Fiction Writing Made Easy

#121: 5 Takeaways From Coaching Writers in 2023

December 19, 2023 Savannah Gilbo Episode 121
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#121: 5 Takeaways From Coaching Writers in 2023
Fiction Writing Made Easy +
Become a supporter of the show!
Starting at $3/month
Support
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

“The more work you do up front and the more you get your mindset right, the more likely your chances of success are.” - Savannah Gilbo

In this episode, I'm giving you a glimpse behind the scenes and sharing some of the key takeaways I learned from coaching writers this year. I hope that you'll be able to reap some of the benefits of these lessons so that you can move forward with your writing in the most efficient way possible. 

Read the blog post here!

Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[01:50] It's easier to make progress when surrounded by a community of like-minded writers.

[05:48] Before your query letter and submission materials, you should have a finished draft of your synopsis and get outside feedback from a developmental editor or beta readers.

[09:53] Why do more writers seem to be choosing self-publishing over traditional publishing?

[15:04] Savannah’s recommendation of starting a story at a different place and how perfectionism has also impacted almost every writer I worked with this year.

Links mentioned in this episode:


Want to write a novel but not sure where to start? Click here to grab a FREE copy of my Story Starter Kit workbook that'll help you get clarity on your characters, setting, theme, plot, and so much more!

Support the show

If you enjoyed this episode of the Fiction Writing Made Easy Podcast, please rate, review, and follow this show!

Follow me on Instagram @savannah.gilbo

Speaker 1:

The more work you do up front and the more you get your mindset right, the more likely your chances of success are. So, first of all, what do I mean by the more work that you do up front? Well, before you query, you should definitely have a finished draft. That's the very best you can make it. Ideally, you'd have had outside feedback on it already and implemented any of the suggestions that resonated with you, but the other thing I mean is that you've done the same with your query letter and submission materials. So I do highly recommend sharing your query and your synopsis with either a developmental editor or beta readers, or your critique partner, if you have one.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the fiction writing made easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming. So each week, I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started.

Speaker 1:

In today's episode, I want to take you behind the scenes and share some of the key takeaways that I learned from coaching writers this year. And although there's not really a theme to these takeaways, there are all things that I've kind of seen come up for writers of all experience levels and across all genres over the last 12 months. So just little themes or things that I've noticed that I felt would be helpful to you, my listeners and my hope is that you'll be able to reap some of the benefits of these lessons so that you can move forward with your writing in the most efficient way possible. So, with all that being said and without further ado, let's dive right into the first key takeaway. The first big thing I noticed this year was that it's way easier to make progress when you're surrounded by a community of like-minded writers. Plus, it's a whole lot more fun too. Now, this probably isn't really a surprise, but I do think it's something that many of us, including myself, forget sometimes.

Speaker 1:

So earlier this year, I ran a five day challenge. It was called Unlock your Story, and in it I guided over 400 writers through the process of developing their ideas and writing log lines to nail down the big picture of their stories. It was one of my most favorite things that I did in all of 2023. And the five days that I spent with those writers were super powerful. I wasn't really sure what to expect, because I've never hosted a live challenge like this before, but it blew any expectations I had out of the water, and the main reason for this was because those who attended the challenge really showed up. So they came to the live calls, they did the homework, they posted their homework in the Facebook group and they made connections with other writers who were also in the challenge.

Speaker 1:

And it was amazing for me to see, because not only did these people make a lot of progress on their stories in a short amount of time, but the community aspect was huge in terms of keeping people accountable and on track. I saw someone post about losing steam and running out of motivation on day three and then someone else posted a really supportive comment like you can do this, hang in there. Here's what I do when that happens. And it was really awesome because the person that posted that original comment they weren't the only one that was struggling. So just this aspect of having a community to kind of share those things with and then get the support not only is helpful for that one individual, but it's helpful for anyone who might be struggling, that is more of an introvert and kind of likes to lurk in these types of groups and not really fully participate, so that was really cool. I also saw a lot of comments about how having a community to show up to and talk about writing stuff, including celebrating any wins they were having and or troubleshooting any issues that came up that was really huge in terms of their ability to make progress.

Speaker 1:

So what I want to encourage you to do is find a community, and that could be with one person or a few other people, or it could be with hundreds of other people. Whatever that looks like for you, it could also be virtual, or it could be in person. It could be on social media or email or text or video calls. Whatever it is. I'd like to encourage you to find a community of people who share similar goals and then figure out what you would like from a community of people who are trying to write a book too. So does that look like sharing craft tips with each other? Does it look like giving feedback on each other's pages or showing up to an accountability group chat every week to talk about progress.

