Career Expectations for Artistic Pursuits

One of my jobs is teaching arts management. I love teaching, and enjoy passing on knowledge I’ve gleaned from 30 years in the field. I focus primarily on theater, more broadly on the performing arts. Over the years, it has morphed from a “these are the business models” structured class to a “here are the challenges and opportunities to making a life in the arts.” I’ve written about arts funding, and speak about it often in my role as executive director of an arts service organization.  The path to success in the performing arts is a tough one.

I am also a mystery writer who realized her dream of being published last year. This year has been about releasing book 2, finishing book 3, and figuring out how to stay published by working with my agent to noodle new ideas. I love this part of my life. It takes work, and focus, but it gives me great joy.

But here’s the thing. Right now, I can’t make my living as a fiction writer. I can make it part of my portfolio career, but resting all my eggs in that basket? The numbers don’t work.

A few weeks ago a friend recommended the book Born To This by Chris Guillebeau. He talks about the three legs of a career–money, joy, and flow. Flow is doing something you are good at, joy makes you happy, money supports you. Your career should be an equal mix of all three.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Am I less of a writer because I can’t support myself writing? Is a actor less of an artist because she pays the bills by teaching? Is a musician less of a musician because she is also a lawyer? Are some artistic pursuits more worthy than others? Or does expecting your art/craft to provide joy AND flow AND money put too much pressure on your art/craft? Is it okay to have to do two or three things in order to achieve balance?

It is more than okay, as long as it works. That is the real challenge, making sure it works for me, not for what expectations are for me.

As 2016 winds down to a close, I am thinking about joy, flow, and money. I’m also thinking about my goals for 2017, and the balance of my complicated career. Wonderful, but complicated. May the path forward be as rewarding.

Happy New Year to you all.

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Julie Hennrikus writes mysteries as Julianne Holmes and J. A. Hennrikus.

The Importance of Readers

Tonight a friend invited me over for dinner with her book group. All eleven of them have read my books, and Marianna invited me over for dinner and discussion. I am so looking forward to this, and to meeting with folks to talk about Clock and Dagger. I am also so grateful for the opportunity. It is a kind gesture by a friend, one of many by friends and family over the course of the last year.

One year ago, on October 6, 2015 I realized a lifelong dream and became a published novelist. It has been a fun journey so far. I have a couple of author thoughts that I’d like to share.

When someone says “I read your book” I stop breathing until they finish their sentence.

I hate it when someone apologizes because they borrowed one of my books from the library rather than buying it. I love that my book is available in the library, and that folks are borrowing it! Readers are readers, and without readers there aren’t books.

I don’t go out of my way to read reviews, but I know that a lot of folks do when they are thinking about buying a book. I am so grateful to the people who take time to add their thoughts to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads.

Getting an email or seeing a Facebook post about my books never, every gets old. I had a woman I know write me a thoughtful note about Clock and Dagger,  going into detail about the plot and some of the characters. I told her how much I appreciated it, and that she’d made my day. It reminded me to write notes to folks whose work I appreciate.

I still get a thrill when I meet a reader who I don’t know personally.

Friends, do you reach out to authors you don’t know personally? Do you post reviews? How do you connect with authors?

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Julie Hennrikus writes the Clock Shop Mystery series as Julianne Holmes. Clock and Dagger came out in August. Just Killing Time was the debut in the series, and was nominated for a Best First Novel Agatha award.

 

Our Summer Vacation: Writing A Series

OUR WRITING ROADMAPAll summer I’ve been doing blog posts on different aspects of writing a novel. Today let’s talk about how your novel fits into the publishing world, and your own work. Are you writing a stand alone, or is the manuscript you’re working on part of a series?
Stand-alones are just that. They are complete by themselves. The characters, the plot, the setting are all created to exist in a single novel. No prequels, no sequels. This is it.

Series novels are very typical in certain genres. Romance, science fiction, mystery for example. What series means in each of these genres depends on the genre, and also on the publisher. My Clock Shop Mystery series goes under the category of “cozy”, which (in the United States) means a softer traditional mystery. Violence and sex off the page, justice prevails, a town setting that brings comfort to readers.

