On Failing and Being a Failure

Janelle Monae - On failing and being a failure

“You fail only if you stop writing.”
― Ray Bradbury

I hear so much about failing. In the startup world, in the tech world and in the writing world. I feel I have to address the topic. Look, there is no failing. It’s all in your head. Failing is just succeeding at a smaller scale. You can quote on me on that.

Writers we suffer from great deal of insecurity. So what if you didn’t sell as many books as you expected? Write another book and promote it more. Your next book will sell better. Believe me. Didn’t it sell more? Write another book and start again.

When thinking about success don’t think in absolute terms. Did I sell as much as that indie author sold with his first book? That’s a self-selecting, useless question. Think in relative terms. Did your first book sell? At all? That’s a success. After your second, third book look back. Did your overall earnings exceed your first book? Yes. So that’s a success as well.

Again, when thinking of about failure don’t think in absolute terms. Think about the investment concept of compounding. Success compounds. It doesn’t come overnight but it is built on top of all the efforts that came before it.

Same thing applies to that favorite, self publishing author you admire. That first success of them is not their first effort nor their first try. It is only the first success that we talk about.

Success is nothing but the golden child of failure.

Look at your own efforts and work as you would look a career. You wouldn’t expect a student of law to win a trial after his first semester of classes. Nor after his second or third. Not even his first trial after graduating. You are that student. You are on a path, success is at the end of the path, not at the first crossroad.

You won’t succeed until you have failed many times before.

Hustle your ass and good luck.

“Dream Big and Dare To Fail”
—Norman Vaughan

Final words

Here is where I bring the heavy artillery. If you ever feel overwhelmed with failure, remember to never give up and just let Janelle remind you of the power of yet:

Frances Stroh on Writing

Frances Stroh author of Beer Money gives great advice for new writers.

“Find the voice that wants to tell your story. Once your narrator is there, the book will essentially write itself. All you have to do is show up at your desk, every day, and give that voice free reign. And don’t think about any kind of an end goal. Following that voice, and the writing itself, is the real reward.”

Frances Stroh on Writing, Getting Published, Beer, and Beer Money

Frances Stroh

Hugh Howey on the Health of the Writing Industry

I prefer the term “writing industry”, rather than “publishing industry”. It’s about time we focus on what’s important in the larger picture. Writing is about storytelling, publishing is one component of that.

Storytelling is a critical component of what makes us human. The world of publishing is all about matching up storytellers with audiences, and this power has moved to the left coast and the world of ones and zeros. What matters most is what happens on either end, not in the middle. Can writers write? More than ever. Can they publish? Easier than ever. Can readers find and access stories? Like no other time in human history.

The State of the Industry

photo by Christopher Michel (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/20061930470/)



photo by Christopher Michel (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/20061930470/)

10 Lessons from the Kings of Lowbrow Cinema, A Writer’s Confession

“If you make an American film with a beginning, a middle and an end, with a budget of less than five million dollars, you must be an idiot to lose money.”
—Menahem Golan

10 Lessons from the Kings of Lowbrow Cinema - A Writer's Confession

If you think you don’t know the Cannon Group, let me tell you, you do. The Cannon is the reason we have Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson, and gave us indelible film gems such as Masters of the Universe, American Ninja, Life Force, and Cobra.

Cannon Films was an american film production company most famously known thanks to Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, two Israeli film producers who bought the company in 1979 with the dream of making Hollywood movies. They succeeded at making movies, alright. In its 27 years of existence, Cannon produced over two hundred films.

It’s too bad neither of these two guys knew that much about managing money (or about making quality movies for that matter) and have become a text-book example of how to run a company down. Cannon closed down on 1994, but before they closed down, Menahem and Yoram were extremely successful at producing and selling their movies (and not always in that order).

At the very core of it, one can say that the Cannon group sold their ideas and did it extremely well. Here it is what any professional in the creative arts looking to reach their audience can learn from these geniuses of popular trash.

Cannon - Invasion U.S.A.

Lesson #1 – Choose a genre

Menahem and Yoram choose action and all it’s variants. They tried other genres (dancing, historical fiction, teen comedy), but their true love and success came from exploitation movies with lots of sexual scenes and even more violence.

Cannon - Breakin'

Lesson #2 – Be relevant to your time

Writing is a reflection of the context of its author, and so is movie making.
Menahem and Yoram (I’ll call them “the Cannon guys” from here on) were inspired by popular culture and current events. In many occasions they tried to be first to market with their chosen topics, be it break dancing, lambada (yeah, remember that?), martial arts, ninjas, the hippie movement, etc.

