answer to you posted in the wrong place, Michael, sorry! Scroll...)
Question #2!!!! Love that one.
Thank you, Kathryn, for another great post.
Thanks Orly! Isn't it odd that while we're writing, we sometimes can't recall what moves us to laughter or tears? Worth journaling about.
Great exercise, Kathryn! It's funny, regarding what moves me, who I have admired or reviled, how it so often has to do with human selflessness and generosity, humility, kindness and being honorable, versus selfish and petty, due to avarice or ego.
As to the bonus question, I think I'd want them to be talking about my characters rather than me specifically, saying things like: "Character A really helped me to figure it all out." Or, "Character B really showed me that I'm not so different, not alone."
Thanks for getting me thinking this morning!
You're welcome, Vaughn. I think you struck a great insight about what kind of book will be your brand. I'm sure you're aware of the criticism, "He had one book in him and he wrote it over and over." A less cynical writing mentor, Juilene Osborne-McKnight, once told me that we are drawn to a certain archetypal character, and we are drawn to his/her story over and over because we just can't get enough of him/her. I love that.
And your answer to the bonus shows the breadth of your heart, since a spark from our own gives life to each of our characters.
This is such an interesting approach to writing, Kathryn--really valuable questions, especially since, like it or not, we really do need to think about our "brand" as writers if we're going to find the right audience for our work. Thanks for a valuable post.
Heading into book three, I'm thinking a lot about what makes a "Kathryn Craft" story, Holly. Would be interested to hear how you would describe a "Holly Robinson" story.
Good, Michael. I hope the inquiries lead you to a new place in your writing journey.
I'm with Orly - I love #2 especially! As far as my graveside...I'd like a reader to feel that one of my books had touched them in a lasting way.
Love that, Laura. It would seem you are a legacy writer (#3), yes?
This was a very helpful post, Kathryn, and I found it very applicable to memoir as well as fiction. Prompt #7 is the entry point, now isn't it? 😉 And I love the insider vs outsider questions as well. I'm clipping this to my inspirational file in Evernote. Definitely material for contemplation while journaling toward manuscript. Thank you.
I would like people to say that the characters I created out of my own love and fear and confusion and everything else lived on in them for a long time, like best friends. Like people they'd love to know.
Beautiful answer, LizAnn. Another legacy writer!
Kathryn, what a beautiful and thought provoking post! Thank you. About my own writing I would want people to say that I made them laugh, made them cry and made them sigh. I would hope that my characters would take on a life of their own and outlive me.
Thanks Carrie. Another fellow legacy writer! To have our words and ideas and characters outlive us is the closest we can come to still being around to influence our grandchildren's grandchildren.
Your advice is especially valuable to me right now as I try to analyze and improve my work in progress. Very insightful! Thank you.
You're welcome! Infuse your manuscript with all that matters deeply to you.
Great questions! This post gave me a lot to think about. I'd like readers to say that my work transported them, took them to worlds where they could lose themselves, maybe even inspired them a little. 🙂
Transported—great word. You go, Denise!
Thank you so much for these questions. Here's the funeral script: "Every one of her books was full of 'aha' moments--about loving and living without fear. Did you know some of her books are required reading?" There, now. Is that ambitious enough for an as-yet-unpublished author?
I think it is a perfectly good use for ambition. If there's one thing we are all guaranteed to achieve, it's death. Might as well target appropriately!
I hope they say, "I'll miss opening one of her new books for the first time." That's how it felt for me when I learnt Terry Pratchett had passed away.
Thanks for sharing inspiration from one of your literary heroes!
Wow Kathryn, I love all of your questions. I can't help but think how much they'll help draw out the deeper emotions that are necessary to develop a stronger character. And if I were to die amongst anyone who would take the time to read my work, I would wish to impart love, hope and encouragement. 🙂
I love how so many of the women here wish to move people to laughter or tears, or like you Karen, to impart love, hope, and encouragement. Great reminder to us all that while the act of writing fiction, like any career, might pull us now from time spent with loved ones, leaving our stories behind can be a very loving thing to do.
Kathryn, this is a pot of gold for new thinking! You could create a new road map for your writing goals with these thoughts. Gosh, I don't know what they'd say at my grave (or when they shake my urn considering being put in the ground terrifies me! ha ha ) ... Maybe they'd give me a good shake and say "She was a true storyteller and fulfilled her dream to do so."
Donna knowing you, they'd probably give you a good shake, you'd reconstitute, and then tell the story yourself. 😉 Thanks for playing!
[…] you think about what to write, Kathryn Craft serves up several questions that will take our writing deeper and elicit writing that gets noticed, while Nils Odlund ponders understanding how readers […]
Great post, Kathryn. I would want my readers to say, "Reading her books brought me joy," because that's what reading books by my favorite authors does for me.
I've already had a few people say, "Something you wrote resonated with me because I had a similar experience in my life." Such a great feeling. I still hope to hear more fo that, but I hope someone says, "I hope they find some manuscripts she hid in a drawer or in the cloud that get published."
May you enjoy plenty of that affirmation in this realm as well, T.A.!