Thursday, August 7, 2014

10 Things I've Learned From Writing by Tara Lee Reed

 Today Two Children and a Migraine is lucky enough to have another great author guest post.  I strongly believe that there are always lessons to be learned through everything that we go through.  Check out below with the lessons that Tara Lee Reed has learnt.  Be sure to check back later for the review of Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda!

10 Things I've Learned From Writing

First, I want to thank to Jayda for having me as a guest at Two Kids and a Migraine to talk about my debut novel!

In Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, you become Elle Masters, frustrated and ready to give up on dating following another break up that didn’t break your heart. When your friends drag you out on the town, you meet tall, dark and hummuna hummuna Nick Wright. And this is no rebound guy, he’s definitely, maybe, The One. Immediately, you’ll find yourself balancing your heart and your head as you navigate your way through hundreds of dating dilemmas and passionate predicaments. With 60 endings, you’ll always have another second chance with Mr. Wright.

Alright. Settle in. Presenting...The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned Since I Started Writing

1.    There is Absolutely Such a Thing As Too Much Research.

While Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda is indeed a work of fiction with fully developed characters, the idea was inspired by the sheer volume of dating advice books available. That meant reading a lot of them to compile a large and varied selection of common conundrums and dilemmas while hopefully representing as wide an audience as possible.

After months of research, I finally began plotting out the first draft, but when I decided to expand it a couple of years later, that meant more research. Eventually my partner had to say, “Stop! Write.” It probably didn’t help that our apartment was starting to look like a scene from a war room on Criminal Minds thanks to my scattered research cards and boards.

2.            Writing is Hard.

          I mean, that goes without saying. If it were easy to write a book, everyone would do it.
It was just harder than I expected. Harder than arranging all of my “Conflict Cards” into intertwining story streams that made sense no matter how you arrived at them.

This was partly due to the fact I’d created the entirety of the plot before I’d started thinking even abstractly about characters. So I suddenly had these pages, blank with the exception of the relationship dilemma at hand, and I had to build characters, environments and context from there.

I’m sure the rest was old fashioned insecurity. I look back at the first draft of the manuscript and am amazed any agent looked past the first page, let alone seriously considered representing it. Years later, the final product might as well be a different book.

3.            You Can’t Please Everyone.

Because Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda combines so many genres, and centres around dating, people often mis-classify it. For example, because of the source content, people want to call it a dating book. So if you’re a married mom or in a committed relationship, you might think the book wasn’t relevant to you, but in reality, I’d wager you’ll have more fun than a single gal. It’s also not a how-to guide. There are no right or wrong answers.

Others want to call it a romance novel, sometimes chicklit. And while it most certainly has those vibes, what with all the feels and witty humor, there’s just one thing… Those genres generally guarantee a Happily Ever After. It’s why we read them, right? We know all will be well in the end, so we can enjoy the angst and drama that gets us there. And there are HEAs in Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, but with 60 endings taking us from Meet Cute all the way up to (maybe) I Do, they can’t all go the distance, and they can’t all be pretty. In fact, some of them are downright frustrating, but that’s the whole art imitating life thing.

4.            Always Have a Back Up.

Almost nothing about this process has been what I expected, or at least, things came about in strange ways and at odd times. I also took a few risks that could (and some did) setback my production schedule.

From vendors who just didn’t deliver (and for the record, you get what you pay for), to fundraising attempts, and finally publisher submissions, there were so many set backs. Could have published in 2013, kind of setbacks.

Funnily, it was the acquisitions process that did me in. I was ready to go with my indie plans - all but copy-edited, interior and exterior designers vetted and locked down, marketing planned, media opportunities set up, and people waiting for advance review copies. (It’s worth noting, my ARCs couldn’t be word docs, they had to be the final retail file because of the intricate, interactive format) But when my agent convinced me to give traditional publishing another try, I obviously went for it. I knew it was unlikely I’d be getting an offer let alone taking a deal, but who doesn’t want to go for that ride - especially when she’s resigned herself to it never happening?

