I became a writer because of Ray Bradbury.
Over thirty years ago, I first considered becoming a writer. My favorite author, Ray Bradbury, had made me do it. Over the years, he had grabbed me and engaged me with his words and especially his short stories. He opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities of words and books. Mainly through the influence of his short stories, he urged me to keep reading and start writing.
One of Ray's books in particular—and a subsequent meeting with him—set me on my way to becoming a writer. The book was Dandelion Wine. I had read many of Ray's books, including Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, but when I read Dandelion Wine, it was the first time I could truly visualize the overarching story as I read it. It was the first time I became part of the story. It was the first time I experienced words and sentences strung together in such a unique way: literature with doses of realism and lyrics and poetics. He hooked me. I thought to myself: I want to be able to write a book like that someday. I'm a big dreamer.
In 2003, while in San Diego on business, I had the opportunity to meet Ray. I had heard about a seminar he was conducting at San Diego State University, and on a whim, I changed my afternoon plans to attend. Ray's two-hour talk about his "love of writing" was truly inspirational, and his words made me wonder even more about becoming a career writer. Afterward, I met Ray, and he signed a book for me. He asked me if I was a writer, and I told him that I wanted to be one someday. He said, "Just do it," and I replied, "Okay, I will." Four years later, I became a writer. Although I had been writing for years, I made it official, with a total commitment to writing and publishing my books.
The number one thing I learned from Dandelion Wine is there are no definitive rules for how to write a successful book. Although Ray's publisher marketed and categorized the book as a novel, Dandelion Wine is a loosely connected collection of short stories. Ray was a great short story writer, and he weaved together the many stories he wrote over the years about Greentown, a town he created. Many of his Greentown stories are autobiographical, depicting his experiences as a child growing up in rural Waukegan, Illinois. His book is a mash-up of many forms of writing. It's a novel of short stories that's also an autobiography that includes elements of prose poetry—told through the eyes of a child. I think until his dying day, he lived his life and told his stories with the heart of a much younger person. Isn't that great?
As I began to write my own short stories, Ray's books, storytelling approaches, inspirational writings and quotes, and love were always nearby. My first published story collection, No Turning Back: Stories, includes a heart-warming story "An Unexpected Guest," which recounts a fictional birthday dinner with my family and Ray. What a dinner it was!
Ray continues to be an inspiration for my writing. My newest book, Grace: Stories and a Novella, includes the story "The Final Countdown." In the year 2110, the Earth struggles to survive, ravaged by overpopulation and greed. Food is scarce, and the youth-run government has no choice but to implement a plan devised decades earlier: deport the elderly population to a remote outpost—on the moon. "The Final Countdown" is also the opening chapter of my new in-progress stories-as-a-novel, Elderworld.
I became and continue to be a writer because of Ray Bradbury. He is an endless source of inspiration.
Dan Burns is the author of the novels A Fine Line and Recalled to Life and the short story collections No Turning Back: Stories and Grace: Stories and a Novella. He is also an award-winning writer of stories for the screen and stage. He resides with his family in Illinois and enjoys spending time in Wisconsin and Montana, where he stalks endless rivers in pursuit of trout and a career as a fly fisherman. For more information, please visit www.danburnsauthor.com.
I became a writer because of Ray Bradbury.
Paul Brodie: Hello, I am Paul Brodie, and thank you for joining us for another episode of the Get Published Podcast, where we help authors get published with a proven system that works. Today we are being joined by Dan Burns, the author of four published books, including his recent Chicago mystery novel, A Fine Line. Dan, welcome to the show.
Dan Burns: Hi, Paul. Thanks so much for having me on your show today.
Paul Brodie: Alright, question number one: What is the one piece of advice that you would give to a first-time author who is currently writing their book?