Cannon - King Solomon's Mines

Lesson #3 – Mix and mash of popular topics and proven tropes

Something Cannon guys succeed most at was taking and mixing (ie. appropriating) other people’s ideas. If good artists steal, these guys should be crowned kings of artistdom (yeah, I made that term up and I’m sticking to it).

The Cannon guys used and abused every film trope and idea they could lay their hands on: Flashdance, The Exorcist, Laurence of Arabia, Blue Lagoon and Tommy, are all movies that can be found copied (“homage” is too euphemistic here) all over the Cannon catalog.

Cannon assembled parts of other movies and formed a disaster. They were the ultimate movie remixers.

Cannon - The Last American Virgin

Lesson #4 – Start with low budged

You don’t need a $100 million to make a movie. These guys didn’t even need $1 million. Many of their earlier movies were produced on a budget. I am a firm believer that constrains (economical or otherwise, are the best fuel for creativity).

Cannon - Masters of the Universe

Lesson #5 – Have impactful cover art

Ah, here. Cannon would like you to judge a book by its cover. They sold movies by the pound. Movies that hadn’t been produced, casted or even written for that mater. And they sold them based only… on a movie poster. It kinda drives home the power of a good cover, doesn’t it?

Cannon - American Ninja

Lesson #6 – Produce as quickly as possible

If there is something Cannon excelled at was producing movies at lighting speed. Some years they got to produce over 30 films, getting close to a movie a week. If you think that producing a book is hard work, imagine a movie! Ok, they had a crew to produce all that work, but they did manage to create movies like there was no tomorrow, and that takes us to the next point.

Cannon - Death Wish 3

Lesson #7 – Build a catalog of work

Menahem was obsessed with building an extensive catalog. Their goal was to produce cheap movies as fast as possible, to build a body of work in as short amount of time as possible. Some of the movies of such large catalog would become successful and their profits offset the costs of the rest of the movies. This was easy since the production costs were so low. By having a large catalog they could “package up” their flops with their successes and make money even with the movies that were complete failures.

Cannon - Over The Top

Lesson #8 – Distribute at large

This might seem obvious but once you have a hit, run with it. Take it to every market you can sell it to and keep the dollars rolling.

Cannon - Superman IV -  The Quest for Peace

Lesson #9 – Make sequels to bank on previous success

Same as above. You know you have a hit, cash on it by leveraging its name and releasing a sequel (or two or three like they did). Almost every hit Cannon released was followed by a sequel and, as we saw in lesson #5, the production was done as quick as possible to bank on the relevancy of the previous hit.

Cannon - Cobra

Lesson #10 – Be bold, be relentless and, over all, be a dreamer

Lastly, it should come without saying, but one can’t drive a business like Cannon did without being a bit deranged. Crazy is good (you know it is), but more than crazy, one can’t produce over 30 movies a year without being somewhat delusional and having a crazy amount of confidence.


Menahem and Yoram weren’t great at movie making, but their confidence pushed them to produce true icons of cinema1.

Always remember that hard work beats talent every time.

“We are motion picture makers, and the world knows about it, sometimes we make better films, sometimes we don’t make such good films, but we do make film.”
—Menahem Golan

Reflect on the successes and failures of those that came before you. Take all that hard work, and go out there and hustle your ass.

“Ok, we fucked up, what’s next?”
—Menahem Golan


  1. Their confidence also drove them to bankruptcy, but that was mostly due to the fact that they weren’t good at accounting either. 

The 9 Most Inspiring TED Talks for Novice (and Expert) Writers

Top 9 Most Inspirational TED Talks for Writers

 

1. How to write a story

by John Dufresne

American author and writing teacher, John Dufresne talks about the essence of storytelling. What I love the most about this talk is that Dufresne (I was about to call him John but I corrected my mistake), explains the intricacies of how to write a story by telling a story himself. His talk is amazing, moving and inspiring talk.

”Stories aren’t written are rewritten.”
—John Dufresne

 

2. The mystery of storytelling

by Julian Friedmann

Mr. Friedmann, who enjoys introducing himself as an agent giving literary advice, gives a very humorous talk about storytelling and writing entertaining stories.

