All posts by C. A. Newsome

C. A. Newsome is a writer and artist living in Cincinnati, OH with two former street urchins named Shadda and Chewy (Chewbacca Wonderpup, Master of Confusion). They can be found most mornings at the Mount Airy Dog Park.

25 things I Learned About Writing That Will Help You Succeed at Anything, in no particular order

This is the guts of a talk I am giving for the Cincinnati Chapter of MENSA’s annual gathering tomorrow – a bit long, but hopefully worth it.

  1.   Not everybody is going to like what you do. Some people will. Some people won’t. Your job is to be yourself, the best ‘you’ you can be, and create the most authentic, book, painting, or widget you can. Then go find those people who do like and want what you do. It takes work, flexibility, and the willingness to get up off your ass when life knocks you down. You’ve got to get rid of your preconceived ideas of what help, opportunity and success look like. You need to be determined to learn what you need to know and able to look at your stuff with an unbiased, critical eye. You must do all this with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. … Or you can hang out in obscure little coffee houses, waiting for the Book Fairy to sprinkle stardust on you.
  2.   The failure to comprehend a problem is sometimes the best way to transcend it. If you don’t know how hard it is to do something, you are less likely to stop yourself from doing it. This applies to my trip through the Andes as well as my journey in publishing. The folks who made a killing in the early days of self-publishing were those who were either ignorant of the realities of publishing or chose to disregard them. i.e., it takes 10 years of rejection letters to get anywhere, and the only way to success is the right publisher.
  3.   Do the numbers. Success amounts to overhead vs sales. Be creative in handling your overhead, and you can make a success out of a niche that can’t support a larger business. It’s a great way to get your foot into a market. My mother was after me to get an agent when she read my first manuscript. I self published instead. In less time than it would take for me to get my first rejection letter, I earned enough to take the rest of the year off to finish my second book and haven’t had a job since.
  4.   Write what you want to read. That way you know that at least one person will enjoy it, and if one person enjoys it, more will. Breakthrough successes by no-name authors were books that were written purely for themselves, by folks who had no intention of publishing. Think, “The Christmas Box,” “50 Shades of Grey” And “Slammed.”
  5.   At some point in the process, you will hate your book. You will think it is the worst piece of trash ever created, and you will not want to look at it, ever again. This happens with every book, with every author. Successful authors know that this is a phase and they power on.
  6.   Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman said: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
  7.   Brilliant people are often assholes, not because you have to be an asshole to be brilliant, but because your average asshole has the confidence of his convictions to do what he wants to do, the way he wants to do it, regardless of other people’s opinions. You have to have that confidence in yourself to dare to be different. You have to believe your work is more important than other obligations. You have to put yourself (via your work) first. Your belief in yourself has to be strong enough to withstand all external evidence that you will never make it, because the world will heap that on you. (rejection letters).
  8.   Professionalism and consistency combined with competency will beat out talent every time. Being an asshole makes it hard to get ahead because nobody wants work with you if they can help it.You will get further being competent, professional and easy to get along with than you ever will by being an ego-driven diva.
  9.   A rising tide lifts all boats/You need friends. Create a peer group. Not a Master Mind group, but a closed environment (Secret group on Facebook) a safe place where members have similar pursuits and issues, and where they can share anything as long as they are polite and people will help each other if they are available and have something to offer. Having a group with the goal that we want everyone in it to benefit form our experiences has enabled those who have applied themselves to our collective wisdom to become full time breadwinners with their writing.
  10.   Word of Mouth and direct contact Rule. A friend, VP in a publishing house told me 6 months ago that they were seeing no difference in sales whether they did or did not advertise, because readers made purchases based on word or mouth and reader reviews. Not critic reviews, but reader reviews. Based on their observations, they cut a 600K advertising budget with Amazon to 0.
  11.   Part 2: I invest the majority of my effort into an email list developed from a link in the back of my books. I send them fun content every month and have giveaways. I treat them like gold because they are the ones who are most likely to tell people about my books. I respond to all emails. And if anyone writes me and tells me they told their book club or dog walking group about my books, I send them a tee shirt. Hugh Howey and Colleen Hoover are fantastic at engaging fans.
  12.   Part 3: The best way to get people to do something is to ask them personally. Let them know WHY you want them, specifically, to do it. If you need a bunch of people, ask every one of them individually.
  13.   Part 4: If you need a bunch of people, progress from your easy asks to your most difficult. First go for accumulating numbers of folks you can rely on. Then, when you have a base, start asking the folks you don’t know as well, and toss in, “I’ve already got XXX number and XXX names (if they know folks you already have). Build up to the folks who are your star prospects so that by the time you ask them, your project looks like a big deal that they don’t want to be left out of.
  14.   Success requires discipline. Create a structure for your writing to build strong neural pathways. If you consistently write in the same place at the same time of day, your brain will be ready to write when you sit down at your desk. Just like my dogs are ready for their afternoon walk at the same time every day and will disrupt whatever I’m doing to make sure it happens.
  15.   Pick a genre and concept and stick to it. In my writer’s group (80 + self-published authors), some folks wrote series and some folks wrote multiple books in multiple genres. The books that took off were all in a series. NONE of the stand-alone books has achieved any traction. Even successful writers lose traction when they take time out to write in another genre. Granted, it’s not all about the money. Remember, money equals readerage, and that’s a good thing.
  16.   Brand yourself. It gives readers confidence. It starts with what you write, but extends to your cover, Your business cards, your online posts, and even your comments on other people’s blogs. (The internet is forever. Don’t have a melt-down)
  17. Understand what your readers want. Your readers will love you if you push the envelope on their expectations. They will hate you if you promise one thing and deliver another.
  18.   Yes, you need to have an original hook. It’s not as hard as it sounds. – Pick your favorite genre, the one type of fiction that you’ll read and be entertained, even when the books are mediocre. – If you are truly ready to be an author, you will be vaguely unsatisfied with most of what you read. Some writing will be too violent, some not racy enough, and some will lack description or likable characters. You’ll follow plots and think, “If I were writing this, I would (fill in the blank).” Your niggling complaints reveal what you want out of a book. Use that. — Next look around you. Places you’ve lived, careers you’ve had, disciplines you’ve studied. How can you add your experiences to your concept? Now, just Be yourself.
  19.   Dare to be different. Part of the success of Indie publishing is that the voices have not been homogenized by the publishing industry.
  20. People judge books by their covers. You may not like it, but if you don’t respect it, it will sink you. This is the most important place you must invest. Get the best you can afford.
  21.   You can’t do everything. Know where the gaps in your skills are and find talented people to help you.
  22.   Say thank you whenever possible.
  23.   A Book is never finished. It will never be perfect, but it can be overwritten. Learn when to let go. Learn to live with good enough. I counted 12 egregious typos in a Nora Roberts eBook, including “she tarred herself up” instead of tarted.
  24.   You can never prepare enough to be perfect the first time. You will learn more, faster, by putting yourself out there. Tami Hoag’s first books were awful. Try the low bar strategy. Exactly how good do you need to be to get in the game? Pick someone you know you can beat, then work up the ladder.
  25.   You can’t just create it and set it adrift. you have to tend it. Publishing the book is only the beginning.