Speaker 1:

I mean, you can really design it however you like, but having a community of like-minded people is essential and it's something that can help you level up as a writer in so many ways. So this is kind of a public service announcement to find some kind of community. If you don't have one already, put that on your list for 2024. And if you want to come join my community, if you want to participate in the Unlock your Story Challenge, we are going to run that again in early January, so keep an eye on your email for that. And if you're not sure where to find a community, that could be a really great place to start. There were a lot of connections made in there when we ran it earlier this year and I have a feeling it's going to be even better in 2024. So keep that on your radar and you'll hear more about that from me in the upcoming weeks.

Speaker 1:

But that's key takeaway. Number one, or probably the biggest lesson I learned from the writers that I work with and coach is that it's way easier to make progress when you're surrounded by a community of like-minded writers. It makes you feel less alone, it makes you feel supported when you need it and, plus, it's a whole lot more fun as well. The second big thing I saw a lot of in 2023 was a lot of people were querying, and querying can be super hard, but the lesson that I want to share is that the more work you do up front and the more you get your mindset right, the more likely your chances of success are.

Speaker 1:

So, first of all, what do I mean by the more work that you do up front? Well, before you query, you should definitely have a finished draft. That's the very best you can make it. Ideally, you'd have had outside feedback on it already and implemented any of the suggestions that resonated with you, but the other thing I mean is that you've done the same with your query letter and submission materials. So I do highly recommend sharing your query and your synopsis with either a developmental editor or beta readers, or your critique partner, if you have one, and I say this because it's really easy to write a query letter or synopsis that's too vague or that doesn't communicate the true essence of your story, simply because you're too close to it to see what might be missing.

Speaker 1:

I see a lot of writers who will get tons and tons of feedback on their draft, but they don't do the same with your query and their synopsis, so they get zero feedback on their query and their synopsis, and this just doesn't make sense. Your query is the first thing an agent or an editor is going to see, and it has to hook their interest. If they like your query, they're usually going to read the synopsis next, so that needs to shine and hook their interest as well, and at that point, if they like your query and your synopsis, then they will probably look at your pages. So it makes total sense to get a second set of eyes on your query and your synopsis. They are super important tools in terms of your success. The other thing I mean in terms of doing the work upfront is that you're going to need to research the appropriate agents and editors and yes, I know this might feel like common sense at this point, but I'm still surprised by the number of authors who query agents that either aren't open to submissions or who don't even represent their genre or age range and things like that. So just make sure you do your homework and follow all the submission guidelines when you do query.

Speaker 1:

It's also super important to get your mindset right before querying because you will get rejections probably more rejections than requests so you have to know and expect that going into the process or else it's probably going to be a pretty bad experience. I follow a lot of writers on Instagram and I love how tenacious many of them are. They will query 50 plus agents and get rejection after rejection and they still don't give up, and I think that's super cool. I love seeing people kind of own their rejections as just part of the process and then, of course, taking them and learning what they can from the rejections and or adapting their submission materials before they send out more queries. And this is not an easy thing to do. Right Querying is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work to get ready to query. It takes organization and tenacity to actually send those queries out and wait for responses. And the writers who do the work to get feedback on their drafts and their queries and their synopsis and who have the right mindset going into it and who don't give up those are the writers I see succeed one way or another. And so this tip I really wanted to acknowledge all of you that are in the query trenches and I want to say that I see you and you're doing great work, so don't give up. But also, this tip is about helping you have the best chance of success when you do query if you're not already in the trenches. So I do hope this helps. And just to quickly recap yes, querying is super hard, but the more work that you do upfront and the more you get your mindset right, the more likely your chances of success are. So hang in there and take it one query at a time.

Speaker 1:

The third biggest thing I've seen this year, in 2023, is that more writers are leaning towards self-publishing to retain creative control and get their books to market sooner. So a lot of writers seem to be choosing self-publishing over traditional publishing, and I think there are a few reasons for that. Many of the writers that I work with want to maintain creative control over their work and they don't want to deal with how much longer it takes to bring a traditionally published story to market. Plus, there are monetary benefits as well. But first and foremost, I'd say I hear from writers the most that they want creative control and they want to get their book to market sooner than they would if they went the traditional route. If you want to hear more about the timeline of traditional publishing and the pros and cons of going the traditional route.

