Welcome to LivingLitUp! Today, we have a guest author Patricia Beal who will answer some basic questions about her journey as a writer. What holds a lot of us writers back is that we don’t know the next step to take after writing a book. Also, taking the next step doesn’t even seem like a reality. For me anyways, I have always seen becoming an author as an unreachable goal. I gave up on telling people that’s what I wanted to do with my life, because so many people never took me seriously. It was like telling them I wanted to be the next Jane Austen. Well Jane Austen didn’t know her books would make it onto the required reading list for English classes or turn into some women’s favorite movies. She just wrote. Writing isn’t about the fame but rather the journey of inspiration and self-discovery. Read Patricia’s story as she discusses what it was like to write her first book and have it published, what her writing schedule looks like, how she built up her social presence, and overall advice to new writers.
About Patricia Beal
Patricia is from Brazil and immigrated to America in 1992. She fell in love with the English language while washing dishes at McDonald’s and learned enough to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
She put herself through college working at a BP gas station and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati in 1998 with a B.A. in English Literature. She was the news editor of the university newspaper for two years.
After an internship at the Pentagon, Patricia worked as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army for seven years.
Then she fell in love with a handsome airborne infantryman during a stint at Fort Bragg, married him, and quit her special operations speechwriting job to have his babies. Soon came the desire to have book babies, too, and her first novel, A Season to Dance, will be published in May of 2017 (Bling! Romance / Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas).
What was your process between getting your first book idea and getting published?
I wrote A Season to Dance in 2011. I had the idea for an opening scene while on I-40 Jan. 3, somewhere between Tennessee and North Carolina. Then every Saturday, I went to a coffee shop and wrote one chapter. After twenty-seven Saturdays, I had twenty-seven chapters—the whole novel. I “edited it” and started querying agents.
It was a disaster.
Then in late 2011, I used the Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft Critique Service to get an editorial review and hired the lady who did the work to help me fix my many problems. The three biggest ones: no knowledge of scene structure, no balance between action scenes and contemplative scenes, and a plot with no quest.
I rewrote the book, and in early in 2012, I was ready to query agents again.
It was a disaster.
I attended two writers’ conferences in the fall of 2012 and received good feedback, but I was still not getting very far. Then Jesus passed by.
The disappointments of the journey to publication had made me doubt God’s goodness. I didn’t really know God. I had an imagined god who surely had to bless me every time I turned around because that was his job, right? But God didn’t leave me in that sad state. He revealed Himself to me, and I was born again in January of 2013.
Soon after, I realized I’d written the wrong story. A Season to Dance is more than the story of a small town professional ballerina dreaming of dancing at the Met in New York and of the two men who love her. It is really about women’s tendency to fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts with often misguided career and romantic pursuits. It was a salvation story.
I spent 2013 and a big chunk of 2014 rewriting the whole novel with the encouragement of five friends from my church who read the book one chapter at a time as I produced them. I hired 2nd Draft again to proofread the novel. When we finished, I hired the Lexus of editors, Jeff Gerke, to tell me if there was any value to what I’d written.
He liked the novel, helped me fix many problems, and in September of 2014, I showed up at my first Christian writers’ conference, ACFW 2014 in St. Louis. Two weeks later, agent Les Stobbe said that if I committed to upping the word count from 65,000 to 80,000, he would represent me. Of course I committed, and he became my agent.
I worked on the word count and got author and editor Nadine Brandes to copyedit the manuscript. Still, 2015 was a year of many rejections. But it wasn’t a lost year. I wrote a new novel, built my platform, built relationships, was a Genesis semi-finalist and First Impressions finalist, met Francine Rivers at the ACFW national conference in Dallas (I had to throw that out there—she sat behind me during a class!), and waited on the Lord.
I wrote a new novel, built my platform, built relationships…
Then in early 2016, one of my contacts from the St. Louis conference became managing editor of Bling! Romance, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She’d followed my writing journey via social media and requested my proposal. Soon after, she made an offer.
We contacted other editors who had the proposal and manuscript to let them know there was an offer on the table, and one major house said the proposal was scheduled to go before their acquisitions team. We waited, but the project was rejected.
