First Coast Romance Writers recently hosted Bob Mayer with his "Write it forward" workshop. A NYT bestselling author, Mayer has more than 50 published books and speaks on team-building, life-change, and leadership.
One of the first things I noticed is that Mayer's perspective on organization and effectiveness stems from his experience as a West Point graduate and a Special Forces A-Team leader. He breaks down any problem or task into doable steps, something which has served him well throughout his distinguished writing career. With my background working for the Army, his linear, spreadsheet approach to planning really hit the right note with me!
Here are a few of the things that I picked up and my take on them:
Mayer: Distribution is no longer the choke-hold in the publishing world. Now it's discoverability.
MT: He put into words what I've been grappling with this last year. It's not enough to put a book out. You have to let people know you've published something, and you need a marketing hook to draw them in. the trick is knowing where to spend your precious time - and figuring out where the readers are.
Mayer: Are you striving to survive or striving to succeed?
MT: This question also provoked a gotcha moment for me. Juggling a day job, a family, writing and promotion doesn't leave much time to look at the big picture. Most days it feels like I'm trying to survive. Success is the goal, but it often feels like I'm too far in the trenches to glimpse success. I make long term plans and set goals at the start of a project, but I only plan from project to project. If I want more out of a writing career, I have to plan for more.
Mayer: Why do you write? What do you want to achieve by writing? What do you want to do with each book? Take your eyes off the prize and put them on the goal. Write your goal in 25 words.
MT: These are a few of the questions he posed to get us thinking about our goals. He also said perseverance is more important than talent, and that writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Ability plus zeal plus hard work trumps talent.
Mayer: With books, you're selling emotion and logic. Can you communicate the shiver?
MT: This explains to me why a book that is poorly written is still compelling. If the shiver comes through, that emotional connection propels the story, a lot can be forgiven. A book that reads well and communicates well will sell well, but emotion trumps logic every time.
Mayer: Anger and guilt are flashpoints that can break a character. They spring from an underlying fear. Writers should figure out what they fear (writing-wise); they should do the same for their characters - and then push them to face their fears.
MT: Gosh. What am I afraid of? My biggest fear is that my brain won't hold out. I feel compelled to write fast and deeper with every book I write. Scenes that used to scare the beejesus out of me are easier to write now. Big take-home moment for me: I need to make a character "fear" list as I'm creating their bios. (does anyone else include fear as part of their character-creating process?)
Mayer: Three steps to change: 1. Moment of enlightenment. 2. Making a decision. 3. Sustained Action.
MT: This was an Aha! moment for me. Realizing something isn't working IS NOT the moment of change. Neither is making the decision to try a different plan. The moment of change comes when you move into that broken place and start doing it a different way. Ever notice how some folks complain about this or that but they never get out of their rut? They never finish the process.
Mayer: Emotional stages of change: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
MT: Mayer went on to say that it's hard to change behavior as habits are trained into us. But he also said we can learn from any source, and that if something makes you angry, focus on it.
Mayer: You can't separate your writing from you. Lean into fears gradually. The goal of communication is to provoke a response.
MT: I agree with his "can't separate writing from you" - I think that's why so many of us get emotional about those 1-star reviews and negative comments about our work. It's definitely personal, no matter how nicely you section it off. Trust yourself to provide open and honest communication and you'll have less anxiety and fear. The better you know yourself and your characters, the better you can tell those stories. We definitely filter the world through our own point of view.
Mayer: Know the rules, have a good reason for breaking them, and accept the consequences of breaking the rules.
MT: I broke the rules with my nudist colony murder mystery, for good reason. I wanted to be different. But different is also scary to some houses, if it's too different. I shopped around until I found the right house for Murder in the Buff. It didn't attract a NY publisher, but it accomplished my goal of writing something different - and believing in my ability to pull it off. Some chances pay off big, some you learn from. It's all to the good. Lesson: cozies are a very traditional market.
This barely scratches the surface of our Bob Mayer day, but it gives you an idea of some of the topics he covered. I have some cool new Bob Mayer reference books, and I hope to skim through them all this week. I may not be the Queen of Promo, but that's my new goal!