”The story is much more about the audience than it is about the storyteller.”
—Julian Friedmann

 

3. How to write an award-winning bestselling first novel

by Nathan Filer

Nathan Filer is an awarded British writer (The Shock of the Fall). He offers some actionable and realistic steps to write a successful novel.

Do you want to abridge version? I’ll give it to you, but do watch the talk, it’s worth every minute. Here it goes:

  • Have specific goals
  • Make sure your goals are achievable
  • Be prepared to fail
  • Base your affirmations on fact
  • Be flexible in how you get there
  • Take responsibility
  • Focus on what you can control

“Being a writer is always a work in progress”
—Nathan Filer

 

4. Why I Write about Elves

by Terry Brooks

If you are into epic fantasy fiction, no doubt you have read Terry Brooks. Listen to him talk about using writing to explore the questions that trouble the writer.

“Every time I sit down to begin another book, or I sit down to continue a book or I sit down to write, it’s exciting to know that I get a chance to look at something dressed up in different clothes, and find a way to make it come alive in a different way. And that’s the thing that keeps me doing this and that’s why I write about elves because I find the answers to life’s mysteries in that fashion.”
—Terry Brooks

 

5. Why you should write

by Misan Sagay

Ok, enough about white men delivering wisdom, let’s switch it up. Misan Sagay is an Anglo-Nigerian screenwriter that talks about blackness, storytelling, female leads and filmmaking. All the things that we need more of.

“What story do you have to tell? Because your story will also never be made unless you choose to put it out there.”
—Misan Sagay

 

6. Writing your future, revising your past, moving forward

by Yvonne Battle-Felton

Yvonne Battle-Felton is “a mother, a writer, a sister, a teacher, an associate professor” and much more. Battle-Felton talks about all this and about finding oneself on our stories and telling our own story.

“Claim your story before somebody else does.”
—Yvonne Battle-Felton

 

7. Writing as an act of tribute

by Briony Goffin

Briony Goffin is a writer and teacher who talks about writing from our own experience and historical roots.

“As writers, by paying attention to the details of a given moment—remembered or imagined—we are allowing ourselves and our writing to come into definition.”
—Briony Goffin

 

8. Faith and the Writer: When Life Meets Art

by Dinah Lenney

Dinah Lenney, an american actress and writer, declares to being “spiritually challenged” and sees writing as confessions, and guilt as the needed catalysts for writers.

“What do [writers] want? As with any relationship, we want to be known we want to see our selves reflected. We want answers, sure, but if we can’t have answers at least we want to know that other people are asking the same questions.”
—Dinah Lenney

 

9. Why you will fail to have a great career

by Larry Smith

Ok, so this talk is not specifically about writing, but it is about pursuing a passion and having a great career. Larry Smith is a professor of economics and a great speaker, persuasive and motivating. Smith gives us all a kick in the butt, to shake us into action and to give us that extra push we need to beat our insecurities.

You know what you are. You’re afraid to pursue your passion. You’re afraid to look ridiculous. You’re afraid to try. You’re afraid you may fail. […] And that’s why you’re not going to have a great career. […] Unless…
Unless.
—Larry Smith

 

End notes

I hope you enjoyed this list. I watched about a hundred TED talks about writing so I don’t think I will write about any TED talk any time soon. I really enjoyed the talks but I’ve OD’d on TED now.

So, what do you think about the talks above? And tell me, did I miss any good one?

Extra Credit

In the selected list above women outweighed men 5 to 4 (The future is female my coworkers say. And I agree.) Do you think there are differences between the two groups? Are there common threads between them? Do they focus on similar or different topics?

What do you think? Does writing have a gender?

Abby Rosmarin on Aspiring Writers

No nonsense writing advice from Abby Rose.

Want to be a writer? Own it, live it, be it.

Aspiring writers: get the f*ck up. Lace up those proverbial dance shoes and just do it. Stop telling everyone that you have the idea for the next Great American Novel in your head and take the steps to get there. Pick up the pen — start up the computer — and write down what’s going on in your head….

Do not be an “aspiring writer”. Be a writer who aspires for greatness. Or simply be a writer who aspires to let the art of writing affect them, personally and privately, as a human being. Aspire to change the world or aspire to simply change how you interact with the world.

But, for the love of God, do not “aspire to write”.

If You ‘Aspire To Write,’ You’re Doing It Wrong

Abby Rose

Daniel Arenson Advice to Aspiring Indie Authors

Daniel Arenson has summarized in just a few sentences what I think is the essence of becoming a professional writer. This is the most condensed and helpful advice on writing I’ve read.

