Y’all ready to set the flo’? Say what? Not sure what I’m talking about? You’re not alone. I had no idea what “set the flo’” meant until digging into the research I needed to bring readers into my point-of-view character Drake Bailey’s world in the third book of The Last Timekeepers time travel adventure series. Set in 1855, during the antebellum period in Georgia, Drake discovers that it’s not the best place for an African American time traveler, but he endures and lives to tell his tale.
Plantation slaves in the deep south of America weren’t given many pleasures in their hard lives. Author Julius Lester sums it up beautifully when he wrote in his book, To Be A Slave, “The prayer meetings, the parties, and the holidays did not make being a slave pleasurable. Nothing could do that, but whatever pleasure the slave was able…
Spying is a catchy way of saying “do your research and stay tuned in.” Regardless of what you call it, it’s a mandatory part of being successful. It’s also a great way to build connections. There’s an old saying that to be successful you have to stop obsessing about the competition. I agree with that to a certain degree, but to be unaware of what other authors in your genre are doing is never a smart idea.
Regardless of what you write you need to be dialed into the competitive landscape. Knowing what others in your target market are doing, writing about, and promoting can be key to your success as well. Not that I would ever encourage copying, but being in tune with your genre and market can be a fantastic idea generator, not to mention it gives you the ability to stay ahead of certain trends that haven’t even surfaced at the consumer level yet.
First rule of spying: study your target market, the books as well as other authors in the industry. It helps you to also differentiate yourself from them in products, services, and pricing. Again, you don’t want to copy, you just want to be aware. Another lesser known reason for doing this is that if you’re struggling with your social media (like me)—both from the aspect of what platform to be on to what to say to drive more engagement—keeping these authors on your radar will greatly increase your marketing ideas. Living in a vacuum never made anyone successful.
Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you want to know who else is writing on your topic or in your genre. Google search is a great place to start. The results will not just turn up names and book titles but also show you the best ways to interact with your reader.
Google is packed with names of authors who write about your topic or genre. As you begin to compile your list, I want you to do one thing: ignore big brands because it’s likely that they can do anything they want and still be successful. If you’re a middle grade writer, names like Rick Riordan and Brandon Mull come to mind. These authors are big, powerful brands. You want the smaller names—the people you may not immediately recognize. Why? Because they have to try harder. If tomorrow Riordan or Mull decided to put out a book on poetry, while their fans might be surprised, they would likely still buy it. But if a lesser-known author did that they’d look like they have writer-ADD. Not good.
So start putting your list together, as you do sign up for their mailing lists, and follow them on Twitter and any other social media site they use. That’s what I do. Aside from the obvious reasons why you want to do this, I’m a big fan of supporting other authors in my market. Share their Facebook updates, retweet their great Twitter posts, and like their Instagram images.
One of the hidden gems of this research is it will also show you what social media sites to be on. If you’ve been struggling to figure out where your market resides, this strategy should really clear that up for you. Why? Because if you’re plucking names off of the first page of Google you know one thing: whatever they are doing to show up in search, they’re doing it right. Google has made so many changes to their search algorithms that you simply can’t “trick” the system anymore to get onto page one. Look at their updates. What are they sharing and why? How often do they blog? Are they on LinkedIn instead of Facebook? Is there much going on for them on Pinterest or Instagram? Really spend some time with this. Not only will it help you tune into your market but it will cut your learning curve by half, if not more.
Successful authors leave clues. Are you following their bread crumbs?
Here’s a glimpse into one of the books from Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls, my teen psychic mystery series.
The only witness left to testify against an unsolved crime in Fairy Falls isn’t a person…
City born and bred, Hart Stewart possesses the gift of psychometry—the psychic ability to discover facts about an event or person by touching inanimate objects associated with them. Since his mother’s death, seventeen-year-old Hart has endured homelessness, and has learned ways to keep his illiteracy under wraps. He eventually learns of a great-aunt living in Fairy Falls, and decides to leave the only life he’s ever known for an uncertain future.
Diana MacGregor lives in Fairy Falls. Her mother was a victim of a senseless murder. Only Diana’s unanswered questions and her grief keeps her going, until Hart finds her mother’s lost ring and becomes a witness to her murder.
Through Hart’s psychic power, Diana gains hope for justice. Their investigation leads them into the corrupt world threatening Fairy Falls. To secure the town’s future, Hart and Diana must join forces to uncover the shocking truth, or they risk losing the true essence of Fairy Falls forever.
Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, and the teen psychic mystery series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercising, anything arcane, and an occasional dram of scotch. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a southern tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.