Dan Burns: The one piece of advice that I'd offer, and this would be to any writer, is to make the effort to set specific, measurable, and quantifiable writing goals. Develop those goals, develop a plan to accomplish your goals, and then manage your life around that plan. That may sound simple enough, but why are goals important? I think they are tremendously so. Setting goals are important because your goals and your plan keep you on track and propel you forward to actually write, which is what being a writer is all about.
I find it interesting that of all the people I know and meet that talk about being a writer or express the desire to write, very few actually write on a regular and consistent basis, and some if at all. Even fewer of those people actually get published. I think it's very easy to differentiate yourself in what often seems to be a crowded and competitive marketplace, simply by defining, in writing, your writing goals, developing your plan, managing your life around that plan, and simply sitting down to get your work done, and in doing so you'll set yourself apart from all the rest.
It may be easier said than done, but I've been doing it for many, many years, and the approach can take many forms but for me what works is I set annual goals, things that I'm going to accomplish over a years' time, monthly goals that will allow me to accomplish those annual goals, and then I break it down into what am I going to accomplish this week and next week to meet my monthly goals and annual goals. It works very well for me. I'm a very goal oriented person.
At the beginning of each year, I sit down and think about and define all the writing projects I want to accomplish. I hope you noticed I said projects, and it's plural, because let's say you're a writer and you want to write your novel in the next year. That's great but what else are you going to work on? You're a writer and there has to be more and I'll contend there needs to be more.
Simply put, having multiple projects to work on at any one time provides diversity and variety in your daily writing life, which I think is great, and I think the best thing is that by having multiple projects, you never experience writer's block. If you get stuck on a project, set it aside, let your subconscious work on it for a while, and move on and work on the next thing until you're ready to go back. I'd like to share a couple of suggestions for all the writers who are listening to this podcast.
Over the next year, as you're working on your book, what else are you going to do? Can you, for example, write one short poem every month? Piece of cake. Even if you've never done it before. At the end of the year you'll have 12 poems that you can send out for publication or you can add to your growing collection that you can publish down the road. Can you write one short story every six months? Of course. How about a quarterly essay to post to your website blog? Again, it should be no problem. Here's something I try and follow as best I can: can you write one entry, even if it's a small paragraph, in your writer's journal every single day to record your ideas and experiences?
I don't know about for you or other writers, but if I get an idea and I don't write it down, I potentially lose it forever. So, that's my advice. Develop and set your goals, develop a plan, manage to the plan, accomplish your goals, and differentiate yourself from all the rest.
Paul Brodie: That is a great answer, and what do you feel is the hardest part about getting published?
Dan Burns: For me, the hardest part of getting published is that collective amount of effort and time that is absolutely required to get your book ready for publication. Once it's ready and perfect I think an author today has so many options for getting a book published, whether it's through an agent and a big publisher, an independent publisher, or even self-publication, but none of those options can really happen until you're absolutely sure that the book is ready, perfect, to the extent that that's possible.
Getting the book ready for publication is the hard part. For me, that process includes a number of things. First and foremost, it's necessary get the first draft complete. Sit down, do the work, and complete the first draft. Otherwise there's nothing to move on to. You can't revise or edit or improve something that's never finished, so finish the book, differentiate yourself.
After I finish the draft, I let it sit for a while. It's always a great time to move on and work on one of those other projects I may have lined up. Then, when I'm ready to go back to it, that's when the editing process begins. For my last book, A Fine Line, I completed three full revisions of the manuscript before I was comfortable letting anyone else read it. The next step, then, was to bring in the professional editors, and I always use two. One specifically to focus on developmental editing, to make sure all the pieces are effectively in place, and then another, different editor to focus on copyediting, to make sure the many paragraphs and sentences are all perfect.
I want to make a point. The other reason you need to have more than one editor is that no one person, no matter how good he or she may be, is going to catch everything, so you absolutely have to have the second pair of eyes. When I complete copy editing, it's ready for me then to move to the next stage and that's the advanced reading copy process, which is, for me, a very important stage to help me get a book perfect and ready for publication.