Not all mystery series are cozy, however. Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Jane Ryland series is more traditional, with thriller elements. Her Charlie McNally series skews more traditional with cozy elements. Thrillers often are series, with the same character in different settings and stories.

Romance series also differ depending on the subgenre they are part of. Sometimes they are series in that the characters are all related. Or perhaps the setting is the same.
One thing to think about when working on your novel—is it part of a series? Could it be? When you’re pitching it to agents, or publishers, that question is going to come up, so be prepared to answer it. If it is, or could be, part of a series, you need to prepare a proposal for it. Lisa wrote a blog post about that a while back. Read it for more details, but here are the highlights:

  • What is the premise of your series? The overarching theme, tie that binds it all together? The setting? What is the hook?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • Who are the other characters in the series?
  • What is a synopsis for the first three books in the series? This can be brief, with much more detail on the first book.
  • What are the marketing opportunities for the series? What is your platform? Who, besides the traditional targeted readers, may be interested in it?
  • What is your biography? Short, with memberships of organizations, social media, etc. included.
  • Your proposal will also need a sample (30 pages, 3 chapters) of the novel.

When I started on this publishing journey, I did not know about proposals. It is a very valuable exercise to work on one, even if you don’t use it to sell your novel. I would finish the first book first, since that act of completion is a huge step and not easily achieved.
Writing is part art, part craft. Getting published is a business. Series or not—a business decision.

One final thought on this–if you want to write a series, read them. Take note of the publishers, and then read other books those publishers put out. If you are planning to self publish, you still should work on a proposal, since it will help you when you are marketing the books.

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As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series for Berkley Prime Crime. The second in the series, Clock and Dagger, was released earlier this month.

Our Summer Vacation: Pitching Your Book

OUR WRITING ROADMAPI’ve been doing posts all summer with some tips for writing your novel. Each of the steps I’ve talked about–plotting, finding voice, editing–are part of the writing process. They can take months. Sometimes work gets stuck in one of those steps, and is abandoned for a period of time. Never think that you are wasting time on any part of this process. Writing is a craft, and takes practice.

Once your book is “done”, you need to get ready to pitch it. Note, I put done in quotes, because it is such a relative term. I’ve read stories I’ve had published, and wanted to change things. I’m rereading a manuscript I wrote a long time ago, and pitched several times. It is good, but I can make it better now. It is a fine line between a work being “good enough” or “not quite there”. Make sure you don’t publish prematurely.

Assuming you are ready to go to the next step, you need to make decisions about your path of publication. Do you want to go the traditional route, and find an agent who then pitches to an editor?Are you going to self publish? Are you going to pitch directly to a small press? There’s a lot to this decision, and I can talk about that more in a later post.

Today, I want to talk to you about the pitch itself. Imagine this, you’re in a elevator and an agent gets on with you. You chat, they find out you’re a writer, and they say “tell me about your book”.

Do you:

a) stammer and start telling them the story in details and you barely get past the first chapter when the elevator door opens and the agent runs away.

b) tell them your pitch as a conversation opener, and then have time to answer a few questions before the door opens.

The answer is, of course, b. But you’d be surprised how challenging getting that pitch down can be. Here are some of the things I try and keep in mind:

  • Make it a hundred words or less. It should take you two or three minutes tops.
  • Make it conversational. Don’t rush, try not to fumble with words.
  • Don’t tell the story. Talk about the theme–why are you telling this story? What is the hook? Why should they care?
  • Who are you pitching to? What can you change so it hits what interests them?

Those are some of the things to think about. So much easier said than done. But practice your pitch. Know it back and forth. You’ll use it at conferences, at meetings, in queries, in marketing materials. It’s never too early to think about your pitch. Who knows, it may help you focus your story while you are writing it.

My pitch for Clock and Dagger, the second book in my Clock Shop Mystery series is that Ruth Clagan is settling into Orchard, MA, and about to hold four parties in as many days when the past creeps up and threatens her new life. She has to find a murderer, and protect her family before the New Year rings in.

nhwn books clock daggerClock and Dagger was published yesterday, August 2. If you go over to the Wicked Cozy Authors and comment on the blog talking about the debut (at the link) you may be entered to win a copy of the book.

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As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The second book in the series, Clock and Dagger, was published on August 2. She is over the moon!

