Tell me you wouldn’t want a set of these adorable bookends for your shelf!
Writers write – it’s what we’re good at. And when we aren’t writing? We’re usually thinking about writing. Maybe it’s a new plot for a story or novel. Or it could be thoughts for a pitch of an article we want to contemplate. Our brains constantly cycle around the written word and how to assemble sentences into new, coherent thoughts. That’s what we’re best at. (At least, one hopes you are. There probably are a few people running around out there using the “writer” label with no rights to the title. And you know who they are, despite the fact they have publishing credits) Whether you focus on the fiction side of things or freelance in the real world, you find vocabulary fascinating.
At least, until you have to apply it to YOURSELF.
Writers are readers. So it doesn’t take much to drive us into a bookstore, over to a magazine rack, or even up to the newsstand. Words – silent, printed words – exude a siren song we can’t resist. This is why we usually have a giant stack of books somewhere in our house we add to with a solemn promise of, “I’m going to read these – eventually.” But for other people, they need something else to guide their feet in the same direction. The sensation of the eyes skimming over text isn’t enough for them. And that’s where marketing campaigns come in. Flashy advertisements (or, I’ll admit it, movies and television adaptations) engage their interest and connect them with a book cover, magazine photo spread, or news headline. And for the biggest publications out there, you’ll find teams of marketing geniuses capable of producing slick campaigns that can catch the general public’s attention. Yes, you knew about a book years ago, but suddenly your family members start talking about it over the dinner table as if it just hit the shelves. All courtesy of some well-placed advertisements.
But the average writer doesn’t have access to those teams. If they want to see the same level of promotion, they need to rely on themselves. And that’s a daunting task. Remember, writers are – by and large – introverts. But marketing requires an extrovert’s talents. You need to reach people out in the public eye, branch out into the social media feeds, and engage in discussions with people you’ve probably never met. Not only are you attempting to write, but you’re also trying to SELL. And the product? YOU.
Which is usually where your words disappear.
Writers shoulder the responsibility of marketing most of the time. Yes, even those bestsellers out there. Publishers might pitch in here and there, but not to the extent you think. And if you’re a freelancer? No one’s going to do the work for you. You’re on your lonesome to get your name out there and attempt to attract attention to yourself. (Good attention, by the way) You can’t sit back and hope the world will happen to stumble onto your phenomenal writing and flock to your door, begging you to solve their writing woes. (I mean, you CAN, but you may need to start that process as an infant because the wait’s going to be a whopper) If you want people to sit up and take notice, you need to break out your soapbox and bullhorn and start performing for the crowd. Ideally, with the same wit and competency you use in your day-to-day work.
Talk about insane pressure! We’re writers – not entertainers! Even with a background in theatre, I don’t feel confident when I grit my teeth and sit down to handle my marketing work. It’s a chore – with all of the attendant negatives we assign to that word. How am I supposed to convince anyone to follow me on social media, subscribe to my blog, believe I’m a confident writer? In the moments when I’m picking out quotes, designing graphics, or deciding on topics to write about, I’m NOT confident. And when I finally send out my little blips of marketing and self-promotion? I get crickets in response. (Unless I happen to slide the Minions into the mix. They always get tons of responses) But this necessary evil? It’s part of being a writer, a freelancer.
And you have to keep pushing through the reality of the work. If you’re committed to the lifestyle of a writer, anyway. (Ha, I said lifestyle. As if we’re doing something more than sitting at a keyboard all day) You need to figure out what to say about YOU, how to set yourself apart from the millions of other writers out there. And you need to remain true to your identity in the process. Not to mention realistic. Are you ever going to garner the same kind of response as a model? Or a cute pet? Nope. Will you spark endless threads of debate the way a political issue might? Probably not (you might, depending on your chosen genre). But does that mean you need to throw in the towel and give up? Of course not!
No one’s going to handle your self-promotion for you. And while it’s frustrating, and your brain turns off when you try to figure out what to say about YOU, it’s a process. One I’m struggling my way through a little more each day. But I’m getting a pattern down that I’m happy with. You can do the same thing. Think of ONE thing you can add to your schedule that fits the concept of marketing. And then work from there. What do you have to lose?
Suicide Squad, Volume 5: Walled In by Matt Kindt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Precisely HOW powerful is this Crime Syndicate that they can take down almost every superhero on the planet? (And why does it seem like Powergirl always gets relegated to the dregs? Other than her attitude problem, she seems on par with most of the elite out there) Clearly, I’m missing information from other comic sources. However, if I eliminate my comic ignorance from the equation, Kindt, Zub, and Ryan delivered a clear winner with this volume. Whether you consider the sheer brilliance (no pun intended) of The Thinker and his capabilities, or the underhanded layers Waller continues to demonstrate, they take the established characters and find new depths to explore. The fact Task Force X ever manages to accomplish anything remains a running gag throughout the series, and it’s so tongue-in-cheek, you have to laugh. Especially when they exposed the clear undercurrent of “antihero” in the obvious heroes selected by Thinker. It’s a hint of the duality present in every DC character, and it’s genius.