By example, for my last book, I was fortunate to get 20 volunteer readers from my writer's group, the Chicago Writers Association. I had 20 great people who agreed to read and critique my book. At this stage of the process, I'm looking to identify any remaining punctuation or grammatical errors or something that just isn't right. There's nothing worse than publishing your book and then hearing back from a reader who found a punctuation, spelling, or grammatical error. It's terrible. So, having 20 readers, that's a lot to manage but it's worth it. I received comments and suggestions from 20 readers and you know what? Every single perspective was different. Each person caught different things, so the process was absolutely advantageous.
The process works for me. I think it's critical, and upon completion of that stage, then I think you're ready to publish the book. So, that's the hard part. All the work involved to get the book ready for publication.
Paul Brodie: Okay, and please share a marketing strategy that you have used in your book launch that worked well.
Dan Burns: Well, for any marketing effort that I may pursue or dollars I may spend, it's critical that I'm able to quantify the value I actually receive from that effort. The one marketing strategy that has been most effective, time and again, is the GoodReads Giveaway. For those who aren't familiar, through GoodReads.com, through their giveaway program, you're able to set up a free giveaway for your book and you can very specifically quantify the value of that giveaway.
For example, again I'm using my last book, A Fine Line, as an example, I ran two consecutive giveaways for a total of 75 books. Through that process, 2,700 readers, two thousand, seven hundred readers, requested the book and most of those people put it on their to-read list, and it was 2,700 individual impressions that my book made on someone. There were 75 winners who received the book. The total cost included the cost of the book plus postage, which was around $800, and as a result, from 75 readers I received 35 ratings of my book on GoodReads, 22 written reviews, many of which were shared on Amazon and on social media platforms, and I also received a number of blurbs that I could use in other marketing campaigns and strategies.
The GoodReads giveaway is awesome. It's been extremely effective for me. I've used it for all my books and I will no doubt use it again on my next one.
Paul Brodie: Well, let's talk about your favorite book. So, what is your favorite book and what was the number one thing that you learned from it?
Dan Burns: That's a hard question. As I get older, and with each new book that I read, that question becomes more difficult, but my favorite book hands down is still Dandelion Wine written by Ray Bradbury. The number one thing that I learned from book is that there are really no definitive rules for how to write a successful book. Let me explain what I mean. Dandelion Wine, while it has been marketed and categorized as a novel, is actually a loosely connected collection of short stories. Bradbury was a great short story writer, and he effectively pulled together the many stories he wrote over the years about his fictional Greentown, which is this town he created. Many of the stories are autobiographical in nature, depicting his experience as a child growing up in rural Waukegan, Illinois with his family.
His book is a true mash-up of all of the different forms of writing that he employs to tell his stories to the world. It's a novel of short stories that's also an autobiography that includes elements of prose poetry and all told through the eyes of a child. I think until his dying day, he lived his life and told his stories with the heart of a much younger person. Isn't that great? There are no rules. Just tell your story the best way you know how.
Paul Brodie: That's a great answer, and I want to ask you, for a final question, what is your favorite quote and why is it your favorite quote?
Dan Burns: There's a lot of them but there's one that comes to mind. In addition to writing short stories and novels, I also write scripts for film and for the stage, and one of my favorite playwrights is Sam Shepherd. There's a quote of his that I think really hits home regarding something that every writer struggles with at some point in their career, and the quote is this: "When you hit a wall of your own imagined limitations, just kick it in." It's very simple, isn't it? A writer, whether he or she believes it or not, has complete control over what can be accomplished, and I truly believe that.
All I can do is follow Sam's guidance and keep it simple: I sit down at my desk, I get the words down onto the page, and if I get stuck, I forge ahead. It's really all I can do.
Paul Brodie: I agree with you. Simplicity is key. Well, Dan, I want to thank you again for being a guest on the show. What is the best way for people to find you online?
