Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Momentum

I've learned a valuable lesson these past few weeks.

Writers are fearful creatures. The joy of being paid to be creative, and the unavoidable side effect of egotism that goes along with it, is easily tempered by the constant paranoia that everything will be taken away from us.

We worry about sales, fret over decisions our publisher makes, question the effectiveness of our agents, compare ourselves to peers, and eke by contract to contract, wondering if the ride is going to end.

My attitude has been that of a shark---keep swimming, or I'll drown.

That means non-stop touring, a constant web presence, a steady release of new product (books and stories), and keeping in touch with fans and peers.

These last two months have changed my attitude somewhat.

I've been writing a lot. In fact, in the last 75 days, I've plowed through about 150,000 words.

It's been great, and made me remember why I became a writer in the first place.

But I've been concerned that my writing time has been at the expense of my self-promotion time, and that I'd lose a lot of what I've built up.

It's nice to be shown I've been wrong.

My website hasn't been updated in months, and I've only been able to post a handful of blog entries. Yet, according to Statcounter, my unique hits have stayed consistent.

I'm still getting a decent amount of email.

I'm still getting requests for stories and articles.

Google Alerts and Technorati have shown me that I haven't left the public eye, even though I've made very few public appearances.

And though I've slowed down seeking out MySpace Friends, more and more folks are approaching me first.

In short, I haven't been forgotten in the last few months.

This has made me revise my original analogy. Instead of comparing a writing career to a shark, I'm going to instead compare it to a locomotive.

It takes a lot to get started. A lot of effort, time, and money.

But once it starts, it takes a lot to stop it.

Careers have momentum. And momentum wants to keep things moving, even if you're no longer stoking the boiler.

How does a writer build momentum? How long does it take for momentum to die?

The easy answer is: the more you do, the more momentum you build, the tougher you'll be to stop.

Every event, every signing, every interview, every short story, every appearance, every email, every newsletter, every blog, keeps you in the public eye. And many of these things keep you there long after you've put in the effort. Old blog posts get new visitors. People pick up an anthology that you were in three years ago. A speaking engagement last year leads to three more this year.

There are countless ways to build momentum. And the more you do, the harder you are to stop.

I've often believed that I'm not reaching for success, rather I'm running from failure.

But it seems like I'm able to take a rest from time to time and simply coast on what I've already done. It's a good feeling. And perhaps when I finish this book, and return to actively pursuing self-promotion, I won't be quite as gung-ho.

It isn't about how quickly it takes for you to reach 100mph---six seconds or six years. Because once you reach that speed, you're going to be hard to stop.

The goal is getting up enough speed.

What are you doing to build momentum?

32 comments:

Tasha Alexander said...

Joe, it's always good to hear that you're writing. No one can deny that promotion is hugely important, but without the writing, we've got nothing...

Daniel Hatadi said...

Like you, Joe, I've found a way to provide a service to my writing community. I'm probably jumping the gun here, since I'm still a ways off from finishing my first book, but the crime fiction world has been missing a central hub, a fire to gather around, a virtual bar to drink at.

I'm hoping Crimespace will be that bar. Fans of crime fiction, come on over and share your poison.

(Note to self: don't forget to write!)

PJ Parrish said...

Joe my friend,

To stretch your analogy, it seems to me you are on the right track.

These days, lots of bright one-book comets flare, slip below the horizon and die. You want to be a slow burning constant, hanging up there long enough until enough people find you. That is what an "overnight sensation" really is.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

I'm trying to work up some momentum BEFORE I get a book contract. I began posting my first mystery novel as a serial last July. Then, as soon as I completed the first one I started writing and posting my second novel. Now the second one is nearly finished and I'm making plans for my third, which I will also post on my site.

I also grabbed the domain name for each of the novels, so for example, if you go to http://www.hideawayhospitalmurders.com it redirects to my main site. Later I plan to do more with these domains, but for now this is fine. So, if someone knows the name of one of my novels and enters it as a URL with the '.com' they will find my site. I believe you recommended doing this, and I know some other authors are doing it as well.

So, I've only had my site for 8 months and I'm already running 300-400 unique visitors per day. And most of these visitors are reading my novels. How do I know they're actually reading? Each chapter is on a separate page, so when I see them spending several minutes on each chapter, I assume they're reading it.

When I finish the third book I think I'll be ready to start querying agents. In the meantime I'm building a fan base. The great thing about posting the book online as I write it is the immediate feedback from readers. And I know they won't keep coming back to read more if they're not enjoying it.

And I've realized from reading various writer blogs that the worst thing is getting a book contract, seeing your book in bookstores for a few months and then having them pulled from the shelves because they're not moving.

Thanks again, Joe, for all the great information on your regualar site and your blog. I've learned a lot. And I'm still learning.

Robert Burton Robinson

L.C.McCabe said...

Joe,

Congratulations on having a productive burst of creative activity. I much prefer writing to rewriting and editing.

One is creative, the other is destructive.

And yes, inertia is a powerful force. Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion whereas bodies at rest tend to stay at rest. It is difficult but necessary to add energy to a system to get a body at rest to be one in motion.

