Kristen and I have been Facebook Friends for years and yet wires crossed. I have been trying to get her in for an interview for some time, but once we made contact, it worked. BOY, did it work! Kristen could not possibly have been more generous with her advice and candor, (something from which I can certainly learn.)
On her author’s website she describes herself this way:
“Kristen Lamb is an author, blogger, international speaker and unrepentant troublemaker.”
She’s fun, but I have not seen any real trouble from her. (Sorry, Kristen!) I find her profound and funny.
(In other words, I steal her memes all the time.)
Kristen is not only a writer, and from what I can tell, a help in every form to other writers, but also has had incredible success as a blogger with mentoring advice,(Just read below to see her numbers!)
Kristen, we recently addressed tips for writers here, but you have made a career of it with books, online classes, speaking engagements and blogs. Writer’s Digest named your blog one of the top 100 websites for writers; that is quite a feather in your cap. I hardly know where to begin. I admit to not having read your posts until now, and I am truly finding them informative and enjoyable. Please tell our readers what to expect and how to sign up for your writing and story crafting classes.
Before I answer the question, I want to clarify something. I’ve definitely earned a reputation as an unrepentant troublemaker, because I don’t pull punches when it comes to our industry.
*pulls out soap box for a moment*
For instance, I was one of the first whistleblowers on the ‘exposure’ grift and how large media companies like Huffington Post were shamelessly exploiting writers. They promised exposure in return for unpaid work and even bragged about not paying their ‘contributors.’
The grift went like this.
Hey, Kristen, we really loved your blog about ‘How to Write Epic High Fantasy Readers Crave.’ We’d love to have you post that here on Huffington where you’ll get access to our millions of readers. You don’t even need to write a new post.
Seems like a good deal, right?
First, they didn’t allow me a place to advertise or directly purchase my books (as in no shopping cart). I had to hope someone would LOVE me enough to click my tiny name that was hyperlinked to my author site and buy.
Sure, and I’m a Chinese jet pilot.
They knew their readership wouldn’t click past the article itself or, if anyone did, it would be RARE.
Meanwhile, every one of those unpaid articles earned them fat cash from advertisers. Also, because they intimated that posting frequent quality content would lead to paid work, where would I likely to send readers?
Y’all fill in the blank.
What they failed to tell their writers was that, in the world of algorithms, Huffington Post not only was making hundreds of millions off naïve writers willing to work for FREE, but this method also cannibalized those authors’ digital footprints (platforms) as well.
It wasn’t enough to make money off free labor, but to add salt to the wound, this technique decimated the author’s hard work on their own site.
What too many authors don’t understand is that, in cyberspace, the bigger fish wins.
This means if I have an author blog that I’m using to create a brand and on-line presence (which I STRONGLY recommend), the more content I create, the better rankings I enjoy with search engines like Google.
Problem is, the moment I start cross-posting the same content on mega-sites, algorithms penalize me for duplicate content. The bigger site wins.
At the time I raised a ruckus, the U.K. editor of Huffington boasted about having 13,000 ‘contributors’…and that was just the U.K. They were making (as of 2016), $2.3 BILLION from an unpaid workforce that they didn’t have to offer benefits (like paid vacation, healthcare, or unemployment).
Adding even more insult to injury, since writers were essentially ‘volunteers,’ Huffington didn’t have to pay the usual taxes because the ‘contributors’ technically were not ‘employees.’
And what REALLY set me off was how they were taking advantage of a naïve writing pool, ignorant to how they were being used.
One author cannot compete with the digital footprint made by a company harnessing the collective power of tens of thousands of writers (sorry, ‘contributors,’) posting every day, every week, year after year.
What this means is that, if anyone went searching for that author on-line, search engines would direct them to Huffington Post and the exploited author’s blog might as well not exist.
Arianna Huffington cashed out when she sold Huffington Post to AoL. She made $400 MILLION dollars from an unpaid workforce that her company duped into believing that their articles eventually would lead to paid work.
Which it didn’t because of the precedent Huffington set.
Huffington Post pioneered this ‘exposure’ model and soon, other on-line magazines and sites could longer compete. So, what did they do? They adopted the ‘exposure dollar’ pay scam.
This, effectively, obliterated a writer’s ability to make any money doing freelance work in between books. Freelance work once was highly lucrative. Writers could make hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a single piece. After Huffington Post?
Everyone expected us to work for FREE.
Think of the EXPOSURE!
That’s all well and good, but my grocery store doesn’t take exposure dollars.