Dan Burns: Well, my books are available in print, e-book, and audiobook wherever books are sold, and also at my website along with a lot of other great information. My website is www.danburnsauthor.com, and my Facebook page is Dan Burns—Author. I do want to mention, for all the listeners who are audiobook fanatics, check out Audible.com and specifically my book, A Fine Line. I had the fortunate opportunity to work with the most prolific and I'll say the best audiobook narrator, George Guidall, and he did a masterful job with my book, A Fine Line.
Paul Brodie: All right, well Dan, thank you again for being a guest on our show and I wish you all the best in your author journey ahead.
Dan Burns: Thanks so much. Best wishes to you as well.
I first traveled to Montana with my family in the summer of 2001. As an avid angler, I had read about the famed rivers and heard the stories of endless trout and big sky, and realized I had to go. We rented a home outside of Bozeman and spent a week exploring all that the area had to offer. We experienced the majesty of Yellowstone National Park, took a step back in time in the quaint small town of Livingston, fished the Gallatin River every day, drove hundreds of miles under the biggest and bluest sky we had ever seen, and spent quiet evenings on the deck playing games and cherishing our time together.
We fell in love with Montana and it became a part of each of us. We returned the next two summers to continue our explorations and then decided to buy a small place of our own. It has been fourteen years now and while our home outside of Bozeman on the East Gallatin River is a part time residence, it is a full-time member of our family. We long to get back there to take in the mountain air, walk the river rock shores of our favorite rivers, and spend quality family time together.
The nature, culture, and people of Montana inspire me. When I’m in Montana, I’m free—unencumbered by the usual distractions back in Illinois—and able to explore ideas and easily get the words down onto the page. When I’m not in Montana, I’m always thinking about that glorious place, and my experiences there end up finding their way into my writing. What follows is an example of how Montana became part of my short story, Come Out, Wherever You Are.
These days, our world is enmeshed in technological connectivity— twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week—and many people spend the majority of their days searching and texting and updating their networks of people on every minute detail of their existence.
I think we need to be forced away from our devices every once in a while to relish the simple pleasures in life: reading a book, taking a walk, or just looking around and taking in all that is happening around us. For without the break, we might get so distracted that we’ll miss out on what is really important.
What if a person decided to walk away from the technological tether and live his life in solitude, and what if while he was away, something happened to the social network? That, very simply, was the seed of the idea, and it was all I needed to get on with writing the story, Come Out, Wherever You Are.
In the story, the protagonist, Verne, had forced himself to break away. During his career as a politician, he was always in the spotlight and always in the news. Privacy was not a possibility and he understood that the absence of it came with the job. So, as he came to the end of his career, he made a wish to live in Montana, and then when he retired, he made the wish a reality. What he didn’t expect was for the circumstances that nudged him into exile to end up being the same circumstances that made his exile permanent. I had the main character and I knew exactly where to put him. Since falling in love with Montana on my first visit there, I have been pursuing my own temporary but regular exile there ever since.
The sky is big, the rivers are endless, and I think the people there are likely the nicest people in the world. Add to that, regarding the people, there are only about one million in the entire state. There is one square mile of land for every six people. It’s open and easy to get lost there, and I liked the possibilities. Montana was where Verne needed to go. I knew Verne would start and end his story in Montana, and at the end, I expected him to simply head off into the sunset to finish out his remaining years in solitude, as he had wished. However, since that time, I find that I’m often wondering—maybe even worrying—about Verne and what his future holds. Who knows, maybe I will run into him again somewhere down the road, in Montana.
Traveling to Montana? If you are in the Bozeman area, be sure to wet a line on one of the many famed and local rivers. If you’re looking for a great dinner spot in Bozeman, you can’t go wrong with Dave’s Sushi and their creative and inspired sushi creations or Copper Whiskey Bar & Grill and their classic cocktails, hip crowd, and inventive menu items. Plan a day for a side trip over to Livingston for shopping, breakfast or lunch at Gil’s Goods, a drink at the Murray Hotel bar, and dinner at 2nd Street Bistro.