BONUS: Buy plants you cant kill. Simplify your life wherever possible.

BONUS #2: Five years from now, people will merely think you are eccentric if your wash piles up for 2 months while you write the great American novel. Don’t let trivialities get in the way of your dreams.

How to Succeed as a Writer (or Anything Else)

“The failure to comprehend a problem is sometimes the best way to transcend it.”

—C. A. Newsome, June 2015

I spent some time talking to a literary genius recently. Someone who can write rings around me while juggling Mom’s china. I’ve known this person all my life, and he could do this before he went to two prestigious schools to obtain degrees in English lit. He’s devoted his life to books. Yet, as far as I know, he has never published anything except some brilliant reviews he wrote for  his college newspaper. I expect the world will discover thousands of pages of priceless prose after his death. I am hoping he will leave them to me in his will.

“The problem is, you either have to have a one-in-a-million lucky stroke, or you have to spend years rigorously refining your writing until you’ve perfected your pandering.”

—literary genius on achieving success as an author

My literary genius is paralyzed by too much knowledge: too many stories about iconic books that were rejected dozens or even hundreds of times before they were printed, passed over again and again while the best seller lists teemed with barely-literate fluff; the DNA-deep understanding that it takes ten years or more of banging your head against the door before someone will let you in, and once they do, they will take the child of your heart and do with it what they will while tying you up with a contract that says they own you.

You would think the explosion in self publishing would have oppressed literary types like my genius at the forefront. Instead, they are suffering their own form of Stockholm syndrome, still seeking approval from the brutal and draconian system that rejected them all their lives.

