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Reblogged:Friday Hodgepodge

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Blog Roundup

Or: Four on Writing, at Jane Friedman's Blog.

Over my blogging break, I began laying groundwork for a major new writing project. Along the way, I encountered several blog posts I found quite helpful. Here are four.

1. One of the most important questions a writer faces is, "Who is my audience?" This affects many aspects of the writing itself. But its relevance hardly ends there: The answer is crucial to marketing, too. Erica Meltzer of The Critical Reader, who opens with how she achieved success in writing test prep materials, describes "6 Questions to Help Nonfiction Writers Find Their Niche." I'll start with her first, because it reminds me superficially of how my wife and I named our kids:
This is probably not a location conducive to gauging a market. (Image via Pixabay.)
1. How saturated is your market?

You can get a good sense of the answer to this question with just an eyeball test: do the books on your topic cover a shelf in the bookstore? A couple of shelves? An entire bookcase? (Or, if you're looking online, how many pages of titles come up when you type in the category?)

If there are already dozens of books available, you'll need to spend some time reading through them in order to understand what's been done. As a general rule, the more that's been written, the more specifically you'll need to define yourself. For me, this happened to be a straightforward matter: as someone whose verbal score was more than 200 points points higher than her math, I had never been able to tutor all sections of the exam and was in no position to author a general SAT book. If I wanted to write a halfway decent guide, I would have to focus on the verbal portion only. [format edits]
This post is a good exploration of what "know your audience" means, and how to go about doing so. Although it focuses on a market I am not interested in entering, I think its lessons will, with some thought, translate well to just about any nonfiction category.

2. Every writer has at least one of these to overcome, but I particularly enjoyed reading guest blogger Grant Faulkner's advice on "Overcoming Creativity Wounds." The advice, contained in the last paragraph, is worthwhile, but I will quote the following, instead:
When I turned in my story for her feedback, not only did she not recognize my talent, but she eviscerated my story. She might as well have used shears. "No shit!" she wrote in the margins of one page. I met with her in her office hours to ask her questions and hopefully make a connection, but she was equally cold and cutting, offering nothing that resembled constructive critique, just the pure vitriol of negativity. She said my story was boring, pretentious. She said my dialogue, which others had previously praised, was limp and lifeless.


The question is how to begin again, how to recover the very meaning and joy that we found in our first stories -- to recover the reason we write. It's difficult. I still see that "No shit!" in the margin and sometimes wonder if I have anything worthwhile to impart...
The villain in the above anecdote is an author Faulkner admired and took a writing class from. I will confess to thinking something akin to, "She told you much more about herself than about your writing in that comment. Get over it!" And therein lies the genius of this particular "pep talk for writers," from Faulkner's entire, published-in-book-form collection. In sharing his own vulnerability, Faulkner sees to it that those readers who share it will immediately appreciate his advice. As for the rest, they might find themselves in his grader's shoes for a moment -- before realizing that their own wounds might seem equally puzzling to others. This man knows of what he speaks, and we should stop "thinking" like the jerk writing instructor.

I don't quote the last paragraph, because many of us, myself included, might shrug it off with a, "No shit!" of our own. But Faulkner knows that we all have our own wounds, that they feel mortal sometimes, and that what might sound trite is actually good advice. You will know that others, in their own way, have been there before and triumphed. And that is when you are ready to hear him.

So read all of it.

3. Although this does not necessarily pertain to the project I am speaking of, it might help me revive and finish an old one I started a while ago -- by helping me avoid pitfalls. Guest blogger Lauren Bailey (of Kirkus Reviews) walks us through "The 13 Most Common Self-Publishing Mistakes to Avoid." Here's an example:
8. No one read your book before you published it

Known as "beta readers," these nice folks love books enough to read them and give you feedback, letting you know if your book is enjoyable and where it might need some work. Sometimes it's as simple as asking friends and family members for honest critical feedback, but your best bet is to join a writers' group. Writing communities are supportive, and the only cost to you for this service is returning the favor. No one likes criticism, but it's a critical process for authors. Beta readers can be the difference between publishing a bad book (because you can't always trust your mom or bestie) and a great book.

Note: A great online tool for organizing your beta readers (and maybe finding new ones) is Beta Books. [bold and link in original, format edits]
Actually, "avoid pitfalls" isn't really the best way to describe any of Bailey's points: Each may describe a mistake, but what follows is solid, positive advice on what to do, and almost every time, there is at least one link to related material.

4. I'll end with a link to a post by Friedman herself: "Marketing Advice Roundup: Best of the Last Year."

Readers can keep up with future posts at Jane Friedman's blog through the blogroll below.

-- CAV

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