Friday, September 23, 2011

Guest Post: Author Sharon Wildwind

Sharon Wildwind

How/why did you start to write?

I'm not really sure. I remember a pre-school argument between my mother and a friend of hers who was a teacher. The teacher said I was ready to learn to print even though I wasn't yet six and my mother said that learning to print could wait. It made me very curious as to what this printing stuff was about and what you could do with it. Later, when I learned it was possible to connect those individual letters to build words, sentences, and stories, I knew I was on to something that appealed to me.

The first clear memory I have of writing consistently is keeping a diary the summer I was nine. Unfortunately, it didn't survive and I've no idea why it occurred to me to keep a diary. A knitting connection here:  that was the same summer that I learned to knit for a Girl Scout badge.

By the time I was fifteen, I was writing stories in lined notebooks with black covers. When I was sixteen I started co-writing with a close friend. Since then there never was a time that I wasn't writing.

My first published piece was a humorous piece reprinted in the Canadian Reader's Digest. This was back in the 1970s and it was a pure fluke. I'd sent something I'd written to a friend. He thought it was funny enough to publish in the house organ where he worked and Reader's Digest picked it up. The first I knew about all of this was getting a letter and a check for fifty dollars in the mail. I was stunned. (I spent those fifty dollars on wool.)

What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?

I'm a registered nurse and for the past thirty years have specialized in working with older people. Both nursing and geriatrics are marvelous assets to writing. Observation was one of the first skills that I learned in nursing school. Sometimes it was detailed observations, like recognizing what a patient said didn't match their body language. That was so helpful in developing characters.

Other times it was more global. A charge nurse needs to carry an ever-changing map in her head of where her staff is and how the shift is going. That's good for plotting and also for handling who is where in a multi-character scene.

As a new graduate, having to convince a sleepy resident to come NOW because a patient on my unit was going down the tubes, I quickly learned to create mini-stories full of tension, suspense, and a cliffhanger ending.

Working with older people is so much fun because they have great stories to tell. I could not, in my wildest imagination, create some of the stories that these people have lived.

I've written two series--one published and one not--and there is a nurse character in both of them. I figured why waste all of that good experience.

How did you become an author?

When I was fifty-five I said to myself, "Girl, if you want to do this, what are you waiting for?" I thought it might be a good idea to take a how-to-start-a-small-business course. One of the things that the instructor said was, "Act like you're already a business, and behave accordingly. Be professional from the first day, and demand that others treat you in a business-like manner." The city where I live sold me an at-home business license, the Canadian government did the paperwork to give me a tax number and, boom, I was in business as a writer. Actually getting my first book published took a while longer.

I think the most important lessons I've learned are, first, writing and publishing are so very, very different. I had to learn what my writing headspace felt like and my business headspace felt like how to constantly improve and grow in both, and how to balance those two spaces over the long term.

Second, I can't do this alone, and I have to do this alone. I know that sounds like a contradiction. I've spent a lot of time building my support network, most of it on-line. I go into that network every day, but I also work hard not to get trapped there. It's important for me to know what other people say and what they are doing with their careers, but it's even more important to know that I am not compelled to do something just because other people are doing it.

What inspires you?

Courage. Humor. People who treat one another well. Many kinds of art and music. Keeping a journal on a regular, sometimes daily basis. I'm a great believer in these two quotes:

I only write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning.
-W. Somerset Maughn, writer

I don't believe in inspiration. I was educated by the nuns. They are a lot tougher than any muse.
-Nora Roberts, romance fiction writer

There are times when you have to sit down and write, period. Seat in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. You have to meet deadlines. You have to treat other people with respect. And you always have to be ready for the brass ring, that wonderful opportunity that you had no idea was coming your way, but which you are going to grab with both hands when it does come.

Please share one of your successful marketing techniques

I call this the Rule of 10. Events can be divided into non-reader-heavy and reader-heavy.

Non-reader-heavy is your general crowd, like a convention, or a flea market. In those markets, 1 out of 10 people will even notice you. For every 10 people who notice you, 1 will speak to you. For every 10 people who speak to you, 1 will buy the book. So if someone tells me that they expect 3, 000 people at a convention, my sale potential is 3000 divided by 10 = 300 will notice my booth; 300 divided by 10 = 30 people will speak to me; 30 divided by 10 = 3 sales are likely. There could be a whole lot of reasons other than sales--networking, having a good time, contributing to a cause, etc.--that I might set up a booth at that convention, but at least I won't go expecting to sell 50 to 100 books.

For reader-heavy events, such as speaking at a library, you can skip the first two steps. By showing up, the people there have already noticed the author and want to speak to her. The average attendance at most library programs is 8 to 20 people, so my sale potential is usually 2 to 3. The advantage is that I'm tying into a reader-heavy group, who will promote me by word of mouth. If an author can engage one reader, that's usually worth 5 contacts.

Parting words

Writing is a marathon. Warm up, write, cool down. Eat right. Drink water. Exercise for stamina, balance, and staying power. --Sharon Wildwind, mystery writer

Author Links
Poes Deadly Daughters Blog (I blog on Tuesdays, but come see the rest of the daughters, too)
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