Anyway, I called them out…and took a ton of heat. [https://authorkristenlamb.com/2016/02/shame-on-you-aolhuffington-no-more-literary-booty-calls/?fbclid=IwAR0n4b0YSGatSXV8yA7nYBwdOZSg34rprEB-Am2hb6g9FLVjPdOlZb9lsRY]
But I don’t give a fig about what billionaires think of me. I care about writers. I launched a lengthy blog campaign blasting them and calling them out for what they were—thieving, lying predators.
I did everything I could to educate authors. [https://authorkristenlamb.com/2017/10/pay-the-writer-2-out-hustle-the-hustlers/?fbclid=IwAR0P-T-kwHADEUur26vQxsYM1AD9eMvxGmLWdVsqertbk4Epc5yXDEmwN38 ] It was a long hard road, and I was called the ‘c’ word more times than I can count (‘caring’ was not that word). But I didn’t care. If I had to burn down the Internet, I was going to stop the exploitation.
It took time, but guess who finally started paying their ‘contributors’?
Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
So, in a way, this is what folks can expect on my blog. Bluntness is my superpower. I’m an odd chimera of crusader, mentor, teacher, and armchair comedian.
My blog is a holistic resource for authors—newbie to veteran. We’re in the entertainment business. Two words—entertainment and business.
The product is critical, and it’s unlikely an MFA program will train you how to be a commercial author (or even a literary author that might sell some books). Even if they could, that’s a ton of student debt to incur and years in school that could be dedicated to practical learning.
Writing is an artisan skill, much like being a blacksmith. We start out as the apprentice then move onto journeyman, then hopefully onto master.
Thus, I post a lot on craft. This is the entertainment side. How do authors write something readers want to BUY? Additionally, how can we learn to write quality books quickly?
***We can’t have five years between books if we hope to make a living.
Then we have the business side. WE are the brand.
James Patterson, Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts, Clive Cussler, George R.R. Martin, Stephen King, etc. My goal is to train authors how to make their name alone a bankable asset.
Thus, I talk about blogging, social media, branding, life etc.
There are a ton of ‘experts’ out there selling social media snake oil. They are happy to scare the crap out of an uneducated writer and convince them that they cannot possibly build a brand alone.
Oh, but for so many thousands of dollars, they can do it for you.
Many companies are using techniques that haven’t worked since the pre-digital age and that have never sold books in the history of ever.
I’m not adding in this next part to brag as much as I want to be transparent. I’ve never hired outside help, run any ads, etc.
My blog, last year, had almost 14 MILLION visits, and 310K unique visitors. I’ve had single blog posts that have garnered almost 10K shares to Facebook directly from my page.
These numbers are almost unheard of for a writing blog (which is extremely niche).
I simply relay these numbers to make a point. There are folks out there claiming to teach writers how to blog, but when you visit their blogs, they have virtually no shares and no comments.
If they can’t even make their own blog successful, how are they going to help anyone else?
Thus, if anyone reading this wants help from an expert? Go for it! There are some great people out there. But check their site first, get references, and do some basic research before handing anyone money.
Beyond the brand and platform part of being an author, I feel we are wise to know what’s happening in our industry.
I post a lot about all the changes in publishing, and, since I was trained as an analyst, I’ve demonstrated a unique ability to project market trends months, if not years in advance, so authors could prepare and even take major advantage.
All in all, I wear a lot of hats (working to hang many of those up). There’s a lot that goes into being successful in this business and I’ve simply felt a calling to be there to help.
Your “Rise of the Machines”, advises writers on the use of social media in the careers. What do you see as a general weak spot for most people?
A few years ago, I would have said authors weren’t using it enough. Now? Too many writers want to fixate on being experts with social media instead of improving their writing skills. They write one book then fixate on marketing it to death.
Also, “Rise of the Machines” isn’t really a social media book. It’s a branding book that merely happens to teach social media.
I wrote the book to be evergreen. Social media platforms change, but humans never do. If you don’t believe me, go look up your ex.
…or don’t. Y’all get the idea.
Thing is, if we understand people, we’re in a better position to locate then cultivate a loyal fanbase.
What sort of content is likely to attract followers? How do we create a connection? I’m in the business of helping writers turn bystanders into superfans. Superfans are evangelical. They read every blog, share our content and tell everyone they know about our books.
They’re also far more likely to leave thoughtful reviews…lots of them. Building a relationship with our support base is what makes all the difference.
