Shunn Manuscript Format, query letters, and finding a critique group were things I expected to learn when I decided to become a fiction writer. After getting my first book contract for Hattie Hates Hugs, I realized there was so much more I had to learn. Oh. So. Much.
First, there were all the parts of the contract that I had little to no understanding of. Thankfully, my agent did. Publishing houses and literary agencies (at least the ones I worked with) help with this learning curve. But there was another, sneakier, learning curve that took me by surprise.
All the tech. I had to build a website. Okay, so I knew this one was coming. I knew there were website builders to make this process easy to DIY. But there were still a million fiddly little pieces that would not work from the paragraph spacing being weird on my blog to the newsletter subscription not going out. And what’s Mailchimp anyway and why do I need it?
Once that was settled, there was the social media learning curve. Thankfully, I had already been using Twitter, and Instagram and a Facebook author page were easy to set up. But how come my blog will post automatically to some social medias but not the others? And why can’t I post text on Instagram?
Enter Canva. Did I stop and ask myself, “Do I really need to learn a graphic design app as an author?” Yep. I was starting to feel overwhelmed, but I figured it was a skill I could apply to a lot of things, so I pushed through. That may sound dramatic, but I was learning a lot of tech things all at once. Turns out, Canva is easy and fun.
Once I started getting shared documents from my publisher and needing to collaborate with launch groups, I came across other tech, some for the first time and some I needed to learn new features for. Zoom, Teams, SharePoint, One Drive, Google folders, sharing docs via social media, and more. None were hard. It was just a lot for the writer holed up with a Word document and email for years.
But I was done! I wasn’t a master of these apps by any means but I’m an author not a publicist or graphic designer so…yeah! I finally rounded that learning curve!
Then I saw book trailers. And TikTok. And…and…and…
My app journey is not over. I realize it never will be as technology and trends are constantly changing and as an author I want to keep up. Need to? No. Fellow writers, you can mostly keep to your Word documents and email. It’s not so bad out here in modern techland, though.
And hey! I did learn to make videos with FlexClip and Canva and even minor image editing using GIMP. Check out this book trailer I made for Hattie Hates Hugs!
P.S. I had to learn to post to YouTube. It never ends.
‘Go deep, not wide’ is common advice for any number of things: hobbies, reading, education, friendships. YouTube personality and dating coach TyKwonDoe wisely and entertainingly advises this for talking to women. Go DEEP Not WIDE When Talking To Women... STAND OUT She'll Be Obsessed With You Forever! TyKwonDoe - YouTube His advice to delve deep into a topic to draw out how your conversation partner really feels about something and to respond with your personal thoughts is fantastic for a back-and-forth dialogue.
For fiction writers, the “conversation” with our readers is more static. We are saying something in our stories and readers are understanding something. What each reader understands will be unique based on their own experiences. Unlike a verbal conversation, writers can’t respond back to this. That’s what a book club is for, or in the case of picture books being read to or with small children, that’s what parents, teachers, and librarians are for.
In a way, a story is like the start of a conversation. And when you start a conversation, you don’t jump right into the deep end. You posit an idea and get a sense of the other person’s familiarity or feelings on the subject which will influence the course of the dialogue. Since a book can’t do that, at least not in a nuanced way, writers have to start and push the conversation for both sides without alienating readers by steering the conversation away from their experiences, interests, or expectations.
That’s why the opposite, ‘go wide, not deep’, when considering the audience of your book could be a smart move. I inadvertently learned this on my publishing journey with my first book, Hattie Hates Hugs, which is a picture book about consent, a topic with a wide audience for this age range.
The story didn’t start quite that way, though.
Initially, I focused on the sensory resistances Hattie had to hugs, drawing on my experiences as an immunocompromised person and my autistic son’s experiences. My wonderful editor at Beaming Books recognized that this story could resonate with readers for a variety of reasons, though, or even just for the purpose of learning about consent. After all, you don’t need a reason to say no to hugs. In the final manuscript, Hattie experiences discomfort in social, emotional, and physical ways.
And even though you’re aiming to write for a wide audience, you still want your character to have depth. You still want your message to have depth. You still want your story to have depth without limiting the audience.
Did I already say tough job?
Widening your audience can help the salability and marketability of your book. Who doesn’t want that? Expanding Hattie’s character traits and focusing on the message of consent opened Hattie Hates Hugs to a wider audience. There are books that take the opposite approach, though, where a narrowly defined character could be the reason it appeals to a wide audience because we want to read about that specific experience and how it is or isn’t like our own.
It comes down to the focus of your book and what conversation you want to have with your readers. What might you say to the widest possible audience? How would you say it?
My short story, Thanks for the Ride, for ages 8-14 is in the October 2021 issue of Spaceports & Spidersilk, edited by Marcie Lynn Tentchoff. This is a contemporary ghost story set in Preston Castle in California. Disabled Leah and her friend Frankie attend a Halloween tour at the castle, but Frankie runs off and disappears. After discovering Frankie’s sugar skull broken on the stairwell, Leah overhears a frightening conversation. To her relief and bewilderment, Frankie turns up on the way home, but something isn’t quite right.