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Dan Burns Interview with Paul Brodie – Get Published Podcast – August 23, 2018

 

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.

 

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Building the Novel: One Step at a Time

When I sat down to write my latest novel, A Fine Line (Chicago Arts Press, June 6, 2017), I wasn’t embarking on a new project. The project was old. The protagonist, Sebastian Drake, was old, and the idea for his story had been in my mind for over five years. Over those years, Drake and I had shared some experiences, had learned about each other, and I knew he and his story had to be shared in novel form. He made me do it.

Since my earliest days as a writer, I have always been apprehensive about big and lengthy projects, the novel in particular. It’s been a fear I’ve had, that I would spend months or even years on a project, tens of thousands of words down onto the page, only to realize that the story wasn’t any good. That would be a shame, and an unfortunate mismanagement of my time. I had to start small and build an idea over time, one successful step at a time. I’ve been writing that way ever since.

When a story idea is pressing on my mind, urging me to act upon it, I always try to explore and develop the idea quickly and with a minimal investment of time, as a poem or a short story or any shorter form that might work. After a couple hours or days, I’ll have something finished and concrete. If it’s good, I can consider publishing the poem or short story. If it’s very good, the story idea will not leave me alone; it will nag at me to continue. At that point, I might consider developing the story further as a screenplay or novel.

That’s what happened with my protagonist, Sebastian Drake, and his story, A Fine Line. In April of 2010, Drake first appeared in a short story titled, Letting Go. The story was my first effort to find out who Sebastian Drake really was, and what he had the potential to become. I needed to know what he was doing at the time, and I also needed to get some insight into his past, his demons, his special skills, and his possibilities for the future. I sat him at a table in a coffee shop, across from a friend he hadn’t seen in twenty-five years, and I let them talk. What happened in that coffee shop scenario changed my writing career forever.

When I finished the story two days later, I found that I had created more questions than I’d answered. Actually, I’m not sure I answered many questions about Sebastian Drake at all. But I was intrigued by what happened in the story and I thought I might want to know more. Actually, I needed to know more.

Subsequently, in January of 2012, I wrote a twenty-two-page screen treatment based upon Letting Go, which outlined the screenplay I was going to write for a feature length film titled A Fine Line. Sebastian Drake was going for the big screen. It took me a year, many long days, and a severe amount of revision and cutting, and when I was finished with the screenplay, Drake’s story had taken another big step forward.

At each step along the way—the short story, the screen treatment, and the screenplay—the character of Sebastian Drake had become more interesting, more challenged and conflicted, and I was compelled to find out what was next for him. He simply would not leave me alone. I’ve often said that as a writer, I don’t always get to write the stories I necessarily want to write. More often than not, I write the stories I need to write. Something (or someone?) in my head nags at me until I finally give in and get to work, and ultimately, until the deed is done. Those ideas and characters that repeatedly pop into my mind direct me as to what I will work on next, and Sebastian Drake was on my mind a lot. He still is.

Two years ago, I embarked on a project to bring Sebastian Drake to his ultimate story platform: the novel. In a reverse adaptation process and using the screenplay as a basis (the same process that I used for my first novel, Recalled to Life), the newest chapter in the life of Sebastian Drake took form. His story was complete. The book was published in June and is now being shared with the world. I wonder where he will take me next.

Writing using this building-block process works for me, and when I finish a larger project, I’m comfortable that the story is good, because I have put it to the test at each step along the way. There are other benefits to the building-block process as well. Most important, with a smaller and completed project, I have a basis, a springboard, for moving forward. I also have another marketable product. It’s hard to become a successful writer based upon one book or project. With each new project I complete, whatever form it make take, I’m better able to substantiate my credibility as a writer.

I especially enjoy the process of adapting a screenplay into a novel. I’m a big movie fan, and I love the visual and dialogue-driven aspects of films. I find it beneficial to visualize the characters and story, like I might see it on the screen, and that visualization guides me as I develop a story. When I finish a screenplay, I have a solid plotline in place, along with all the characters and what they have to say, all in 120 pages or less, a reasonable investment of time and effort. Then, to develop the story as a novel, it’s a matter of adding the necessary exposition and description, which is no easy feat, but I’m not starting from scratch. I’m building upon my past, completed work.

Are there any negative aspects to my building-block approach? I really have not experienced any, except for the fact that it might take me longer to get a bigger project, like a novel, completed and published. I can live with that fact, because in the end I know the project is well thought out, is more fully developed, and I’ve given the story the time necessary to come to life.

Writing A Fine Line was a rewarding process, but to make the book perfect and ready for publication, I knew I had to have a great book cover. It was essential that my cover be eye-catching and able to both fit in and set itself apart from other covers of published books from my heroes in the mystery genre. That’s where Reedsy stepped in to help. I learned about Reedsy.com from a friend, and I quickly set up my profile and project on the site. Within days, I had five, interested book cover designers. The process was simple and efficient. I knew what I wanted, and it was easy for me to select Tom Sanderson (www.the-parish.com) to help me design the perfect cover. I live in the U.S. and Tom was in the U.K., but with Reedsy, geography is no barrier. Tom was great to work with. I told him that I wanted my book to “fit” nicely on any bookstore table between the books of Lee Child and James Patterson. As you can see, Tom hit the mark. Read More 

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