My platform is actually fairly small if one looks at raw numbers. I don’t have millions of subscribers. Not even close. But my amazing fans are extremely generous, and they go out of their way to promote my content and books.
One continual problem I see in writers is that they feel that they need to use every word in the thesaurus. I love this quote from you:
“English teachers didn’t mind we used twenty-five metaphors on one page because their goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…not how to write successful commercial fiction.”
What else do you find that writers need to unlearn?
These days, most writers need to learn. Too many armchair authors are getting into our industry believing it’s some literary lotto. They don’t even read fiction and it’s obvious when I try to read their work.
They don’t understand structure, POV, and many don’t even understand their genre. For instance, I’ve had writers pay me to look at a mystery, but there is no crime in the beginning. Sometimes not at all. HUH? That is the entire point of a mystery.
Or I’ll see a romance and the romantic interest is the villain. No. Romance is strict. There needs to be an HEA (Happily Ever After) or even the more modern HFN (Happily for Now), or it isn’t a romance.
Most ‘novels’ I see aren’t novels at all, merely a lot of words and ‘stuff happening.’ These days, with over a million self-published books hitting the market per year? This won’t do. Not for anyone wanting to do this professionally at least.
Other advice books of yours are “Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer”. ( I am sure that my other blog often wonders if it has been left orphaned), and “We Are Not Alone” (The Writer’s Guide to Social Media).While putting this together, I asked to join “WANA” your “Tribe”. Please explain its intention to our readers and how it all came about.
My early social media books were more How To. Back when I wrote those early books, writers were terrified to use email. These days, there isn’t a need for a book that teaches you how to sign up for a Facebook account.
“We Are Not Alone—The Writers’ Guide to Social Media” literally had images and step-by step instruction about how to post a tweet.
We’ve pretty much figured all that out.
I created W.A.N.A.Tribe as a support base for writers. It’s a NING (sort of a private social media site), but I pay $70 a month to maintain it. Why? No ads, no spam, no distractions.
For anyone who is a member, you CAN create a tribe that is either public or private. This is useful if, say, you want to have a writing group. You can upload documents and have critique sessions. This is especially helpful nowadays with the whole COVID thing.
When I used to teach long-term workshops, I would create a private tribe where attendees could upload pages. We’d then comment, offer feedback, submit the next revised versions, etc.
For the past six years, however, we’ve mainly used the chat section. We run what I call sprints every day, all week. Someone, usually me, will time for an hour. During that hour, the goal is to do something productive.
Sure, it can be working on the book. But writers have a life that doesn’t stop because of a book. Sprints can be used for folding laundry, yoga, writing a blog, whatever. At the end of the hour, you simply report what you accomplished.
It’s great peer pressure, and, since there are a lot of veteran writers in there, a new writer can see the operational tempo of a pro. We are also there to support each other, offer help, collaboration, advice, or even goof off.
It serves as a sort of virtual workplace. We hustle, then have a break and chat at the digital watercooler. No news, drama, ads, or spam.
It’s a great place to get away from all the news and drama and negativity as well. With everything that’s going on in the world, it can be hard to get out of bed some days. At W.A.N.A.Tribe, we work hard and play hard.
The videos on your blog are a riot. You have a ‘partner in crime’ there, Cait Reynolds. How did your writing partnership form? Do you collaborate on other projects?
Cait was a fan who hired me for a consult a few years ago and we hit it off. I don’t like to say I kidnapped her…more ‘involuntary adoption.’ I wanted to write a Western and she was an expert at writing historical fiction.
She’s since taught classes for me, blogged on my site and we are currently recording a dark comedy podcast called ‘BFFs: Bad Friends Forever.’
We’d hoped to launch back in May, but 2020 has made launching…challenging.
For the moment? I’m working on my own projects and she has hers.
Right now, everything is in a holding pattern and we’re writing a series and creating more podcast content during this meantime. When the world and events are out of your control, the best advice I can give is to focus on what is within your control and then be patient.
Do you truly get the type of writers and submissions you portray in the videos, the same plots, the cookie cutter characters, heroines with the same violet or emerald eye color ,the not-so-celebrity tell-alls? They are funny from this side, but I imagine it gets to you. As far as I am concerned, the biggest writing crime is lack of research. To me it is the height of hubris for ‘writers’ to assume that they can make it up on the fly, but that their writing and story will leave everyone to enthralled to care otherwise. Do you get any other impressions?
Before we get too far into my answer, I want to begin by mentioning I’ve probably BEEN many of the silly characters I portray. Might be why I play them so well. I’m not having to do much acting.