Our Summer Vacation: Editing

OUR WRITING ROADMAPWeek three of our summer series, and a topic I know very well. Editing. I just submitted book #3 of my Clock Shop Mystery series, and the editing is still raw. Before I go into more specifics about my process, let me frame what editing is/when it comes in.

For some people, a first draft is a slog through molasses going uphill in January. For others, it is an easy brain dump that gets you to the shaping part of your novel.Everyone has a different first draft experience, so have your own. But always remember two truths. First, no matter how wonderful a writer you are, editing is part of the process. Give yourself time to do it, and don’t shortchange that part of the process. Second, someone said you can’t edit a blank page, and they were correct. I am a firm believer in moving forward while writing. A reminder, I am a plotter, so my first draft has some surprises (you can’t anticipate everything the muses offer), but I have a roadmap moving forward. I have learned to trust that, and keep moving.

Editing is an art. As a writer, you can do a lot yourself. Here are some of the layers of editing I’ve discovered.

Developmental. This layer of editing is big picture, first reader editing. Does the story make sense? Are there plot holes? Are the characters consistent? Does the scene order make sense? Do things need to be shifted around? I have a trusted first reader who is a friend, knows the genre I write in, and gives me some tough love. I find this to be a vulnerable time in my process, so I have chosen this first reader carefully.

Structural. I had a tendency to make leaps of logic that make sense to me while I am writing, but I don’t always connect the dots for my readers. Or I make a change in my story (he becomes a she, he goes from married to single, her cat becomes a dog) and the change isn’t consistent throughout the novel. Maybe a subplot needs to be fleshed out, and interwoven with more elegance. This phase of the editing makes sure the frame of the story is strong.

Enriching. He said. She said. He said. They did. All great for scenes. But add some physicality to the scene. She’s making dinner. He’s folding laundry.  That grounds the scene. Add descriptions. Help the reader understand your intention not by telling them, but by showing them. This layer is where the art comes in. For my most recent manuscript, I was thinking about the theme of the novel, and how each scene supported it. Then I realized that one of the subplots could be tweaked and would better serve the overall theme. It was fun adding that layer to the work.

Polishing. Final layer of editing is cleaning things up. Spell check. Reading not for content, but for words. Checking grammar. Triple checking punctuation. Doing a “find” for words that you overuse, and getting rid of them. (This blog post is a big help in finding some of those words.)

Final step? Letting it go. There comes a point where you need someone else to look over your work. You can get an editor at any one of the above stages. But you will need to know when to let your work go, either for querying to an agent or submitting it to your editor. I try to stop working on my manuscript before I screw it up. Sounds like I am being funny, but I’m not. Tweaking and adjusting becomes addictive, but at some point practically perfect becomes a hot mess. Let it go before it gets to the hot mess stage.

Spend time on editing–all phases of editing. It is where the fun of writing lives.

Dear readers, do you prefer one phase of editing over another? Where do you bring in others to help?

*ClockandDagger********************
As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. The second book in the series, CLOCK AND DAGGER, will be released on August 2.

Our Summer Vacation: Using Your Voice

OUR WRITING ROADMAPTwo weeks ago we started our writing summer vacation by talking about plotting. Today, I want to address how you are going to tell your story–what voice are you going to use?

I write my current series in first person, from the point of view of amateur sleuth Ruth Clagan. I only use first person. The pros of this choice? She is my protagonist, and first person lets her voice ring out loud and clear. She sets the tone for the scenes. Cons of this choice? She has to be in every scene. If she isn’t present, then a scene needs to described to her, which can be very boring since it doesn’t allow her to experience it.

First person also does something else–it gives the reader the perspective of the narrator. Her prejudices are passed on without editorial comment. There is always a perspective involved, and that impacts the reader expectations.

The other choice is third person. Even then there are choices. Close third person still slants towards a specific perspective on the story, since it will often focus on one character as the center of the narrative. Omniscient third person is like a camera that doesn’t use close ups. Everyone is always in the frame. There is no specific point of view.

You can change points of view within a novel. Jessica Estevao’s new book, Whispers Beyond the Veil (due out in September) is told in first person and third person. Agatha Christie used third person, moving from close to omniscient. Murder on the Orient Express is a great example of that technique. First person doesn’t mean the narrator has to be the center of the story–see how Nick Carraway tells The Great Gatsby, and the effect of that choice by Fitzgerald. Always remember, writing is a craft that is honed over time. Playing with points of view will come easier over time. Or, maybe, it will be less scary.

