Writing Advice of the Week: Climb Your Success Ladder

Reading Time: 10 minutes
A white rabbit climbs a rickety ladder in a mystical forest
(Image by Fallon Clark vis Adobe Firefly.)

It’s a strange publishing time to be alive.

Just over ten years ago, one of my first clients self-published her debut novel. Her goal was to sell 100 copies of the novel to real readers (aka: not grandma) in her first year. She hit that goal quickly and sold a number she never could have expected.

The upward trajectory of her authorial career was inspiring. It still is inspiring. Success like that I hope for most every author.

While Publisher’s Weekly reminded writers last fall that Writing Books Remains a Tough Way to Make a Living, Jane Friedman presented a powerful reminder this week that Author Platform is Not a Requirement to Sell Your Novel or Children’s Book.

Though, regardless of industry metrics and analytics, regardless whether you’re established or debuting, through thick and through thin, writers write.

So, what is a writer to do in this bizarre, yet hopeful, publishing landscape?

This week, Cathy Yardley for Writer Unboxed brings us The First Rule Of Write Club (and if you got Tyler Durden vibes, that was definitely intentional), an article that brings some serious reality hit points to the publishing conversation.

In the article, Cathy describes the publishing world as having gone “from High Noon to The Hunger Games in six seconds flat.”

She’s right.

The amount of information people are exposed to every minute of every day has left us culturally attention-deficit and slurping up the dopamine dregs of instant gratification.

And Cathy points out that readers have far too many choices for even the most ambitious of to-be-read lists. In 2022, there were 4 million new books published — nearly 11,000 books per day.

Reader choice and a preference for instant gratification means readers want hooks right away. A meandering opening simply won’t cut it.

But hope is not all lost.

Cathy’s article shares practical wisdom about how to hook your readers and usher in an emotional connection to those readers.

And, of course, the hook comes quickly — in the first sentence.

PeggySue Wells for The Write Conversation writes a reminder that The First Paragraph Leads To The First Chapter. Hook the reader. Then, compel the reader to keep going, hopefully to finish the book and tell others about it in a positive way that brings new readers into your space.

Fingers crossed.

But just as you want readers to like your book, readers want to like your book. PeggySue’s article reviews several reader-focused questions to get you thinking from the reader’s perspective and searching for the expected elements of a satisfying read.

What’s in it for them?

While you’re thinking about the answer to that question, you may ask yourself, What Are Obligatory Scenes And Conventions? Savannah Gilbo for Fiction Writing Tips has an expansive answer and lots of additional resources to help.

Find the genre you’re writing in, grab your resource, and do a quick check just to see if all those literary ducks are in a row. You may be surprised at what you find. Avid readers in every genre has certain underlying expectations, even if they don’t articulate them — though you can be certain that if there’s a missed expectation, readers will articulate that.

And at the very basic structural level of most stories are the turning points of characters and their corresponding plots. For a refresher on turning points, see Mastering Turning Points In Relationship Plots by September C. Fawkes for Writers Helping Writers. While the article focuses on relationship plots, the turning points are widely adaptable to most any plot type so long as the story is largely driven by the characters and their trials.

    •  A point of no return? That’s your inciting incident, the catalyst that pushes your protagonist into their own story.
    • The closeness or distance between characters? That’s the contexual shift that occurs around the midpoint.
    • That moment of vulnerability? That’s your lesson learned when all the cards are finally on the table.

September uses examples from well-known stories — Pride and Prejudice, Harry potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith — to show how these turning points function within those stories.

And regardless of genre, regardless of turning points, regardless of characters, plots, and circumstances, every story has movement of some kind. For movement-focused pieces, Killzoneblog.com shared two articles this week.

How To Write A Dance Scene by Sue Coletta stresses the importance of bringing in the physical and emotional to relay the character’s actions to readers. The goal is to show, not tell. And you can do this by describing not the movements themselves but how the character responds to and senses that movement. 

And The Choreography Of Violence by John Gilstrap, who takes a dance-like analysis of point of view to communicate the power and effectiveness of violence in an action scene and where and how best to focus the reader’s attention on what they need to see and experience to be in the right mood and mindset for your story. 

If after all this, you’re still unsure about today’s publishing landscape no matter how many reader expectations you hit, metrics you meet, and goals you crush, head over to Career Authors for The Secret That Can (And Should) Change Your Entire Approach To Publishing by Brent Hartinger. Because it’s possible that your perfect publishing path looks a little different than the average smattering of options presented. 

As always, there were so many great nuggets of writing wisdom in this week’s advice that I didn’t have room for all of them. Check out the links at the bottom of this article to find what you need.

And I’d love to hear your thoughts on this week’s curated writing advice article. Was there a piece of advice you loved? Hated? Something you have lingering questions about? Leave a comment below and let me know how I can help you meet your writing goals.

Happy writing!

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Fallon Clark is a Vermont-based manuscript development coach and editor serving fiction and creative non-fiction authors. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine. Check out her website, FallonEdits.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Substack.

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