First of all, I wouldn’t rush into publishing. If you’re a new writer, take time to improve your craft. Write short stories. Read books about storytelling. Study how characters and plots work. Write novel drafts and toss them out and start again. Workshop your stories. Before you step onto that stage, practice. Get good.

When you’re ready, put your marketing hat on. Find what genre and sub-genre your work best fits into. Read popular novels in that genre and understand why readers love them. Write for that audience. Pay somebody to edit your manuscript. Get a cover and blurb that’s on par with what’s selling. If you can choose a clearly defined genre, get a professional cover, craft a catchy blurb, and write an addicting story, you’re already ahead of most writers. You will sell.

Sometimes young writers ask me about writing for a living. My answer is to never count on writing full time. I would guess that 99% of writers don’t make enough money to quit their day jobs. So don’t sacrifice your education or job just yet. But if you write well, work hard, and know how to market, you stand an excellent chance of sharing your work with many readers.

Daniel Arenson

I can definitely say that I have followed his recommendation regarding writing drafts and tossing them out to start again.

My takeaway as an author is this: be very deliberate with your writing.

Daniel-Arenson

Favorite Fiction Book Covers for July 2016

favorite book covers, july 2016

The cover of a book can help distill the spirit of the story it illustrates and be an inspiration for the writing. As I start to write a new series of stories I can’t help to also start thinking about the cover art for the books.

 

The Selection Criteria

I went through hundreds of books published the last 30 days. Lots of ladies in sexy poses and headless hunks, let me tell you. I focused on fiction only (genre fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, etc). My personal preference is for clear, direct and minimal covers.

Above it all, this is the criteria of an effective cover:

  • Must have readable type and be scannable.
  • Must work as a small thumbnail.
  • Must build trust about the quality of the work
  • Must clearly communicate the genre and style of the book (eg. horror, sci-fi, comedy, ya, etc).

In other words, an effective cover must entice a potential reader to take action (eg: grab it up from the shelf or click preview on an online store).

Here it is the selection of most effective book covers for this month of July 2016. Did I forget any notable book cover? Let me know in the comments section below.

 

July Favorite List

a-world-without-you 1. A World Without You
 
Author: Beth Revis
Cover art: Unknown


Dancing with the tiger 2. Dancing with the Tiger
 
Author: Lili Wright
Cover art: Aitch


dr-knox 3. Dr. Knox
 
Author: Peter Spiegelman
Cover design: Oliver Munday


how-to-set-a-fire-and-why 4. How to Set a Fire and Why: A Novel
 
Author: Jesse Ball
Jacket design: Kelly Blair


miss-jane 5. Miss Jane
 
Author: Brad Watson
Book design: Chris Welch Design


shiny-broken-pieces 6. Shiny Broken Pieces
 
Author: Sona Charaipotra, Dhonielle Clayton
Cover Art: Sean Freeman


the-muse 7. The Muse by Jessie Burton
 
Author: Jessie Burton
Cover design: Unknown


the-wolf-road 8. The Wolf Road
 
Author: Beth Lewis
Frontispiece image: Aleksander Bolbot/Shutterstock
Cover design: Jake Nicolella
Cover photograph: (trees) Gallinago_media/Shutterstock


this-savage-song 9. This Savage Song
 
Author: Victoria Schwab
Jacket design: Jenna Stempel


towers-falling 10. Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
 
Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
Cover art: Unknown


I tried to credit all the artist when possible. Cover art owned by their respective copyright holders. Can think of any other book cover I should have included? Let me know.

On Starting All Over Again: 6 Learnings From a Failed Draft

Last month I finished writing 35K words of my first novel and I made the decision of starting all over again. I’m not just rewriting the story, I’m reconsidering the basic plot structure and genre.

6 learnings from a failed draft

 

A better plot

The decision to reconsider the basic plot of the story came after reading the book Save the Cat. This is an extraordinary book on screenwriting. It brought home the point that a story without a solid logline is not worth telling. If your premise is not strong enough, your plot will not be powerful enough to drive the audience along.

Looking back over my story I realized that as strong as I thought the premise was, it lacked a punch (or two). In other words, it lacked a sense of irony and anticipation.

 

A better genre choice

The decision to reconsider the genre of the story came after reading Write to Market. This is a great book by Chris Fox on writing to a specific (existing) audience. A story that intends to capture the audited attention needs to be written with the audience’s expectations in mind. Sounds simple, but few people actually follow this approach.

