Sunday, July 22, 2012

Never Give Up On Your Dream!

You’ve been working on your novel for months, maybe even years, and lately you feel more discouraged than ever. Perhaps it’s the disappointment of not having finished the book yet. Maybe you don’t know where to go next with your story. Or it’s possible that you’re just physically and emotionally drained from all the time and effort you’ve poured into this dream. I’ve been there. In fact, I’m there now.

At the moment, I have four books rolling around in my head. One is a mystery I’ve already started writing. The second is a non-fiction book I’ve outlined and could probably write in a month if I had 24 extra hours in my day. The third is a legal thriller I’ve discussed writing with another author. The fourth is a book of short stories that are just dying to get out. All of them, I truly believe, have bestseller potential. Too bad they’re stuck in my head.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to put pressure on myself to write. To write despite the demands of my day job. To write no matter how tired I was. To write no matter what. Starting July 1, 2012, I publicly vowed via this blog to write 5,000 words per week. Every week. I’m proud to say that I have just over ten thousand words of my sixth mystery under my belt. I’m not so proud to admit that during this past week, Week No. 3 of my Public Writing Journey, I didn’t sit down in front of the computer even once. Life, unfortunately, got in the way. I woke up this morning feeling pretty down about it. Fortunately, I’m not someone who stays down in the dumps very long.

Failing to meet your writing goal on any particular day or in a given week isn’t reason for alarm. It happens. And it will definitely happen again. To me and to you. What’s important is getting back on the horse. It’s also important to discard all those excuses you’ve been relying on.  I don’t have time. I’m too tired. It’s too hard.  I’m too old.  Maybe I’m not good enough.  Start focusing on the I can, not the I can’t. That’s exactly what I plan to do.

Writing a novel, finding an agent, and getting a book deal or even publishing your book yourself isn’t easy. But it can be done. As proof, I’d like to share with you the inspiring story of one writer who made her writing dream come true by taking the bull by the horns—literally. It was an uphill battle, but these days, Elle Newmark, author of The Book of Unholy Mischief and other books which take readers to faraway places, is on top of the world. With the permission of the author, I’d like to share with you Elle’s writing journey, which I first wrote about back in 2009 in one of my articles.

By the age of 56, Elle had finished her third novel and collected her share of rejection letters. But finally, she landed an agent. Not just an agent, but one who told her, “This book is a gold mine.” 

Elle assumed she was on her way to the writing career she could only dream of.  But she wasn’t. Six publishing houses rejected the book and her agent—the agent who called her book "a gold mine"— stopped submitting it. 

Instead of giving up, Elle decided to write another book. But she couldn’t get an agent for that one. She spent weeks being depressed and coming to terms with the likelihood that she would never be a published author.  

When she hit her 60th birthday, still crying in her soup, something happened. She got angry and decided that she would play the publishing game by her rules. She decided to self-publish. 

I'll let Elle tell the rest of her amazing story:

“I turned away from traditional publishing and took the humble route of self-publishing. I really wanted to hold my own book in my hands. I believed that just holding a book in my hands would be enough. So I risked money, I went through endless edits, and I risked more money. Then, one day I had a book for sale on Amazon. My baby made its debut to a shrieking silence and a riot of apathy. My friends bought a copy out of loyalty but I don’t have a lot of friends, just very good ones, and the book maintained a rank of about 400,000, which is slightly above nonexistent.

“I finally had a book out and it wasn’t enough. That’s when I decided it wasn’t about holding a book in my hands, but knowing that lots of other people were holding it in theirs. They weren’t, and I went into another funk

“One night, moodily slumped in front of a late night rerun of Sex in the City, I watched Carrie Bradshaw’s glitzy book launch party. Carrie Bradshaw isn’t even a real person and Sarah Jessica Parker isn’t even a writer, yet there she was having my book party. Champagne flowed, beautiful people milled, cameras flashed, and I got an idea.

“I gambled on a do-it-yourself website and spent thousands on an Internet marketing course. I would throw myself a virtual book launch party. Crazy? Maybe, but no guts, no glory. When you get older you start to think that way. I organized a one-day virtual party designed to generate a surge of sales on Amazon, and catapult me onto the bestseller list. The website looked colorful and festive, but we all know the most humiliating disaster is to throw a grand splash and have no one show up. Then I’d have to kill myself for sure. I needed to reach 500,000 people to make a few hundred sales and reach the bestseller list. I needed partners.

“I asked droves of website owners to participate. I sent them a letter, a box of homemade cookies, and a signed book marked on the page where those same cookies appear in the novel. The cookies are called ‘bones of the dead’ so, with an aching back, I stood at the kitchen counter, well into the wee hours, shaping cookie dough into little bone shapes, baking them to the perfect golden shade of doneness, and then rolling them in powered sugar to make them look bonier. Only the boniest cookies went out—fifteen hundred of them. The rest…well, I gained four pounds.