Speaker 1:

You can check out episode number 66. I'll link to it in the show notes and I'm not going to go too deep into all the details of one publishing path or another in this episode. But I do want to highlight something I read in the October edition of Jane Friedman's newsletter called the Hot Sheet, and I want to go through this because it reinforces what I've been seeing with the writers that I work with and the writers that are in this community. So in the October edition of Jane Friedman's Hot Sheet newsletter she was recapping and interpreting some of the stats from the Author Guild Income Survey and she said quote Younger authors seem to be observing and grasping how the industry is changing.

Speaker 1:

According to the survey, the younger the author, the more likely they are to prefer self-publishing for their next book. In fact, less than half of the authors under 45 years old would prefer to have their next book traditionally published. Unquote. And she does say that with a different sample of writers so not the 5700 writers who submitted answers to the survey she says the result would likely be different, which makes sense. So take this with a grain of salt, but I do think it's really interesting because I am seeing the same thing with the writers I work with. She also said quote other data points I saw showed evidence of how well self-published authors are able to market, promote and sell their books to earn a living If they're able to keep writing and publishing over a sufficient period of time in a genre where there is market demand. She also said quote other data points I saw showed evidence of how well self-published authors are able to market, promote and sell their books to earn a living If they're able to keep writing and publishing over a sufficient period of time in a genre where there is market demand.

Speaker 1:

I don't envy traditionally published genre fiction authors, especially debuts, who must have a hard time competing against their self-published peers when trying to build a readership from scratch. They rarely have the advantage of competitive pricing, nor are they able to make use of Kindle Unlimited in many cases, because large publishers won't put their books in it Unquote, and I think that's a super interesting insight. So I often hear writers who want to be traditionally published talk about how landing a publishing deal means the marketing will be taken care of for them, but that's not really true, unless you get a really big book deal. So I do think that self-publishing helps you build that marketing muscle or that tenacity to not only write, edit and publish a book, but then to take it to the market and try to find the readers who are going to enjoy it as well. I think a lot of people who want to traditionally publish don't understand that they still need to do most of the marketing work themselves or that they're going to need to hire somebody to help them with it if their budget allows. The last thing I want to quote from Jane's newsletter is that she said quote one of the most important income findings I saw when self-pub authors start out, they tend to earn exceptionally little compared to those getting traditional deals or advances, which makes sense. But if the self-published author keeps going and becomes established, if they can hit the five-year mark as far as the survey unquote, they are likely to out-earn their traditional counterparts unquote. So again, I think this is all really cool for the writers who want to self-publish or who are on the fence about which publishing path to take. Either way you're leaning, I do recommend doing your homework to understand the pros and cons of each publishing path, because there are pros and cons either way and it's all going to boil down to your priorities and your values and what you want when it comes to publishing your novel. So that's the third big thing that I've really noticed in 2023. More and more writers are leaning towards self-publishing to retain creative control and get their books to market sooner.

Speaker 1:

The fourth big lesson I want to share is to kill your darlings and don't build a scene around them. So earlier this year I worked with a writer who was absolutely married to the opening line in his first scene and it was a really fun, punchy opening line. But what happened was that this writer ended up writing a scene to kind of fit that opening line instead of writing the best opening scene for the book. So I had recommended to this writer that they need to start their story in a different place and he said, okay, I see the merit in that, but I really like my opening line and I really want to keep it. I think it'll draw an agent and a reader into the story. So I said, okay, that's fine, you know it's his story, he can make that call right. But I did encourage him to try to find a scenario where he could use that opening line but build a different opening scene around it. That was more appropriate and that would be more compelling for readers. So, fast forward.

Speaker 1:

A few months later he finished his draft and he did end up changing that opening scene, but in my opinion, the story still wasn't starting in the right spot, and what I mean by this is that there was just too much lead up to the central conflict kicking in. So there was a lot of build up until the story really got going and things like that. But again, it's his story. He can take that advice or not. And, spoiler alert, he did not, and that's okay.

Speaker 1:

Long story short, he ended up going to a writing conference where you could pitch agents here opening pages, and he did pitch those agents and every single one of them said something to the effect of your story probably needs to start later, or the opening didn't hook them, or some version of that, and not one of them commented on that opening line. So I'm telling you this with the writer's permission. Of course, I'm not sharing anything private that he hasn't publicly talked about before, but I'm telling you this because he was so married to that opening line that he compromised the opening of a story to keep it, and we all have things like this, right? This is where that saying kill your darlings comes from. That opening line was his darling that he needed to sacrifice for the greater good of his story, but he couldn't, and it cost him.

