Sunday, May 19, 2013

Writsy Stuff

I subscribe to author/quilt designer Carol Doak's monthly newsletter, mainly because I like her how-to books on paper piecing and want to know whenever she publishes something new. This month she mentioned the success she's having with teaching online classes at Craftsy.com, the hot new how-to crafting site. According to her newsletter in about a month she had 3,000 students sign up for her class on paper piecing, and even at the currently discounted price of $29.95 per student that comes close to making $100K in a month.

Startling figures, to say the least. Some disclaimers: I don't know how much of that Craftsy.com takes as commission or any other details involved in teaching one of their classes. It should also be mentioned that Carol is already quite well known in the quilting world as a very talented and innovative writer and artist. I noted that one draw may be that she includes free for her students a companion e-book which is valued at half the price of the class, which is an excellent bonus. I thought I'd mention it primarily for any of you who may have published how-to craft books and want to check out what's involved in teaching a class.

It would be great if there were a Craftsy.com-type site for writers (Writsy!) where you could sign up to learn how to write a proper query, what needs to be in a submission package, how to efficiently edit a chapter or even the real nuts and bolts of how to put together an e-book when going the indie route. There are a couple of obvious problems with that idea; the primary one being that writing does not translate as well to video as something like crafting. Writing happens in your head and on the computer and the page, and even the most basic screenshots quickly become tedious (or incomprehensible) in video's rapid delivery of visuals. Filming writing workshops like the kind put on at conferences might be a solution, as long as the instructor is a gifted speaker and does something besides talk.

The other big problem is that there is no one go-to, this-is-how-you-do-it standard for everything professional writers do. I think it would be tough to get everyone to agree on a standard as well -- a good example is simply how you write a novel synopsis. I learned first what synopses were and how to write them via my subscription to Writer's Digest magazine -- until an editor asked me why I wrote such odd synopses. Once I explaining that I was following examples from WD articles, the editor informed me that my synopses were in fact too short, that I should not put every character's name in all caps and I wasn't detailing my plot twists or my endings. I asked for an example I could follow, but the editor wouldn't give me one, so I began blindly writing longer synopses, ditched capping the character names and revealed all -- until another editor complained that my synopses were too long and too detailed.

The editor after that one wanted to know why I didn't write out the relationship arcs (and then had to explain to me what those were.) Another asked for chapter summaries to go along with the synopsis. The one after that, who started working with me in mid-series, asked for one-paragraph synopses for all the previous books (and if you want a real writing challenge, try to condense a novel series that contains hundreds of characters and settings and plot lines and over a million words altogether into just nine paragraphs.)

To this day practically every editor I work for has a slightly different opinion about what should or shouldn't be in a synopsis. Some want a lot, others just want bare bones, and still others want something I've never before done. That's why I put together a synopses bible on all the books I've sold so I can at least review what I've done in the past that worked. When I teach writing synopses, I also use for examples only the ones which have resulted in contract offers.

Until someone does come up with enough standards for writers to create a Writsy.com there are plenty of online classes for writers. A few weeks back I noted author Barbara Samuel is teaching an online class on voice; the way she has this set up (maintaining a small class size, the triad approach of lectures/exercises/discussions, and offering a scholarship as well as discounts for group) seems like a sensible way to go about it. Before you invest consider all these things as well as what sort of talent and experience the instructor offers, and let that be your guide.

8 comments:

  1. Introducing me to Craftsy this morning was probably a bad idea. Now instead of working on my project for school, I am planning for all the online classes I can take once I have my own writing/craft room in about three weeks time. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was pretty dazzled when I took a look at it, too, D. I've decided not to sign up for any classes until winter, though -- that way I'm not distracting from the truckloads of work I have to do in the months ahead. Maybe a quilting class would make a good finish line reward . . . . :)

      Delete
  2. Years and years ago now, I took an online class about synopses taught by Lisa Gardner (!). It was only fifteen dollars and, as I remember it, run through a chapter of RWA. I learned a whole bunch, but I still hate synopses. I read a funny story from Nora Roberts once. In the early days, she didn't know what a synopsis was either. When her editor wanted one, she had a hard time. She ended up writing the books first ! and then writing the synopsis about them. She's a pantser, and I sure can't argue with her success. Her books are great, IMO. But I found that story really sweet, and it made me feel better about my own synopses struggles. If La Nora had trouble, no wonder I do!

    By the way, I have found your articles about writing very helpful, especially the Friday Q&As and the Left Behind workshops. I'm working my way doggedly through Cheetah (it's great!). If you ever decided to offer a class, I would sign up in a heartbeat. I have finally begun self-publishing, and I have made enough sales to really help my family out. I'm embarrassed to admit the genre, but my main goal is to enjoy the writing (which I do) and help my aging mom with her bills (family is first for me) and the writing has done that. Thank you so much for what you do, and for offering so much online for free. I hope this random thank you is OK.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely ok, and I appreciate the kind words, Vom. To honor all the librarians who helped educate me as a writer via the public library I've promised myself that no matter what I'll always teach for free. It's really the only way I can pass along the tremendous gift they gave me.

      Delete
  3. I'd sign up for Writsy in a heartbeat! But I don't dare spend too much time digging into Craftsy. I did try to subscribe to her monthly newsletter, but don't see a way to do that anywhere.

    Anyway, you do Writsy, I'll be there and if you want to send a once a month Writsy newsletter, I'll sign up for that one too :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure what the future holds. Everytime I think about putting out a newsletter I recall how many I delete every month from e-mail without even looking at them, and then get the heebie jeebies. :)

      Delete
  4. Oh I love Craftsy. They have excellent patterns, both free and not free. Have not tried a class yet but it may be my key to finally learning knitting. I have tried to learn from books but since I learned crochet first I think the way knitting looks sort of funky at first throws me off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One reason I mentioned the site is the free stuff they offer. I love freebies!

      Delete