There are many stories of first time hacks (like me) who said, “Writing a book would be fun. I can publish it myself? Cool!” who blundered into self-publishing and quickly turned it into a full-time business. My favorite example, Colleen Hoover, became a millionaire and hit the NYT bestseller list in six months.

Random House takes 18 months to turn a manuscript into a book. It took me five months to earn enough from my first book to quit my job. That’s why I penned the pithy and profound saying above. All us newcomers did not know that publishing was supposed to be a path to failure and humiliation. We didn’t see what the problem was, and for us, there wasn’t one.

So, take everything you’ve ever heard about succeeding at anything and scrap it. Here’s my philosophy:

Not everybody is going to like what you do. Some people will. Some people won’t. Your job is to be yourself, the best ‘you’ you can be, and create the most authentic, book, painting, or widget you can. Then go find those people who do like and want what you do.

That’s it. Seriously.

It’s not complicated, but It takes work, flexibility, and the willingness to get up off your ass when life knocks you down. You’ve got to get rid of your preconceived ideas of what help, opportunity and success look like. You need to be determined to learn what you need to know and able to look at your stuff with an unbiased, critical eye. You must do all this with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

Or you can hang out in obscure little coffee houses, waiting for the Book Fairy to sprinkle stardust on you.

The Plot Thickens . . .

Plot

I did a signing Thursday at Westwood Library, which is featured in Sneak Thief. Cover-beagle Julia’s pawtographs were a big hit. I had to go sit next to her just to get my picture taken. You can see her to the left, mugging for the pup-erazzi. You’d never know it was her debut, she was such a diva.

JuliatheDivaMe, I had to spend 30 minutes talking about myself without looking like an egomaniac. I had to answer questions. Sound like I know what I’m doing.

Claudia, who is currently co-writing her first novel, asked me what the hardest thing was about writing. I said, “Plotting. Knowing what happens next.” I gave a little advice, signed some books, and went out for fish and shrimp tacos, satisfied with a job well done.

I woke up in the middle of the night with one thought in my head: “I left stuff out of my answer to Claudia.” I know Claudia’s book will be great without my help, but I feel compelled to flesh out my advice anyway.

This advice is not for outliners. Outliners are an alien life form, and nothing I say has any relevance for them, just like oxygen has no relevance to the natives of the methane planet Golgaranth. I’m what you call a semi-pantser. I start with a few key concepts and toss them like salad to see what happens. I have a couple of scenes that I know will take place. I keep a vague idea of the next few chapters and the end game in mind, then I dive in.

I discover the story through writing it.

It Starts With Concept:

Write the Book You Want to Read Think of all the books you love, then think of everything that’s wrong with each one of them. If you’re a true writer you love books, but always leave them with a “yeah, but . . .” or “If I wrote that I would’ve . . .” (Except Harper Lee. There is nothing you can do to improve To Kill A Mockingbird. The book lives to taunt the rest of us.) Take all your “would’ves” and “yeah buts” and “I wish someone woulds” and toss them together. What do you come up with?

Trash Your First Idea  It’s almost always the most obvious one. If you thought of it so easily, then so did your readers. So twist it, make it do back flips, turn it inside out. Know your genre well enough that you can make your reader think you are being obvious, and use that to lead them merrily down a garden path. Deliver the goods when they are most complacent.

Do What Doesn’t Bore You If you’re not having fun, it’s likely that your readers won’t, either. Have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Darcy? Spice it up. Toss in zombies. Yes, That’s a real thing. Look it up. While you’re at it, look up Dinosaur Porn. One caveat: while having fun is essential, never do so in a way that demeans your readers.

When You Don’t Know What Happens Next:

Take Role Call  Check in with all of your characters. What do they know and how are they reacting to events and revelations? Usually this is enough to shake things loose. Great books are character driven. While we want events to surprise our readers, they must make sense in relation to our characters.

Just Start Writing  Some of us channel our stories more than invent them. The right brain (where all your great ideas hide) doesn’t communicate directly with the left brain, but it sometimes comes out of your fingers as you are typing. Start with what you know and keep going. See what happens. I discover some of my best plot twists this way.

Amp It Up If the logical course of events is falling flat for you, consider exaggerating the situation to make it funnier, scarier, sexier. A monkey scratching his butt at the local convenience store is enough to make you laugh IRL, but on paper it’s pretty ho-hum. What if it’s eight monkeys loose in a bridal shop? Take your experiences and juice them till they grab you.

Don’t Know What Happens Next? Write What You DO Know  Skip ahead to that scene that you haven’t written because the story isn’t there yet. The one that’s half-fleshed out and teasing you with ideas. Go ahead. Just keep moving. You can always come back later.