Speaker 1:

So this is one of the really difficult things about writing right. You have to be able to identify when you're keeping something just because you like it or think it's cool, versus keeping something that actually serves your story. And it's doubly important in the beginning because you really do want to hook the reader and pull them into the rest of your story. So I highly encourage you, you know, look at those darlings that you have and ask is this just something I'm really attached to or is it something that really does serve my story? And ideally, you know, you would find a way to keep the darlings and have it serve a bigger purpose in your story or have it be, you know, really impactful. So it's not always that you have to kill your darlings. Sometimes it's just how do I make this work and how do I make it, you know, do something larger in the story. So just keep that in mind. Now to wrap up this list of five takeaways, or five lessons, I got from coaching writers in 2023, I want to share takeaway number five.

Speaker 1:

That fear is something that almost every writer deals with, and it often shows up as perfectionism or procrastination. Now, perfectionism is really tough, right, I suffer from perfectionism. I have a very high standard to which I hold myself and you know especially things with my writing. I have a very high standard to which I hold myself and my writing, so it's really easy for me to get stuck in that perfectionism mindset. But perfectionism has also impacted almost every writer I worked with this year, and I hear from writers all the time who say that they've written you know many, many versions of their first scene and they never make progress towards a finished draft. Now, some of this could be due to a lack of planning or a lack of understanding what it takes to write a full scene you know things like that. But I'd say that at least 95% of what stopped these writers was the sense that their writing just wasn't perfect or good enough. And, as a book coach, this makes me really sad because, a I know how it feels myself. B I know that if you can just you know make progress and get to the end of your draft, you're going to learn and know so much more about your story, and then the road to the end and to that you know beautiful prose that you aspire to it gets easier.

Speaker 1:

Now, to illustrate another way this shows up, I want to tell you about a writer I worked with that was having a hard time getting into the head of her characters, and one day we were talking about why she thought she was having such a hard time and she said, well, what if I do? What if I get into my character's head and I put stuff on the page and it just sounds stupid. Like what if I put my character's thoughts and feelings on the page and they sound cheesy or it seems like I'm just trying too hard? And I said, okay, well, what if that does happen? What's the worst case scenario? And she thought about it for a second and then we both kind of laughed because she realized that in reality, nothing really would happen, right, nothing bad would happen. What would happen is that she would see whatever she wrote and I would see whatever she wrote, because I'm working with her one-on-one and then we would just work together to make it better, just like we do for everything else in her draft. So, luckily for her, this realization and kind of laughing it off together, that was all it took for her to push past her feelings of perfectionism and she actually started opening up and getting into our character's head more, and it was really great to see.

Speaker 1:

So if you can relate to this, sometimes you just have to be okay with being a little bit uncomfortable. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and let whatever you write be imperfect. So, yeah, writing something that is uncomfortable, right? Trust me, I know that feeling firsthand, I deal with it all the time. But guess what? You can survive those uncomfortable feelings. You can be uncomfortable and finish your first draft and then, when you're done, you can focus on making it better. And if you want to borrow my mantra that keeps me going, it's progress, not perfection. So if you struggle with perfectionism, you know, feel free to just focus on making progress and aim for making progress over perfection, and you'll probably start to get out of your own way a little bit more.

Speaker 1:

So that wraps up key takeaway number five, and those are the five biggest takeaways I got from coaching writers this year. I hope that you can see yourself in some of the examples I shared, and I hope this episode helps you realize that you're not alone in some of your struggles. Beyond that, I hope you could reap the benefit of these lessons too so that you can keep moving forward with your work in the most efficient way possible. And if you need help getting started, I have a free resource I want you to go download. It's called the Story Starter Kit and you can grab that at savannahgilbocom. Forward slash starter kit. We will put that link in the show notes for you.

Speaker 1:

But essentially this is just a guide that has some exercises that will walk you through five key questions to answer that will help you build out the foundation of your story. So sometimes you know, for especially for those writers who are dealing with a little bit of that perfectionism or that hesitation or that feel scared to get started until they have more things figured out these five questions will really help you kind of hone in on what's most important what kind of story are you really trying to tell? And some of those you know just those foundational elements that once you have those figured out, things seem to get a little easier. So one more time, it's the Story Starter Kit, and you can download that at savannahgilbocom forward slash starter kit. So that's it for today's episode.

Speaker 1:

As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and until then, happy writing.

Ep. 122 - 5 Takeaways From Coaching Writers in 2023 (Raw)