I confess. I started out as an unteachable jerk. I thought because I made top grades in school, I therefore was instantly qualified to write a mega-best-selling book.
Craft books and classes were for the *hair flip* untalented.
I kid you not. My first novel was 187,000 words long. I just kept writing until I was all… “Um I guess that’s long enough. The End.”
That was…until I joined a local writing group of actual authors. I was certain they’d be awed by my genius. Nope. They summarily handed me my @$$. After my first critique, I sat in the library parking lot and questioned my will to live. I almost gave up.
But I was committed.
Week after week I took the beating, pages dripping red. This was back when writing groups had actual professionals, those vetted by NY. It took four years to pass muster with my critique group, but I still couldn’t make it past the NYC gatekeepers.
Page to page, my writing was strong. No more red marks but I still wasn’t getting anywhere. I wasn’t growing.
What was going wrong?
I needed more. I sought out two particular published authors—the toughest in the business—for feedback on more than five pages at a time.
My mentors were brutal, and both made me cry (which is no easy task). They didn’t pull any punches. In fact, it felt less like author training and more like Kill Bill 2, but maybe I’m being a tad dramatic.
Regardless, it was exactly what I needed. Bob and Les intuitively understood I still had too much ego in the way. If I couldn’t get over my ego, nothing they could teach me mattered.
We have to be teachable. If we’re not open to change, and our ego gets in the way? We’re doomed.
It took years to learn what I now freely share.
For the record, I still have my first novel. Since it bites visitors and pees on the furniture, I keep it in the garage where it keeps burglars away.
Thus, what I’m about to write? Trust me, it isn’t me lecturing down from some high pillar. I’ve done all the dumb stuff so y’all don’t have to.
Back to your what you talked about in your question. In the current market especially, we have a lot of folks writing novels, folks who don’t read. Some actively boast that they don’t even like to read.
Would you want to eat food created by a chef who only ate Hot Pockets?
Since these writers don’t read prolifically (or at all) this limits vocabulary. They also can’t study technique. They’re limited when it comes to descriptions.
My challenge is this. If we can’t write a description that’s any better than something a random person off the street (who’s a non-writer) could come up with? We should dig deeper. We’re supposed to be wordsmiths.
Raven hair? Emerald eyes? Not that we can’t use these descriptors.
But could we try harder?
I read at least four books a week. Granted, most are audiobooks because I have a life and my laundry and dishes are somehow in possession of cloning technology. But when I discover a truly excellent book, I buy a paper copy and dog-ear and highlight that sucker. I study it like a textbook, because that’s what professionals should do in my opinion.
This said, I have a number of pet peeves.
First, lack of research
[Everyone who reads here knows that is what eats at me, as well-T]
I see so many mistakes that make my blood boil, especially since research is ridiculously easy these days. There really isn’t any excuse for getting simple details wrong.
If you want to write crime books, then it’s your job to understand jurisdiction and procedure. Understand what’s the sheriff’s jurisdiction versus police. What’s the difference between a coroner and a medical examiner? Know where the responding officer’s duties end, and the homicide detective’s job begins.
Certain genres we have to be super careful. I’d say anything involving crime we need to be well-versed and well-read because our audience generally are forensic junkies.
If you put guns in a book, learn how guns work or don’t bother. I once threw a book across the room because the author’s MC ‘put the safety on her revolver.’
There are too many new writers who (mistakenly) believe they can write fantasy and that gives them a pass. They can simply make up everything and don’t have to research. Not true. First, one needs to do world-building to make sure everything remains consistent. Then what sort of fantasy is it? There are many types of fantasy and the world must be congruent to the historical period it will be most closely associated with in the readers’ minds.
Anachronisms can become a major concern. For example, if you’re writing a sword-and sorcery story in a world of dragons and knights and castles, then that world must be consistent with what readers will think about being in that world.
If a character glances up to check a clock? Or writes with a fountain pen? Or has a child playing with a toy train? It will throw the audience right out of that world.
Trains don’t belong in a world with knights in shining armor.
***Yes I’ve seen all these anachronisms in samples.
All that said, while research is essential, it can’t take the place of an excellent story.
If we’re well-read, we’ll actually find that we don’t need to do as much research because we’ve already become so immersed in well-written stories. Thus, we already know much of the necessary material.
For instance, if we’ve read stacks of the top crime novels, watched the best shows, listened to the premium podcasts, then we already know much of what we need. We’re better prepared.
I believe where a lot of the problems come in is that too many new writers believe because they made good grades in school, they should instantly be able to write a mega-best-selling novel.