In my case, I knew my genre choice was not focused and could be better defined.

 

Learnings from a first draft

Do I think that writing my manuscript was a waste? I don’t. I wrote 35k words and I see that as training. The benefit of writing is not just the published work, but also the writing practice in itself.

In my first draft I learnt:

  1. Sometimes I’m most productive when I don’t think about writing and simply force myself to write.
  2. A habit is a writer’s best friend.
  3. The style of writing that feels more natural and enjoyable, is to plan a plot and write it in short sprints (here’s where my software engineering background comes up).
  4. A distracted mind is a difficult beast to tame.
  5. There is a lot to learn about writing. The more I learn the more I know I have to learn. There more I know the more I know I don’t know.
  6. My preferred techniques for writing are those closer to screenwriting. In screenwriting story trumps style and keeping the audience engaged is paramount.

I now have an initial wordcount. I wrote 35k in 111 days (69 active writing days). This is equal to 315 words per day (or 500 words per active day). A modest figure, I know, but that’s what beginnings look like.

 

What to look for

If you want to make sure your story stands in solid ground, answer these two questions:

  • Does the story have a strong premise with irony, punch and clear genre?
  • Is the story written the audience in mind instead of the writer?

I hope you won’t feel the need to rewrite your manuscript but if you do, remember that it was not a lost effort.

What do you think? Do you need to reconsider your story in progress?

Top 10 Most Popular Twitter Hashtags for Writers

Joining the conversation in twitter can be a bit daunting if you don’t know where to start. Here are a few of the most popular hashtags1 for writers. Topics range from writing techniques, self-publishing advice, events, etc.

If you are curious to know what are the most effective hashtags for connecting with other writers, take a look below.

Note: Before we get into the details a mandatory disclosure. I am not a professional data analyst, but rather just a writer with OCD inclination and a coding problem.

Hashtags with most users

These are the hashtags with the largest audience, in other words, the most popular hashtags with the largest number of users participating.

TOP Writing hashtags by Audience

Hashtags with the most potential

Knowing what hashtags have the largest number of people listening to is very useful, but some hashtags are so active that your tweets might disappear in the stream. The list below has the top hashtags by amplification, in other words, the hashtags that have the largest audience but least participation. Don’t be fooled, though, these tags are still very commonly used.

TOP Writing hashtags by Amplification

The raw data

How was this data put together? I looked into the most common hashtags used for twitter profiles, post, other popular lists and related hashtags. I then compiled them all, and used several social reporting tools to extract data (eg: posts, users, reach, impressions, amplification, influencers, etc).2

hashtag Audience hashtag Amplification (%)
#writing 3,886,285 #GetPublished 636
#amwriting 3,011,162 #SciFiChat 429
#IndieAuthors 2,970,102 #eprdctn 360
#WordCount 2,848,731 #ScriptChat 234
#WritersLife 2,537,791 #SelfPub 188
#IndieAuthors 2,491,342 #amwriting 187
#WritingTips 2,407,592 #BookMarketing 179
#WW 2,393,012 #IndiePub 172
#NaNoWriMo 2,364,588 #WritingTips 171
#WriterWednesday 2,180,557 #YALitChat 168
#BookMarketing 1,975,119 #WW 165
#YALitChat 1,874,258 #WriterWednesday 164
#YA 1,793,714 #IndieAuthors 161
#WriteChat 1,640,460 #writing 159
#GetPublished 1,350,516 #IndieAuthors 158
#WANA 1,191,704 #SelfPublishing 150
#ScriptChat 1,024,155 #WritersLife 149
#LitChat 983,580 #WritingParty 128
#SelfPub 660,979 #WriteChat 124
#IndiePub 647,231 #NaNoWriMo 119
#SciFiChat 534,969 #WANA 114
#SelfPublishing 235,578 #YA 109
#rewriting 126,266 #WordCount 108
#WritingParty 62,081 #rewriting 105
#eprdctn 55,920 #LitChat 103

Resources

If you want an even more comprehensive list of hashtags for writers, check out these links:

Share Graphic

Wanna share the data and connect with other writers? You can use the graphic below.

TOP twitter hashtags for writers


  1. If you are new to hashtags, think of them like the twitter water-coolers, you can drop by to listen to the talk of join in by tweeting using the hashtag. 
  2. keyhole, hashtagify, …