But when I did opt to remain indie, my vendors were gone, my Valentine’s media ops had passed, and there were no ARCs. I was months behind. (Still am.) I managed to assemble a new team, but the process took forever. And an interactive ebook is tricky, but a non-linear ebook is much trickier. There were so many technical hiccups before achieving the smooth reading experience we did. There were many vendor issues. The print book was too big. And it turned out great, all of it did, but I’ve learned my lesson. Even back ups need back ups.

5.            Plan, Plan and Plan Some More.

I wish I’d spent more time thinking about the complexity of the long term mechanics of the ebook before I began writing. It’s not linear, so you’ll be jumping from page 5 to page 100 to page 283. That seemed simply-complicated enough, so I just sort of went for it. About a third of the way in, I was ready to throw my computer out a window because of the constant scrolling up and down within the ever-expanding document, always losing my place and just bleeding time.

My brother helped me engineer as system that is close to a Word version of the ebook, with anchors and bookmarks that take you from one section to the next with a click. Heaven. But it took forever to implement. And that was only the first of maybe four times I completely overhauled the formatting. I’d say research, writing and design took up equal time.

And efficient use of resources is especially important to me because of a chronic illness that keeps me on the bench more often than not, with zero predictability as to the time or duration I’ll be out of commission. The economy making my book a publishing risk in 2009 turned out to be maybe the best thing that could have happened the project, as I spent the next two years dealing with the fallout of a very dangerous medication I was prescribed. There was no way I would have been able to honour a publishing agreement.

I have much more experience now, as well as fail-safes and more sophisticated programs; so while my health will always be a wild card, I should be able to complete future titles in the series in quarter of the time. I hope.

6.            There is No Such Thing As Premature Planning For The Big Picture:

During those two years, I maximized my downtime by filling notebooks with various ideas to improve the book, or for eventual marketing and positioning. When I’d tell people about this, I’d often hear that I wasting my time or getting ahead of myself, and I started to think they were right. But it turns out that old adage “Luck is where preparedness meets opportunity” is pretty darned accurate. Those agents who suggested self-publishing in 2009 were right about publishing it myself and leveraging my PR background. I learned everything I could about it and slowly started building my marketing platform. Last year, my efforts at creating buzz led me to an agent afterall. And earlier this year I received and declined single and multi-book offers for the series. I certainly never expected any of that.

7.            Some Stuff Just Works Itself Out.

This is kind of a continuation of Number 6. I go back and forth on whether I believe “things happen for a reason,” but I am clear that there are things that just wouldn’t or couldn’t have happened unless something else had (or hadn’t). I was really bummed when I first heard the suggestion of self-publishing. It wasn’t because I’d gone my life dreaming of traditional publishing, I just wasn’t sure I could do it, and moreover, like many others at the time, I wasn’t sure if indie books were a fad.

But as I read more about it, I saw how my professional skills really did transition nicely - at the very least, giving me a slight advantage. I developed a near obsessiveness about pulling out every lick of potential from Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, and making sure the end result was near indistinguishable from a traditionally published novel.

It’s funny, because I’m not a really “proactive” person. I’m not lazy, but I can procrastinate with the best of them (I just start a little later than they do). That fear forced me to think of myself as a publisher. Saddled on my couch with a notebook because I couldn’t be at a computer, I did all the big picture thinking, toying with the idea of a series, but unsure if I would want to do another title.

While it prepared me to launch the book, it also gave me the ability to rationally weigh publishing offers, as well as the freedom to decline them, regrettably but without regret. As much as I would have gained from working with a Big Five house, I wasn’t necessarily sunk without them. I hadn’t lost anything, rather I’d gained confidence that I could do it on my own.  
8.            Ask For Help.

Around the time I had the initial idea for Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, I was on a productivity book kick, reading a The Success Principles by Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup For The Soul). I used it as an early outline for getting myself primed to start even researching the book. There are a lot of great teachings in there, one of which was the fact you’d be silly not to ask people for help.