“My friends and family were apprehensive. I could see the pity in their eyes. Isn’t it sad to see Elle grasping for the brass ring that has so clearly passed her by? But I forged ahead, bold as an old crow. I blogged and talked up my book on message boards. I got a few Internet partners, I baked more cookies, I begged, pleaded, flattered, cajoled, bargained and I got more partners. In the end I had enough support to reach 500,000 people. Yes! I would hit the Amazon bestseller list. Then agents would notice and publishers would come knocking. That was the plan.

“But two days before my virtual party, my son, Michael, thoughtfully stroked his goatee and said, 'Mom, if you want agents and editors to notice your book, why not just invite them to your party?' And there’s yet another advantage to age: Grown children capable of clever ideas. However, that idea was definitely against the rules. You’re supposed to approach agents according to a well-established protocol, and you’re not supposed to approach editors at all. Michael’s idea was risky and audacious, but in the end, I decided I was too old to be timid. I just didn’t have that kind of time. I got online and dug up email addresses for 400 agents and editors. The night before the launch, I wrote personal invitations with a link to the party site and brazenly hit send 400 times.

“By noon the next day, I’d heard from dozens of agents and editors. People were clamoring to read my book! An editor from a major house flat out offered me a hardcover deal via email based solely on the reviews. Agents asked me to speed books to New York, and while I manned the computer, my husband, Frank, made multiple trips to the post office. Within 24 hours I had offers from several impressive agencies—including William Morris, with whom I made an agreement at whiplash speed.

“I did hit the Amazon bestseller list, not that it mattered anymore.

New York talent scouts were talking about The Book of Unholy Mischief, and the buzz was so loud I could feel the vibration in California. I swear the earth moved. During that first wild week, my new agent turned down a respectable offer from a major publisher. She said, 'We can do better.' I swallowed hard and hoped she knew what she was doing. Two weeks after my virtual party, The Book of Unholy Mischief went to auction.

“The auction was due to start at 11:00 a.m. EST, which was 8:00 a.m. for me on the west coast. I planned to be sitting at my phone, showered and fully caffeinated by 7:30. As I stepped out of the shower at 6:00, the phone rang, and I ran for it, dripping and clutching a towel. My agent said, 'Are you sitting down?' I stood there, holding my towel, and said, 'Yes.' She said, 'Two book deal, Simon and Schuster.' Then I sat down. I was naked and wet—like a newborn.

“In the following unbelievably heady days, the foreign sales started. It was a global feeding frenzy. As of this writing The Book of Unholy Mischief will be published in a dozen languages. Personally, I can’t wait to see the Hebrew and Cyrillic and Korean editions—I love exotic alphabets that look like music—and I have a place in my house ready to display them all. Dec 30 The Book of Unholy Mischief will be released in the United States and Canada. In January I’ll go to Venice for the Italian launch, then come back to the U.S. for a national book tour—every writer’s dream.

“I’d like to refrain from using that tired old chestnut, Better Late Than Never, but I can’t. It is better late than never. In fact, I might even say, Better Late Than Early. First of all, there is no doubt in my mind that I earned my success, and I feel a profound gratitude that I probably wasn’t capable of twenty or thirty years ago. Second, I’m pretty sure my agent and editor are not worried that I will celebrate by getting sloshed and trampled in a mosh pit, which is a comfort to all three of us. Third, there is the knowledge that I did not waste my time writing for no one and nothing. Every day I lived and every word I wrote was necessary to find my voice.” 

The moral of the story? Elle Newmark didn’t give up and neither should you!

You can find out more about Elle Newmark and her books at

Happy writing!


Monday, July 9, 2012

Stay Motivated!

So how did your first week of writing go? Did you meet your goal?

I’m happy to report that I met mine. I have to admit, however, that writing 5,000 words a week may be a little ambitious. Though I wrote for a few hours in the early morning hours on a couple of days, I was able to achieve my goal this week because of that great middle of the week 4th of July holiday. While my husband was at a barbecue on Wednesday, I was bunkered down at home writing and stayed put for over eight hours.

I’m usually off on Fridays and write that day, but I travelled to Houston for the NAACP Conference this past Friday.  I did some editing of my hard copy draft on the plane and also got in a couple of hours on Friday and Saturday night in my hotel room. However, sitting in bed with my laptop in my lap is not my optimal writing position. But I made it work. 

To achieve your writing goal, it’s important to stay motivated. I’ll share a few of the tips I use to keep me psyched up.

First, whenever I have a full day to write (like a holiday, Friday or weekend day), I’m pretty excited about it. I’ll prepare the day before by setting up the room where I’m writing, even laying out my clothes (usually comfortable sweats and a T-shirt) so I don’t have to waste time in the morning finding something to wear. When I wake up, I want to get to the computer as soon as possible.