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Suicide Squad, Volume 4: Discipline and Punish by Aleš Kot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Sometimes, when a shift in writers takes place, you end up with a jolt in the storyline. And Mr. Kot and Mr. Kindt were no exception to the tradition (spontaneously, everyone’s hale and healthy back in Belle Reve, with no big concern over Kurt Lance?). But the style and flow established in the previous three volumes? That didn’t change. And, personally, I welcome the snarky tags for the various characters – at least you get an idea of who everyone is. They aren’t particularly necessary for the main players in the game, but it’s helpful to have around for the new introductions. Because, let’s face it, Task Force X and the various members of the team bounce in and out like ping pong balls. But then we have the random introduction of the Syndicate, which I’m assuming readers are supposed to know from…well, my guess would be another comic. But without that little asterisk to send you scrambling for a different volume, it’s all smoke and mirrors and confusion. Suddenly, there’s no Belle Reve or even a Task Force X? Without an explanation? Don’t get me wrong – I loved the diversion into Harley’s little corner of the world, but it fell out of step with the established “status quo.” Where’d everything go? What happened? I double-checked my copy to make sure I wasn’t missing pages. I get that you want to feature new talent, DC, but there’s this thing called a story arc? And you should try to stick to it.
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Suicide Squad, Volume 3: Death is for Suckers by Adam Glass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I realize the first volume was labeled “Kicked in the Teeth,” but talk about a real kick in the teeth (for the reader)! Mr. Glass doesn’t believe in pulling his punches – for anyone. Of course, I have to applaud him setting Harley on her own two feet finally (much more in keeping with her character), even if he took a brutal angle in doing so. But he doesn’t cut ANYONE on Task Force X much slack – and that goes for Waller (though I suppose it’s a debate on whether you believe she’s a member of the team or not). However, it’s nice to get a little clarity on why they’ve been running ragged on some of these missions, tying a few loose ends into a whole. I still hold a slight grudge on the fact that I have no earthly idea who some of these characters are (Unknown Soldier, really? Is that an actual character, or did the creative team run out of steam and decide they couldn’t come up with anything better?), but that seems to be a running theme with comics. And it’s a small price to pay for well-written and executed entertainment.
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Suicide Squad, Volume 2: Basilisk Rising by Adam Glass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If there’s one thing I’ve come to realize, it’s that Glass, Abnett, and Lanning are masters at assembling disparate pieces of story into a semi-cohesive plot. The Team bounces around from mission to mission in a seemingly random pattern that moves forward. And while it probably DOES help to have some background knowledge of the various characters mentioned (they definitely all know each other), you start to grasp their various abilities and powers as things progress. And “honor among thieves?” It takes on a definite meaning within the context of Task Force X, something that comes out strongly in this volume. You start to pull apart the various bonds between the core team members while you gain a dislike for the vigilantes of the DC universe. (And I’m not opposed to that, by the way) At the same time, you start building question after question about Waller and A.R.G.U.S. without getting much in the way of answers. And maybe that’s the idea. The writing team does an excellent job of keeping their cards close to the chest, flashing only a glimpse of a grin here and there. You can’t help but admire their style and finesse.
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Impostors by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
(Yeah – I forgot that the Uglies universe happens in the present tense. That’s MY mistake. I was a little too focused on how well Mr. Westerfeld writes and my eagerness to dive back into that world setting. However, the tense issue always receives an automatic strike down when I can’t find a justification for using it)
Watching the world unfold post-mind rain? How can a reader not shiver with the anticipation of what might happen after the uproar Tally set in motion? And Mr. Westerfeld didn’t disappoint with a presentation of two different (three?) views. Shreve and Victoria stand on opposite ends of a delicate scale, with the rebels scrambling back and forth between the two. And while he doesn’t dive very far into the political landscape of this new world, you catch glimpses of it throughout the dialogue and plot. The questions posed could lead in a hundred different directions, promising characters and stories for decades. But instead of fulfilling that promise, he leaves you with a limping romance between unlikely sources – with a dash of action thrown into the mix to keep the tempo from sinking into the sludge.
Despite the text’s ACTUAL claims, Frey’s character is fragmented and clumsy. She begins as a ruthless killing machine, but she ends as a doe-eyed Juliet. And it takes no more than a handful of days for the transformation? It’s jarring. While her upbringing might suggest some level of inexperience and innocence (in certain areas), you wouldn’t expect rampant stupidity to fall in there. Yet she dissolves into a typical teenage girl at the drop of a hat. Then she’s back to a hardened robot in the next moment. It’s off-balance and makes no sense. While I grasp that this is only the first book, with the potential to iron out some underlying quirk, the gaps and questions pile up. You’re left wondering whether this timeline happened prior to the mind rain rather than after. As a protagonist? She’s tepid at best. At least with Tally, she had a definite, even temperament and personality throughout her story arc. Frey doesn’t come close to measuring up.
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While Juniper’s been in our inflatable pool and down to the edge of the ocean before, this was her first official swim. And she did amazing! We’re super proud of her. (Okay, so each attempt lasted under 10 seconds – the important thing was the attempt!)