I’m awful at that. Unless you’re paying me, in which case, I have no problem telling you I don’t understand something rather than mess up and get fired. But when it comes to self-serving help, I feel like a bother - even though it doesn’t bother me when someone asks for my expertise. The way things shook out for me personally and professionally basically wiped out the luxury of thinking that way. And when I looked around, I realized that my career in public relations had afforded me the opportunity to work with some incredible people with varied talents in all areas of consumer and technology industries. And they were happy to help. Enthused even. I couldn’t have pulled this off without them. It’s why books have acknowledgments, you know.

9.            A Series is Where It’s At.
When I finished the first draft, I said I didn’t think I could write another choosable path book. When I started the expansion that is now the final manuscript, I decreed never again! But then a funny thing happened. Expansion meant more fully developing the characters, both immediate and peripheral. As part of my marketing plan, we created a series of original ecards with quips from the book and added them to character-curated Pinterest boards, where I pin in each gal’s “voice,” and based on her personality. I used to hear people say their characters spoke to them and I thought I understood that, but I didn’t really.

By the time the book was finished, not only did each character also have her own personal playlist on Spotify, but I enjoyed them so much, I couldn’t wait to write features for them. That’s when the book officially became a series. And while I was prepared to do it regardless, it didn’t hurt to realize that it would be so much easier/faster because the environments, as well as character backgrounds, voices and dynamics, were already nailed down. Authors like Kristan Higgins and Jill Shalvis are so smart. They’re able to put out so many titles a year not just because they’re pros, but because they focus on entire fictional “communities,” and within them, mini-series following three female characters, giving each her turn as the star.

So that’s what I’m doing. The next title, Good On Paper, features Rachel, moving Elle into a supporting role with Valerie. The book is a romance novel satire, overrunning the series’ least romantic character’s life with classic studly romance archetypes. The third, As the Plot Thickens, features Valerie and will be a soap opera satire - love triangles, illegitimate kids, weekly shootouts - the works! I can’t wait.

10.         If You’re Afraid Of It, Start There.

I’ve come to learn it’s the stuff I worry people won’t like or “get” that usually winds up being my best work. Whether that sticks...well, that’s another thing altogether. With Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, it was the dialogue. It terrified me. It’s the main reason the original concept had a much lower word count. And pictures. It was More of a “See Jane Date” type thing.

But because I’d been forced to put the draft in the drawer for a couple of years, when I came back to it, it was an overwhelming “Oh, my lord, this needs more depth.” Of course, getting to know the characters helped with that, but wow. It’s a different book. And the most common compliment I get is the naturalness of the dialogue. Go figure.

In general, I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit. We always say we can’t do something when we’ve never even tried. And who knows? Were it not for my fear, I could have been a stellar CIA agent! Well, I’m from Canada, so CSIS, eh?

11.         Listen To the Majority, Not the Minority.

As Vivian says in Pretty Woman, “it’s easier to believe the bad stuff” people say than the good. I think that’s true of anything, but particularly when you’re new to something. I lost at least six months because I’d given too much weight to the opinion of one person (who wasn’t even representative of my demo) regarding a particular aspect of the narrative style. Not just because I was insecure, but because I really respected them. And this was after I’d gotten nothing but positive reinforcement from pros in my genre.

I didn’t apply the advice in the end, and I’m glad I didn’t - especially because I never heard the comment again. My new rule is that I need to hear something from two objective sources before I worry about it, three before I do anything about it.

Hey, whad’ya know? I learned eleven things since I started writing!

I hope you’ll snatch up Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda at a reduced price until August 12! And check out for enhanced content, like hysterically hilarious ecards, grown up versions of your favourite schoolyard games, character-curated Pinterest boards, and even an Unofficial “Official” Soundtrack and character-inspired playlists on Spotify!

Until the sequel,

Tara Lee Reed