As you've demonstrated, you've got it "goin' on."

Good to hear of your progress.

Linda

Mark Terry said...

I think so, Joe. I'm still working on this with the novels, but with my nonfiction writing, I put a tremendous amount of time and energy into building up clientele the first year or two and now it seems more or less self-sustaining. I tend to it, certainly, and I try to make existing clients happy, and I still send out queries for new clients from time to time, but by and large I have more work than I can handle and people come to me for work.

Hopefully I'll see something similar with the fiction as time goes by. Shoulder to the boulder and all that...

WayneThomasBatson said...

Joe,
Great POSITIVE post. I have a question related to the topic. Okay, I've got three books on the shelves, all doing well (not Harry Potter well, but Midlist well). I've got a 4th coming out in Sept. Sooo...I know this is going to sound like a lightbulb joke, but how many midlist books does it take to get that cool snowball effect? You know, the phenomenon where you have books feeding off of each other--creating momentum in that way.

Joe Moore said...

"My attitude has been that of a shark--keep swimming, or I'll drown."

What a great analogy. There's nothing wrong with being a shark. Great Whites have been know to live for a long time.

As far as increasing momentum, I strive for face time. Blog posts, forums, cons, articles, panels, newsletters, websites, workshops, wanted posters--anywhere that someone sees my name (brand) and stores it away for future reference.

But just like you said, at the end of the day, we're all writers. Writers write. And when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing. The rest of the day I spend looking for opportunities to chalk up some face time.

Mark Terry said...

I thought I saw Joe Moore's picture at the post office...

Or was it on FOX?

spyscribbler said...

When I clicked through to your post from my reader, I glanced at your "About" description.

Wow, you've done a TON in the last four years!

I'm in the "sacrificing vacations" portion of my career. Man, I feel horribly guilty about that.

JA Konrath said...

Tosh--Funny how we're called 'writers' but it seems we do so little of that.

Daniel--Much successs with Crimespace. I'll drop in later.

PJ--Very true. it seems that longevity and success are often intertwined.

Robert--I wish I'd thought about promotion before my first books old. I hadn't. it would have given me a big head start.

Linda--I think that editing can be very creative. It takes a lot of creativity to reinsert all of the lines your editor insisted must be cut. :)

Mark--It's the same with my wife's business. When you reach a certai point, you're working rather than searching for work.

Wayne--I think that there isn't any set point when you're suddenly successful. The hope is that the books continue to sell without the author having to do anything other than write them. I haven't gotten there yet, but I hope to if I survive long enough.

Joe--I do the same thing. But there's also one more thing writers do; piss and moan about the business with their friends. If I'm not writing or promoting, chances are I'm online, or on the phone, or in a bar, complaining about publishing. Or, if not complaining, offering positive solutions to how things can be made better. :)

Jim said...

Momentum is important because publishers are unimpressed with an author if he/she hasn't written the big book book within 5 or 6 titles. The days of being an infinite midlist author are disappearing if not gone. The secret is to break out fast and break out high. Noone can count on a ten year midlist span to build up a fan base. So when you get your chance, give it everything you got while people are still interested enough to watch.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Thanks, Joe. It'd be good to see you round there. The place kinda reminds me of the Mystery Circus.

HipWriterMama said...

This is such an encouraging post. Thanks, I needed that.

Jude Hardin said...

I think you have some stout momentum going, Joe. Now's a good time to take time to...write your ass off and get that breakout book on the page. You're doing exactly the right thing, IMO.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

You don't just have momentum, baby, you have LOVE.

Do the writing. We miss you but will always be waiting with bated breath.

X

Stacey Cochran said...

What are you doing to build momentum?

For years, I kept sending out work trying to get published, and no one would publish me. This was the #1 hindrance to momentum.

You could literally wait your entire lifetime, sending out work, and never get published.

Once I decided to self-publish, I finally had a book in hand that I could generate events around.

It took about a year or two to get comfortable knowing what to expect from stores and libraries regarding my self-published books.

Now, what I'm doing is setting up city-by-city speaking events that meet once every month. I'm finding local organizers in the cities, a PR team in each city, and writers to grow these writers groups Tony Robbins style.

Because it's a self-published book, I can carry copies of it with me to sell at these events, and I'm not restricted to selling at a bookstore. I've set up events at coffee shops, library conference rooms, restaurants, and hotels.

My goal is to have about 10 cities that I'm touring every month within the next 6 months.

The cool thing about this strategy is that I don't have to wait for anyone's approval: a publisher, a bookstore, a publicist, newspaper reviewers.

All I need is a venue, enough lead time to get the word out to writers in the area, and then I go speak and enable a discussion among those writers.

And I try to build an organizational structure in each city (with an assistant organizer, a critique group organizer, and a PR team) that can become self-sustaining.

All of this builds a readership and name recognition. And there's no way to build customer loyalty better than to actually meet other writers who come to your event to educate and further their own writing careers.
But it's wild; you're absolutely right. It feels like once you've got that momentum that it's very hard to take it away.

Stacey
www.staceycochran.com

JT Ellison said...

Write, write, write. If I'm not writing, my momentum is at a standstill anyway.