Your first, personal choice is writing fiction. Are you planning to return to it? Do you write in other genres?
I released a novella “Dead Line” a couple years ago that was part of a box set. I’m currently turning it into a full-length mystery suspense. I’m also working on finishing the Romi Lachlan series. “The Devil’s Dance” is out, was very popular, and has gotten excellent reviews. The novel was supposed to be a standalone, but fan feedback has encouraged me to turn it into a trilogy (part of the cover redesign).
I currently work as a ghostwriter, so there are books that I write, but am not listed as the author. There are a lot of clients who want or need a book and don’t have the time or skill to do it themselves. For instance, a successful C.E.O might want to have a business book. Or, a celebrity wants to write a memoir or a self-help book. That’s when that person would hire me to work with them, then I do most if not all of the actual writing.
What can you tell us about growing up in Fort Worth, Kristen? What is life for you in Dallas for you and with your family?
Most of my growing up years were very hard. My mom was a single-parent and my father disappeared for quite a few years. I had to grow up quickly since Mom was struggling through nursing school and my little brother was legally blind.
I changed schools constantly and endured my fair share of bullying because of my clothes, or where I lived, or simply being the ‘new kid’ all the time. It’s where I learned to be funny (defense mechanism).
But my mom insisted we serve at church and give what little we had even if it was simply time.
I dropped out of high school twice, but finally returned and graduated when I was nineteen. From there, I attended a junior college, applied for a military scholarship and won a full ride at Texas Christian University to become a doctor for the Air Force.
After three and a half years as a Neuroscience major, however, I had a slip and fall accident on campus. They didn’t close the school even though there was an ice storm.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize when I fell, I’d fractured my back.
I lost my scholarship and, since I couldn’t pay the high tuition, was unable to transfer to a less expensive school. I spent the next year or so relying on a cane to move about. I changed majors so I could finish earlier and worked every crappy job (mostly night jobs) to pay my bills.
After my back healed, I went skydiving, rock climbing, bouldering, mountain biking (before it was cool). If it was stupid, reckless and on top ten list of bad ideas? SIGN ME UP! I was an adrenalin junkie.
The day after I graduated, I hopped on a flight to Damascus, Syria for an internship (I thought I wanted to continue in Mideast studies).
When I returned, I took a job that required a lot of travel into the industrial areas of northern Mexico. I also signed up for as many volunteer missions into the rougher parts of Mexico and Central America as I could.
Some might think spending a week in a jungle swinging a sledgehammer in the rain breaking up concrete isn’t exactly fun. But for me? Those are some of my best memories.
When you’re in places with people who have almost nothing and they’re still so kind and happy? Willing to share what little they have? You come home to the U.S. and you’re so grateful for what’s too easy to take for granted. At least I did.
Anyway, for too long I felt like a loser and a failure. It took a long time to see how those tough years made me stronger, taught me to keep going and how to deal with setbacks and loss.
Key lessons for anyone who wants to make it as an author.
As for now? I have the world’s best husband. We’ve been married eleven years and together for twelve. He works for an I.T. division of my small company.
We work from home, so we’ve been homeschooling our son since he was seven. We live in our own little bubble as a tight-knit family.
Before COVID, we went to the gym all the time and to Six Flags almost every weekend. Now? We’re repainting every room in the house. I’m trying to find the floors in my closets. I dream of one day being an organized person. I’m beginning to believe the floors really are lava and laundry and cat fur are there to keep us safe.
Do you have any other talents that you tap?
Talents? I don’t know about talent since I seem to have to learn everything the hard way.
Since I homeschool my son, I tap into my education and background to teach him. Even though he’s only ten, he’s getting a university level education in many areas and supplement with books and lectures from The Great Courses.
I push him harder than any ‘real’ school for sure.
Is there anything else you’d like for our readers to know?
Perfect is the enemy of the finished. Normal is a setting on the dishwasher, and fair is a weather condition. Just keep going. All of this is a process. Lighten up and give yourself permission to be new, to be imperfect or even a hot mess.
Anyone out there who seems to have it all together probably is really good at lying or hiding the crazy…or they’re just plain dull. Crazy makes the best stories. Life is messy.
We’re all struggling and if you’re not struggling and not failing? Then probably a good sign you’re not striving to do much of anything all that interesting.
Thank you, Kristen! ( I had no idea that we had so much in common when our lives seem so different!)Please let everyone know how to get to know you and your work:
Facebook: Kristen Lamb