Harley Quinn, Vol. 4: Vengeance Unlimited by A.J. Lieberman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Talk about an outlier in the Harley Quinn universe! Mr. Lieberman set her in a world of her own, apart from the quips and humor you usually expect. In their place, you get a grittier version where she stands firmly as a villain, wreaking havoc apart from any of the cast of characters throughout Gotham. Different? Certainly. Better? That’s a little harder to judge. Harley’s wit is one of her best features, and while an undercurrent of humor’s present, it’s dull and depressed, falling flat. How to balance an entire chunk of a character getting removed and set aside? The creative team didn’t need to sacrifice so much of that to stay gritty with this volume – at least in my opinion. (In comparison, Suicide Squad runs over the edge, but Harley’s off-beat humor remains intact) The ending came up skewed, as well. No one doubts Harley’s fragmented mental health, but the final chapters? They went beyond the realm of who she is within her heart (I’m reminded of Mr. Kesel’s treatment with Lewis, actually). I suppose it ties things in a loop (for someone’s timeline), but it rings wrong to anyone who knows the character that well.
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Artists – be they writers, sculptors, painters, glassblowers, etc. – all claim a particular niche. Ask them for their specialty, or their genre, and you’ll get a hefty description. For instance, when someone asks what I write, I follow two paths: I can describe the work I do as a freelancer, OR I can go into what I pen for my speculative fiction. Rarely will you find someone with artistic leanings who will supply you with a quick-and-dirty, monosyllabic reply. (It’s a side effect of all of that imagination, in case you wondered) However, if you ask those same people what they’re looking for out of their work (once you distill down more creative wording), it boils down to a flavor of:
You want someone to see a piece that left your hands and comment, “That’s so-and-so’s work.” Maybe your story won’t bring funds or fame, but knowing that a person out there knew you wrote it? Nothing beats that feeling. You managed to stand out from the sea of other writers. Someone identified your unique voice and tone. And that’s what every artist is trying to do, at the heart. They’re developing a way of viewing and translating the world. Then they’re hoping someone out there will see it, appreciate it, and pick them out as different.
As writers, we have almost endless opportunities to gain that recognition – if you’re willing to look for it. And one of the avenues people overlook is the personal essay. I can’t figure out why, either. Personal essays lend appeal to ANYONE. They combine fictional storytelling to a non-fiction situation. And (with rare exceptions) you only have around 1500 words to complete the tale. It’s an exercise in concise, captivating narratives. Not to mention that you need to dive immediately into the action (1500 words – or less – doesn’t give you room to warm things up). And the best personal essays include dialogue. It has EVERYTHING any detailed story needs – with a bonus of a chance to relate something from your life.
Talk about a two for one!
You have the opportunity to place your tone, your voice, and your style on paper while relating a part of yourself for the world to share. The personal essay is one of the best writing forms available. It doesn’t matter WHAT you write, it exercises that part of your brain to the fullest. And finding markets? Not a problem:
- Meghan Ward: 20 Great Places to Publish Personal Essays
- Published to Death: 41 Paying Markets for Personal Essays
- Writing to Heal: List of Paying Markets for Personal Essays
If you have a story, you can find a market willing to listen. Especially if you take the time with your essay. You’re a writer. You KNOW how to put sentences together. And you know how to capture the attention of a reader from those first moments. If you can eliminate glaring grammatical and spelling errors, you’re already going to stand out from plenty of other people that submit to these markets. Editors WANT people that can pass those first hurdles of competent writing. If you’re already successful as a freelancer? You have what it takes.
As for the topic? No one else has lived your life. That makes your experiences, your stories unique. Add in a touch of imagination (only a touch, though – personal essays AREN’T fiction), and you’ve got something people want to share in and engage with. Suddenly, people want to learn more about you. They start looking for your name and finding other things you’ve written. All because you wrote an essay about fishing with your father on Puget Sound, or finding a salamander in your garden, or watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, or photographing a soap bubble in subzero temperatures.
Seriously – anything with a fresh perspective that speaks to the human condition is free game!
Look through back issues of the market you’re interested in and read other essays. (Side note: if you aren’t already doing this with your markets, you should start) Then flip through your scrap books, your photo albums, your journals. What material do you have to work with? Meditate and think back over moments that stick in your head. And start jotting down ideas. People have made entire careers out of writing personal essays. Others have found themselves receiving new clients because of a single, well-written essay.
Opportunities exist EVERYWHERE. And if you’re not exploring all of them? You’re missing out. I admit, I thought personal essays sounded silly. And then I started playing around with the format. (For the record, it isn’t as easy as you might assume!) Now I have several I’ve cleaned up and started circulating. The first article I published with Offbeat Bride? That came out of a personal essay on dealing with planning the wedding in the middle of the first COVID-19 lockdown! And when I’m feeling frustrated with my other writing? I start a new one (Evernote is nice enough to keep a record of my ideas for me). It stretches a different part of my writing brain.
You can’t abandon a potential writing tool from your arsenal. Personal essays flex creative muscles. Not in the same way as your typical stories or freelance work, true. But you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by the results. Put yourself out there. Take your writing to the next level of vulnerability. What do you have to lose?