If I’m writing in my home office, I’ll make sure my laptop is set up and plugged in. I’ll place a bottle of water, pen, notepad and snacks (raisins and almonds) on my side table. My handy Flip Dictionary will be within arm’s reach. I’ll also do this if I know that I’m going to get up early in the morning to write for only a couple of hours. I typically get home from work by seven. If I’m going to write the next morning, I try to get to bed by nine, so that I can wake up at four to write from 4 a.m. to 6  a.m. I can get dressed by 7:30 a.m. and get to work by 8:30 a.m.
I try to plan my writing sessions ahead of time. For example, this week, I plan to stay at work to write on Tuesday night and will write early Thursday morning. I’ll be attending a religious retreat in Palm Springs this weekend. It’s my intent to get some writing done in my hotel room on Friday and Saturday during the early morning hours before the daily events begin.

If I’m writing at one of my offices away from home—Starbucks or Panera Bread—I’ll pack up everything I’m taking with me in my rolling bag and leave it near the front door. I try to get to my spot in the coffee shop by 7 a.m. For me, my creative juices seem to flow better in the early morning hours.

Oh yeah, coffee. I need that warm, stimulating liquid to get me going whether I’m writing early in the morning or late at night. So once I’m up and ready to go, I brew my coffee (or run around the corner for my favorite cup of java at 7-11; and yes, I've done that at 4 a.m.), then I get cracking.

I have special coffee mugs that I must have with me when I’m writing. I have two that are my favorites. One says “writer” and the other (my favorite) says “I’m an early morning writer.”  Here are photographs of my mugs:, the site where I purchased the mugs,  also has some other great writer mugs I was tempted to purchase and probably will down the line.  But how many mugs can one girl use? Here are the words that appear on some of my other favorite Zaggle mugs:

"Go away or you'll end up in my novel."
"Write something even if it's just a suicide note. Gore Vidal"
Write here, write now."
"Careful or you'll end up in my novel."
"Shut up and write."

So make sure you check out Zaggle at You'll find lots of great writer gifts, including T-shirts.
I also have a brightly colored vision wall with motivational words, quotes and pictures in my bedroom. Though I rarely write at this desk anymore, it’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning and it’s always an inspiration. Here’s a peek:

Have you made the place where you write conducive to writing? I encourage you to determine what helps you stay motivated and use those tools to get your juices flowing.

Good luck on your writing journey and stay motivated!


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Writing My New Novel, Day 1

As I vowed to the world in my first blog posting on June 9,  2012, today would be the day that I began writing my sixth novel. I'm proud to announce that I indeed kept my word.

I was at the computer around 6:30 this morning, anxious to get going. For weeks, the idea for a mystery novel about human trafficking has been bouncing around in my head. I must say it was kind of exciting to finally start putting it down on paper. And I'm fairly pleased with the draft of my first chapter.

When I began this blog three weeks ago, I had an entirely different writing process in mind. I'd planned to start outlining my novel today, which is how I begin "writing" all of my novels. But something interesting happened that sent me off in a new direction. Yesterday, at the Leimert Park Book Festival in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with four esteemed writers: Gary Phillips ("Treacherous"), Attica Locke ("Black Water Rising"), Joel Engel ("L.A. '56") and Gar Haywood ("Assume Nothing"). When I asked them about their writing process, all four stated that they never outline before they start writing, at least not in a formal way (though they all do some variation of a loose outline, such as keeping track of their story on index cards, as Locke does). They all felt that outlining the entire book from beginning to end would restrict their creativity.

Honestly, I never felt restricted when writing from an outline. For me, putting the outline together is a creative process in itself. I "see" each chapter in my mind as a movie scene. I usually spend anywhere from a month to three months piecing my story together in outline form, chapter by chapter.

But after yesterday's panel, I decided to give free-styling a try for two reasons. First, skipping the outlining process means I'll get done faster. Second, I want to see if my writing flows more easily without the crutch of an outline. And after my first day, I have to say, my creative juices definitely flowed this morning.

I also decided yesterday to give myself a writing quota.  Phillips, Locke, Engel and Haywood are all full-time writers. I, however, still have a day job (though I generally have Fridays off). So writing 2,500 words every single day like some of my panel members is not a realistic option for me.  Instead of a daily quota, I decided to give myself a weekly writing goal: 5,000 words a week. Figuring about 250 words per page, that would work out to about 20 pages per week. For me, 20 pages a week is doable.

My previous books have been anywhere from 90,000 to 100,000 words each. If I stick to my 5,000-words-a-week goal, I should have a draft of my novel completed in five months (20,000 words a month x five months = 100,000 words).

So? What is your writing goal? Establish something that's reasonable for you and go for it!

I'll let you know if I achieve my 5,000-word quota this week. If I do, great. But if I don't, I'll still keep writing and you should too.

Happy writing!