Glad to hear you're back to it too!

JT Ellison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allison Brennan said...

Joe, I only blog one day a week (sometimes two, but only if I have major news) and I get the same number of hits to my blog. They all just come in on Monday or Tuesday since I blog on Mondays. My website hits have been gradually increasing, then get more hits when I have a book release, then go back down but never as low as before.

I respond to email promptly (within 48 hours if possible) and stay in tough with all my fabulous writers loops.

But the writing always comes first. It has to. Self promotion means nothing if you have nothing to promote.

So congrats on the words! Keep them coming :)

Marti said...

eI understand the panic of not being able to keep up. Since my father-in-law passed away, I have had to spend a good deal of time caring for my mother-in-law. I don't mind because I love her, but I do worry about cutting down on my Internet time so dramatically. I’ve barely managed one blog post a week lately, and haven’t kept my Squidoo lenses updated very well (except for yours - LOL) But fortunately, the readers are still stopping by, and none of the lenses have taken a serious tumble in lensrank. I haven’t had the opportunity to write anything though, and that is really starting to eat away at me. But...we do what we have to do.

I’m delighted that you are maintaining momentum, and thrilled for your writing progress! Best wishes to you for continued success!

Devon Ellington said...

I try to live by "if you want a friend, be a friend".

The priority, to me, is the actual writing. If it's not written, it can't be sold and promoted.

I also do my darndest to support as many living writers as possible -- brainstorming, emailing, attending readings, buying their books, etc., etc.

The blog and the constant publishing of stories has helped my momentum, as well as various newsletters to professionals in the industry.

But the bottom line is turning out stories that people want to read.

Pat Logan said...

That amount of writing is fantastic!

Ross in Maine said...

Vroom, vroom baby!
And once you reach that magical cruising speed, if you are fortunate, a publisher pitches in with a tankful of nitrous oxide(or is that my dentist?)that you could never concoct in your home lab, and your new top speed takes you from dirt track to NASCAR.
Assuming you can maintain control of the vehicle on those hairpin turns.
Great post JA; and even greater metaphor!
Ross in Maine

Martha O'Connor said...

That's an amazing output, Joe! Congrats!

Jeri said...

I've often believed that I'm not reaching for success, rather I'm running from failure.

Joe, you've summed up the fears of today's writers perfectly. Fear is a great motivator. But so is the love of writing, and I'm happy you were able to immerse yourself in the latter to forget the former for awhile.

Each year I write two novels (one each for two different series), a proposal for a new series, and a short story or two. Plus all the promotion stuff. I'll keep this up until I become what I consider fully contracted (2 books/year for at least 5 years), or until they have me committed.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I've got some questions about your output. Wait, that sounded rather nasty. What I mean is, your 150,000 word count after 75 days of writing. That's 2000 words per day, if my shabby math skills are serving me correctly.

Is that 75 straight days in which you sat down at the computer and wouldn't get up before reaching 2000?

Also, how many of those 150,000 words are usable at the end of the process? Do you write fast and loose and then edit carefully later, or are you banging out 2000 fabulous words per day that need little editing when you're finished?

I'm just wondering about process. How fast do other people here write?

Patry Francis said...

Very inspiring, Joe. Thank you.

Stacey Cochran said...

Regarding Process

2000 words per day is a very reasonable (and steady) rate. I can usually put about 500-700 words on the page in about 50 minutes.

Generally, my process is to write for about 50 minutes, take a break for 20-30 minutes, then write for another 50 minutes.

Doing four of these rotations will yield about 2000 words and will take about five hours.

If you spend an hour or two later in the day re-reading what you've written carefully, it's a very steady pace at which to work.

Usually, I'll start my writing day by re-reading what I wrote the previous day (and editing it), which means that there are two primary edits going on at the time of writing.

Usually, once I'm about halfway through a novel, I'll re-read the novel from the start, which constitutes another editing round.

Once the first draft is completed, I'll let it sit for a month or two, and then do a reading of the novel as a whole (which constitutes a fourth edit).

Then, usually I'll let it sit for another month or two, before handing it over to a critique group. 5th edit.

Then, usually I'll let it sit around for another few months while beginning to draft my query. I'll most likely do another quick read-through before querying agents. 6th edit.

If I sign with an agent, they may offer some feedback and work for a month or so revising things to his/her liking. Seventh edit.

Then, they'll make their pitch.

As yet, I haven't gone to the next phase (i.e., working with an editor). But that would constitute an 8th edit.

I imagine this process is pretty similar to what most published authors go through, give or take a few steps.

Stacey
www.staceycochran.com

S. W. Vaughn said...

What are you doing to build momentum?

Not a damn thing.

My God, I suck...

Joe, I'm happy to hear you can take a break. You definitely deserve one.

Proud Hubb said...

Not only have you been writing, but you've been smelling the roses, er, Guinness®, and draging others with you...thanks for St Paddy's Day breakfast!

Kaetie said...

i'm drafting my first book online in blog form, perhaps a good idea, perhaps a bad one, thing is, i have this story to tell, and i have to tell it, i don't have any choice about that, its early days though i suppose...
http://kaetiekalfou.eponym.com