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 Planner Conundrum

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that “plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” So what, I have to wonder, would he make of planners?

I am planner obsessed. It is more than a schedule for me–it is a roadmap. Happily, I have other friends who share the “what will be perfect for this coming year” focus, and we exchange flurries of emails this time of year. I used to love the Franklin Covey system, and still use the ideas behind it, but it is too bulky.

I have a large Planner Pad, which I’ve decorated. The smaller size is too small for me to see, but the larger size is to big to haul around in my purse, so that isn’t working as well for the day to day. I take the T and walk everywhere, so transportability matters. I’ve also used the Passion Planner, with same too big/too small issues. I use my google calendar all the time, so time scheduling isn’t the issue. It is more prioritizing my time that I have been wrestling with of late.

I use and like the Bullet Journal system, and use it for taking notes. But I need a bit more order in my life.  The lists are long–how to get them done? Maybe there wasn’t the perfect planner for me? That’s what I was thinking when my friend Jessie wrote to me about her latest planner discovery.

The Volt planner is new on the market. The focus of the planner is on goals and achievements. Every month you set up a goal. There are even boxes on the bottom of the month for you to check off whether you met the goal.

There are also weekly goals, and a place for you do to check-ins with yourself.

The “schedule” portion of the planner breaks days into three blocks–morning, afternoon, evening–without specific times. I love this. When I am trying to block times to write, or do yoga, or deck the halls, I need a big picture “Tuesday Night” vibe.

I did order the Volt, and received it yesterday. It looks to be sturdy, nice layout, dark print, heavy pages. Simple yet (hopefully) sufficient for my needs. I decided to hit “order” after I’d downloaded their 2016 planner from their Facebook page, and taken it for a test drive. I also got a new notebook to bullet journal in. Both fit in my purse.

In 2017 I have two books to write. Plus everything else. Let’s hope that the Volt is up to the challenge of my life.

Dear readers, are you planner obsessed? What are you going to use for 2017?

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J.A. Hennrikus and Julianne Holmes are the same person. She writes mysteries.

Crime Bake Time Again

It’s Crime Bake time again! The New England Crime Bake is a small, writer focused, crime fiction conference. I am on the committee, which means this week is about preparation. On Saturday I am leading a discussion of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in a “Reading Like a Writer” session. On Sunday I am hosting a game show of sorts we’ve called the Wheel of Why, where three teams of writers (thriller, police proceduarl, cozy) are all given the same clue, the Wheel of Why is spun for motive, and they need to tell a story from the angle of their genre. I will report back on both of these.

Other things I am looking forward to? Seeing friends, including my fellow Wicked Cozy Authors. Hearing William Kent Krueger speak about the writing life. (He is the GoH. AMAZING writter.) Having lunch with my agent. Meeting with an editor. Being renewed and inspired by being around other writers.

When I first went to Crime Bake, being published was only a dream. This conference has a lot to do with the path I find myself on. Being grateful for that is a big part of the weekend.

Friends, what conferences do you go to? What do you like best about them?

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J.A. Hennrikus and Julianne Holmes are the same person. They both write mysteries.

Mission Focus

As I write this I am reading articles about an artistic director in the UK who has been let go after 6 months officially on the job. Her vision, and the vision of the board, are colliding. The board says that she isn’t being true to the mission of the theater.

Were this a theater blog, I would write more about that subject. But for this blog, it makes me think about different genres of writing. When I turned in my manuscript for Just Killing Time, my editor had me rewrite the beginning. “Too dark,” was the comment. She was right. It was a good beginning for a thriller, or for a traditional mystery. But for a cozy? Way too dark. (I saved it for another book.)

It is very important to think about that when you are trying to sell a book. Hybrids, or mash-ups of different genres, are much more accepted these days. But you need to know what the genres are, and what their rules are, before you move forward. Cozy is different than thriller is different than science fiction is different than romance. Each can have elements of many genres, but at its core it is one thing. That’s the mission of the book–to be that one thing.

Also, once you move on to selling the book, you need to be able to pitch it to an agent or to an editor. These folks are in the business of selling books. Books that transcend genre are tough to sell to publishers, and tough to market. Not impossible. But you do need to give folks a frame to work with when imagining your book on a shelf.

This isn’t only for genre fiction. Literary fiction needs a hook too–a mission for the work. And then the book needs to line up with the mission. Know the rules, then break them. But know them first. Stay mission focused.

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As Julianne Holmes, I write the Clock Shop Mystery series.

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.

 

Conferences

I am in Bouchercon this week. Bouchercon is the largest mystery conference in the world. It is a fan conference–so while there are hundreds of authors, there are even more fans. I am on the board of Sisters in Crime, and we have our annual meeting at Bouchercon as well. Conferences like Bouchercon are about celebrating the mystery genre.

Going to conferences as a published author is different than it was when I was starting out on this journey. At the beginning of my writing life, I went to every panel and took notes. The people on the panel were doing what I aspired to, and I had a lot to learn.

Now, I pick and choose my panels. I will attend panels to support friends. I also prefer interviews to panels–I enjoy the in-depth conversations about career arcs. I am still learning, but I am learning new things.

Conferences are also for networking. Agents, editors and publishers. They’re all here.Great opportunities to say hello, and build the network.

Conferences are also a chance to catch up with friends. As I travel down the path of publication, that is my favorite part of going to conferences. Catching up.

Sorry for the short post, but today I am going into a Sisters in Crime workshop about writing our differences. A future blog post.

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.