Wow, that decade zoomed by! I honestly don’t know where those ten years went, but what I do know for sure (quoting Oprah) is that a lot has happened to me personally and professionally since 2010. I’ve lost some people (and pets) by death, and by choice (toxic relationships), worked with two publishing companies and one literary agency, had my hopes dashed only to realize that it was for my highest best anyway, and transitioned from living in cottage country to surviving in the suburbs of sultry, southern Ontario. I’ve had a total of five books published (Woohoo), done book readings without breaking out in a sweat or fainting, and though self-doubt creeps in from time to time, I’ve learned what self-love really means in this crazy, on demand world we are presently living in. Rather than go on and on, I thought I’d share my decade experiences by breaking it down for you in three categories:
What have I accomplished in the last 10 years? So much! I started my blogging journey May 4th, 2011 before I even had a publishing deal—which BTW—I received in August of that same year with a new publishing company called Musa Publishing. This is where I earned my author chops, so to speak. What was expected of an author—which was pretty much everything from promoting to marketing to creating a social media presence to writing my next book, and what a publisher did for their authors. I went from zero experience on the internet to feeling quite comfortable navigating through cyber-space. I received a grant to help build a website to house my first book: The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis and the ones that followed, and celebrated the best book launch ever on May 19th, 2012 surrounded by friends and family who knew how hard I’d worked trying to get published for over fifteen years. I wrote the prequel to The Last Timekeepers series, and received another contract with Musa Publishing. Then…everything changed.
We moved from our house on the lake to a house in the suburbs in the summer of 2014. What I couldn’t have foreseen was Musa Publishing would close their doors in February 2015, leaving over 300 authors stranded, without contracts or support. Thankfully, I had attended a book expo in November 2014, and there I met my future publisher, Mirror World Publishing. In the last five years, we’ve worked together to bring two young adult book series out into the world, The Last Timekeepers time travel adventure series, and Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls teen psychic mystery series. And since then, I haven’t looked back.
Now that the fruits of my labors are realized, I know I need to continue on my path to write, promote, market, engage, and connect with people who are looking to escape into my fictional worlds. So, it is my hope to write books that will entertain, educate, and inspire both young and young-at-heart readers for generations to come.
What are the lessons I learned in those years?Being an author isn’t for the faint of heart. I’m so not kidding. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that no one is going to care more about your book than YOU do. Period. So do the tough stuff. Get your hands dirty. Experiment. Beg for book reviews. Share helpful content. Be kind to others going through the same thing. Always add value. Go the extra mile. Think of all these acts as your karma bank account, and it will compound by leaps and bounds.
Make a business plan. Remember, writing is a business. So treat it this way. I began writing my ‘Master Business and Life Plan’ on March 9, 2011, when I was researching how to start up a blog. This plan has evolved and grown throughout the last nine years, and will continue to do so. I’ll admit, not everything gets crossed off the plan, but it does give me an overview on where to adjust for the future, and where I’d like to be at the end of the year.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. At the beginning of this decade, the thought of standing up in front of an audience to read an excerpt or visit a school to share my writing journey with students made my teeth itch and want to hide among the shadows. But, I authored up. I faced my fears, and pushed myself enough to get over whatever it was that made me feel this way. Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem be damned. I learned to love who I’d become, what I’d accomplished, and where I’m heading these past ten years. And from where I stand, the future looks so bright, I’m gonna need shades!
What do I need to let go of, drop or release that doesn’t serve me? This is a BIG one: Stop comparing myself to other successful authors. By all means, I should learn from them because success leaves clues, but my journey is not the same as their journey or experiences, so there’s really no comparison. I must drop this, put on a pair of blinders, and focus on MY path.
This is a HARD one: Approval from others. Since we were children, all we wanted was attention —first from our parents, then friends, later co-workers and bosses, and loved ones. We’re hard-wired for this. The truth is that the only person whose approval really matters is our own. That’s it. We need to have our own backs. Trust ourselves enough to stand in our truth. This will definitely be a work in progress for me.
This is an HONEST one: Releasing expectations. When I was a girl, I had a plaque hanging on my bedroom wall that said, ‘Blessed are those who do not expect, for they won’t be disappointed.’ Now that’s some sage advice! So, going back in time, as I love to do when writing my books, I realize having expectations gets in the way of what the Universe has planned for me. Adopting the mindset, ‘Everything happens for me, not to me’ has helped tremendously, and I know that by releasing expectations, I make room for more positive energy to come into my life.
As this decade closes out, I encourage you to ask these three questions, and see how far you’ve come. You just might realize that ‘you’ve come a long way, baby’! Please share your findings if you feel obliged. Would love to read your comments. Cheers, and thank you for reading. Happy New Year, and wishing you and your loved ones, health, happiness, wealth, and all the best in the next ten years ahead!
That was amazing! Thank you, Sharon. I always enjoy when you share your wisdom with us.