If You Don’t Know How to Write it, Write it However You Can  You know what happens, but you can’t get a handle on how to write it. Just get it down any way you can, and move on. This is where you give yourself permission to write badly. Let it go. The back of your brain will work on the issue with out you banging your head against the wall. Inspiration will occur when you least expect it and you can rewrite it.

Take A Break  This one is dangerous, but sometimes necessary. I find that ideas flow more readily the more I write, and other authors I know feel the same way. Stopping when you are frustrated can lead to procrastination. So, take a break, but Make Sure You Come Back.

Must You Torture Your Characters? That’s the current advice. Torture them, then torture them more. Never give them a break. “Readers LOVE it.” This one doesn’t.

It might work for one novel, but today the market is in series and character identification. If you never give your characters a break, if they never have any fun times, then what’s the point?

I gave up one best-selling author last year. Every time his MC talked to someone, they died. After the fifth body, I was done. I gave up another the year before. In twenty books, you never saw her MC having a pleasant, loving, fun time with those closest to her. Instead, she opens book 21 with a rant about her main supporting character. Really? In twenty years, you haven’t figured out how to get along with this guy? You keep him around and bitch about him? Shoot me, NOW. Halfway through the second page, I was out of there.

If All Else Fails:

Ask Your Sister Or someone you love and trust like a sister. Bounce your ideas off someone who’s smart. They don’t have to be a writer. They just have to enjoy a good story.

My Secret

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I was going to title this post The Secret, until I realized that everyone would think I was going to talk about vision boards, affirmations, visualization, etc, etc. All of which I have somehow neglected to check off my to do list. This is not that Secret.

This is my Secret. It is both easier and harder than Rhonda Byrne’s metaphysics manifesto. Easier because you don’t have to make time for all the manifesting exercises. Harder because it demands that you surrender to life as it is.

I’m writing this post for Brandon, a friend who spent the last year in the worst Hell on Earth, literally wresting his life back from the colon cancer determined to take it in as painful a way as possible. Brandon finally underwent his last surgery and is now cancer free. It only took scooping out his entrails like an Egyptian mummy. Knowing Brandon, I bet he asked his nurses if they would pack the goods in canopic jars for him. I am too polite to ask him if his abdominal cavity is now stuffed full of linen.

Brandon is now cancer free. The war is over. The band has packed up and gone home. Now that the excitement is over, Brandon is left with a long recovery while he wonders what kind of life is left for him. Today he was mourning past summers and all the things he will no longer be able to do.

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I can relate. I had my own life changing collision with a Ford Taurus in 2001. A guy named Fred was too busy trying to change lanes to look ahead and smashed into my bike. My head returned the favor by smashing into his windshield. Two seconds of inattention by the driver has left me with mild traumatic brain injury, so-called “mild” because there was no obvious head wound. I won’t bore you with all the ways it affects me, or the struggles I’ve endured to find a way to be “Me” in this new normal. I will just say this:

Today I am living a simple and satisfying life as an author and painter, and my head injury helped me get here. I still have my disability, and I’m happier than at any time in my life.

My Secret: Embrace your circumstances as a gift from the universe (or God, Allah, or even Moe at the neighborhood transmission shop) designed to give you what you need to get where you want. Dive into your circumstances as if there’s a pony buried in the manure—because there is. Master the challenges your circumstances present, whether it means learning how to ask for and accept help or finding a way to ask your neighbor to please not cut the grass at 6 am on Sunday. Become so good at being where you are that you never want it to change.

Practice gratitude for the challenges life presents you, then go out and tackle them. It will be a mental exercise at first, then it will become real. That’s when miracles will happen.

New Covers!

SneakThief_FINAL

With the release of my fourth Dog Park Mystery, It has been past time to ramp up my game. I hired the inimitable and incomparable Elizabeth Mackey to take my portrait of Julia to the next level and redo my covers to create a series brand for me.

FINAL

I’m a painter. I’m not a designer. I am especially not a book cover designer, a discipline which involves much more than arranging text and images.

I love how she’s taken my paintings and added a fun, sassy edge.

She has also updated my audiobook covers:

AShotInTheBark_AUDIODroolBaby_AUDIO

MaximumSecurity_AUDIOSneakThIef_AUDIO

And then there’s the new logo for my imprint, Two Pup Press:

TwoPupPress_FINAL_LOGO

How many ways are there to say, “I LOVE it!”?