So I accepted the Bling! / Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas offer on Feb. 4 of 2016, and A Season to Dance is set to come out May of 2017.
What does your writing schedule look like?
I’m probably supposed to talk about how together I am, and how I have these great methods for getting things done. Truth is? I’m a mess.
I know what I want my writing schedule to look like: three hours of writing in the morning, a walk, and then reading time.
Yes, I stole the idea from Stephen King. I think it’s a good plan.
But I’m not there yet. My kids are in elementary school. I have Bible study every Monday morning. And I dance ballet Tuesdays and Thursdays—in the morning. There are so many things I love, and I struggle to figure out what to eliminate, if anything.
My new novel, The Song of the Desert Willow, was a NaNoWriMo (national writing month typically in November)-in-March project. I did my 50,000 words in thirty days and loved it much more than I had expected. NaNoWriMo eliminated the fearful and doubtful internal chatter that’s so counterproductive, because there’s simply no time for it. I started with a hero and heroine character arc and a three-act structure. The rest just happened.
How did you build a successful online presence prior to being published?
When it comes to platform building (and maybe to the road to publication in general), it helps to be autistic—I have Asperger’s syndrome, which makes me uniquely able to narrow my focus and use boundless energy to achieve a set goal.
I built my website based on Jane Friedman’s series of classes and blog posts. The site is not one hundred percent where I want it to be yet, but it has the basics: a clean look, a starting point for all that I do and have online, quarterly newsletter, email list, etc. I recommend looking at Jane’s collection of resources: https://janefriedman.com/building-your-first-website-resource-list/.
Twitter is easy (once you realize you need to follow back, follow aggressively, and unfollow aggressively). Most people follow to be followed back. So when someone follows me, guess what I do? I follow them back, because if I don’t, they’ll unfollow me within a week.
For faster growth, follow first and do it aggressively.
I go to the Twitter page of an author who writes in my genre of Christian contemporary stories and follow everyone who follows them. Many will follow back within 72 hours. After about 72 hours, I go to www.manageflitter.com to get a free list of who’s not following me back. I unfollow each and every one of them. I can unfollow one hundred people per day for free, or pay for the capability to unfollow more. I can also unfollow manually on Twitter without limitations, but it’s time consuming.
Then I do it all over again. Pick another author. Follow their followers. Unfollow the ones who didn’t follow back, etc.
Seems like a meaningless number game? It is in part, but then you tweet only quality content tailored to benefit your followers, and voila! People notice you, place you in curated lists, and retweet you to death. (I’m still small enough that I can thank all retweets and most <3s and mentions. I’m sure some people retweet me because I always thank them publicly. I wanted to share that).
A note on Hootsuite: I like it. It works. But I stopped using it for now. I have too much fun showing up and searching for the most awesome stories for readers and writers, interacting with my Tweeps, etc. But when life is out of hand and there aren’t enough hours in the day, Hootsuite.
And tweet three times a day (author friends with publicists say so). You may take weekends off (expert Edie Melson says so), but I don’t. Different birds show up on weekends. I want to reach them all.
Some dwell on the wisdom of following back users with questionable content. I understand the concern and think that’s an individual decision. For me, there are only three kinds of users I don’t follow back: people selling followers, people who show drawings of the devil, and naked people. Other than that, they are all users I’m comfortable reaching for Christ.
Facebook is a different story all together. Ahem…
Most people know that Facebook fan-page posts are practically invisible, and here’s why: https://www.thesocialanimal.com/social-media/how-to-increase-facebook-page-engagement-without-paying.
Since I started a Facebook author page to connect (the opposite of being invisible), I quit drinking gourmet coffee at the corner coffee shop and now use the money on Facebook instead.
I invest five dollars a day on my Facebook author page: one promoting the page, one promoting my website via Facebook, and three boosting my daily post. I’ve been doing this for almost a year now. It’s not extravagant. I would love to spend more. But this is what I can afford right now. Something is better than nothing when it comes to visibility.
I have over 5,000 fans. With three dollars and a quality post, I can reach about 2,000 of them. About two hundred and fifty will click “like” and about ten will comment. Often more. Rarely less.