Your choice of point of view determines your story in a lot of ways. One thing I’ve found is that when a story isn’t working for whatever reason, I change the POV and that usually helps. I’m not going to say one is easier or better than another. What I am saying it that one choice is the correct one for your story. It’s up to you to figure that out.

Given the plot you’ve worked out, how are you going to tell that story?

Friends, there is a Goodreads Giveaway this week (through July 9) for my next novel. You can enter to win here at the link.

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Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. She also blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors, and starting in July will appear on Killer Characters on the 20th of every month. Her next novel, Clock and Dagger, will be released on August 2.

Summer Writing Vacation: Plotting

Two weeks ago I proposed spending my summer blogging spots talking about my process for writing a novel. Note, this is my process, developed afteOUR WRITING ROADMAPr years of classes, workshops, books, and practice. It works for me, but that doesn’t guarantee it will work for you. Perhaps it will give you some ideas, or help you get unstuck.

I am a plotter. I’ve talked about that on this blog, and others. What that means is that I map out my novel (or story) before I start to write. Actually, I count my plotting time as writing time, since it frees me up considerably and is the only way I can work full time while writing a mystery series. That doesn’t mean I don’t deviate. Right now, for example, I am rethinking the denouement of my 3rd clock shop mystery. But the map got me to where I am going.

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser (write by the seat of your pants), the dramatic arc of a story remains the foundation to making the novel work. Here is what I think about when I am plotting my books.

The background of the story. Where is it set? Who are the major characters? What is life like for people? “I want to write a story about an advertising agency” is a good example to start. Think about the agency. Think about the people in it. Where is the agency set? Build the world of your story. You’ll fill in more and more details as you keep writing. For your own sake, keep track of those details in a “bible” so you can recall them easily.

The inciting incident, or why are you telling this story now? What has “disrupted” the normal of your world? Inciting incidents don’t have to take place within your story frame, but they are the driver of your story. Examples for an advertising agency: a lost client, a fight over creative control, the selling of a partnership. The inciting incident sparks the story you are going to tell.

Dramatic StructurePaula Munier wrote a great book called Plot Perfect that outlines narrative structure. I have also read The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, which is a 52 step process for writing a book. Both of these books are well worth reading and highly recommended. But let me boil down what I mean by dramatic structure, narrative arcs and plot points.

You want to take your reader on a journey, with a rising sense of tension that compels her to keep reading. In order to keep the tension rising, you need to engage her by unpending expectations. These twists are called plot points–the first plot point is roughly 1/4 of the way in, and the second plot point is roughly 3/4 of the way in. The midpoint (halfway through) also needs some sort of action to drive it forward. Then you work towards the climax of the novel, then the denouement.

While planning your novel or story, don’t worry about your plot points at the beginning. Instead, make a list of what happens in your novel. (Scenes.) Use the “this happens and then” to move the story forward. One or two sentences on 3×5 cards for each scene. Now that you have your story laid out, think about the dramatic structure of the story. How’s the pacing? Are your plot points separated? Do you build up to each? Is the middle of the book a muddle, or does it keep driving the story? If your plot points come right on top of each other, can you add more scenes? Or a subplot?

Sometimes you will be driven to tell the story as you write, which is fine. Some of my best friends are pantsers. But think about dramatic structure in the editing phase, and see what you can do to keep the reader on a ride.

The final thing to think about in this phase is the theme of the novel. This may come later, but it can help you shape your scenes in interesting ways. The theme of my first book, Just Killing Time, is healing. Clock and Dagger is about redemption. Subplots and the main story all work to support that theme. Or that’s the attempt. The theme of the novel or story may become clearer as you are writing, and may help you in the editing phase.

This is a lot, but a good roadmap for moving forward. Remember what is the story you’re telling, why are you telling this story now, what happens, and why should your reader keep going?

Thoughts? Questions? Let me know! See you in two weeks for the next leg of our summer writing adventure.

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Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Book #2 in the series, Clock and Dagger, comes out August 2.