The better the quality of your post, the better the reach. If you want to experiment with boosts and have targeting questions, do ask. If you have a product to sell (a book), you’re better off with a targeted ad, which will give you way more exposure for your money and is the appropriate way to sell something.
But if all you’re trying to do is reveal more of who you are to the people who like you, and/or be a blessing to your fans by sharing a great photo related to your brand or a behind-the-scenes story about your books, you have to boost.
On Facebook, one post a day will do. But show up every day. Again, you can take the weekends off, but I don’t. My Facebook page has a completely different vibe on weekends (and a lot more traffic!), and I like to experience that change of pace with my fans.
Find what’s uniquely yours. Research branding. Post things that are easy to share. Be a blessing.
I like to schedule my Facebook posts directly on Facebook. Sometimes I will change the order in which I want them published, but at least they’ve already been created, and that takes the pressure off of me.
Weekday hashtags are great for planning posts ahead of time: #MondayMotivation, #TutuTuesday/#TravelTuesday, #WIPWednesday, #TBT, #FunFridays, #SelfieSaturday, etc.
I’m gaining an average of one hundred and twenty-five fans per week. That’s five hundred new people a month. I feel like God’s doing something—that I don’t see the big picture yet. But it’s been a blessing already.
Those are my go-to places online. I do have a Pinterest account, and a YouTube account, and some other accounts. But I always hear you’re supposed to pick a couple of places you like best and stick with those. I love Twitter and Facebook.
What has been the most difficult part of getting published?
The hardest part was the time between signing with my agent and signing with my publisher (fifteen months). I thought that after getting an agent, the publishing contract would happen within six months.
Now I know it’s normal for things to take longer. Some of my friends have been represented by amazing agents for many years and are still waiting for their first contract.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Advice? Don’t be overwhelmed by anything I’ve said. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 (Sermon on the Mount)?
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
It works for writing. Don’t be overwhelmed.
Go to conferences and build relationships. It’s a long journey, so look out the window, enjoy the views, and meet the other passengers.
Read great books about the business. Some are better than others. These are the ones that taught me the most:
- For writing: The First 50 Pages, by Jeff Gerke.
- For writing for the right reasons: The Search for Significance, by Robert S. McGee.
- For deep POV: Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.
- For encouragement: Victim of Grace, by Robin Jones Gunn.
- For book proposals: Step by Step Pitches & Proposals, by Chip MacGregor with Holly Lorincz.
- For pitch strategy: http://learnhowtowriteanovel.com/blog/2013/05/13/how-to-pitch-and-sell-your-novel-a-chat-with-james-l-rubart/
Do ask yourself one thing: What do you really want out of this journey? A powerful publisher? There are very few contracts for debut authors with those guys right now. If that’s your goal, become an expert on what those houses publish, shape your writing to fit the house, and pray they don’t change direction much. That will increase your chances.
I say this because, even though A Season to Dance moved high up in one powerful house, I know it in my heart it was never a very good fit. I read their books, and they are not at all like mine. Not even close. So, do I wish I’d written a different book to match this publisher’s preference?
No. Not this one. After three tries, I know this book is right, at long last. And I’m thrilled it did find an awesome home. We have big dreams and high hopes.
Keep in mind that readers don’t follow publishers. They follow authors and books.
You can always earn/save money to hire a publicist. Just make sure you sign with a publisher that has the know-how to produce a high quality book.
To help you further understand the importance of knowing what you want out of your writing journey: James Patterson didn’t quit his day job until 1996 (his debut came out in 1976). He had a career in advertisement and was passionate about it. And he invested some of his personal money in marketing and publicity until he felt confident the publisher could meet his marketing and publicity demands. That was what he wanted.
So I ask again: What do you want out of this journey? Know it, plan accordingly, and have proper expectations.
It’s been great being here. Be sure to connect and ask questions. All that I know was freely given to me, and I’m thrilled to pay it forward.
Be safe. Write beautifully. And keep in touch.
If you have any questions for Patricia, comment below and keep watching for her debut novel A Season to Dance coming May 2017.
Also, come back next week on Tuesday for a review on the latest book I’m reading titled Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter. She’s another debut author who conquered the struggles of getting published and is now working on her second novel.