Writing Tip #72

And the Oscar goes to… As I cobble together this week’s writing tip, I’m watching the tail end of the Academy Awards, during which a slew of winners got up onto that stage and said it was because they followed their childhood dreams that they were standing there tonight and, despite all the odds, became an actor or a costume designer or a film editor. So this week I offer a quick reminder to those of you who continue to practice your Oscar speeches in front of the mirror or while driving your car. It can happen. So keep rehearsing.

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Meet Tracie Banister

Today’s featured debut author is Tracie Banister. I LOVE the concept for her chick-lit book, Blame It on the Fame – following the five nominees for the Best Actress Oscar from the time they learn about their nomination until the winner is revealed during the awards ceremony telecast. Which of this year’s nominees do you think would be most interesting to follow? Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Michelle Williams, Viola Davis or Rooney Mara? 

Name: Tracie Banister

Name of book: Blame It on the Fame

Book genre: Chick lit

Date Published: January 18, 2012

Publisher: Self-published

What is your day job? Prior to embarking on a full-time writing career, I was a personal assistant to an entrepreneur for over a decade.

What is your book about? Blame It on the Fame tells the story of the five nominees for the Best Actress Oscar from the time they learn about the nomination until the envelope is ripped open and the winner is revealed. Readers will get to take a peek behind the velvet curtain and see how the media frenzy surrounding the Oscars affects these five very different women and takes a toll on them both personally and professionally.

Why did you want to write this book? I’ve always been fascinated by Hollywood, all the glitz and glamour, the premieres, the parties, the designer gowns, etc., and there’s nothing more star-studded and fabulous than the Oscars. What we see on the red carpet at this event every year are the public faces of the nominees. I wanted to know what was going on behind-the-scenes with these actors and actresses. How overwhelming was the whole experience? How thrilling? How terrifying? How did being part of the Oscars change their lives? And that’s how Blame It on the Fame was born.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? For this particular book, the most challenging part was having to interweave the stories of five different heroines over a specific period of time. I had to use a big dry erase board and multicolored post-it notes (each color representing one of the main characters) in order to keep the timeline straight, see where the different stories had their climaxes, and make sure that each heroine was getting her fair share of pages. It was all quite mind-boggling!

Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book? I always do research for all aspects of my books. For Blame It on the Fame, I had to get details on current celebrity hotspots, the venues where the different awards shows are held, Oscar statistics, and most importantly, I needed info and visual aids to help me with all of the red carpet fashion that’s discussed in the book.

What motivates you to write? I’ve always got stories knocking around in my head, and I enjoy giving my creations life on the page. I don’t think I’d be happy if I didn’t write; it’s something I’ve done since I was a little girl.

Did you experience writer’s block? I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block per se, but I’ve definitely experienced writer’s burn-out. I’m a perfectionist, and I can get very frustrated with myself when my stories don’t turn out the way I want them to. At times like these, I have to step away from the computer and recharge my batteries by hopping on the treadmill, going to a movie, or chatting with a friend.

How long did it take you to write this book? This one took quite a while because it was the longest (almost 500 pages) and most complicated of any writing project I’d ever tackled before. I wrote the first half of the book over a two-year period (I was running my own Avon business at the time, so I didn’t have a lot of spare time for writing). But when I switched gears and started devoting myself full-time to Blame It on the Fame, I was able to write the second half of the book in about 8 months. So, I’d say three years total to write, revise, and complete Blame It on the Fame.

Why did you decide to self-publish? Unfortunately, traditional publishers are not high on women’s fiction at the moment unless it involves vampires and/or a heroine who is under the legal drinking age. I actually sat on Blame It on the Fame for two years, hoping and praying that the publishing pendulum would swing back towards Chick Lit, but it never did. Meanwhile, digital publishing exploded, and I saw all of these indie authors publishing their own books and having amazing success by going that route. So, I thought, Why not? I’ll just take my book straight to the people. I have confidence that there is a huge audience of Chick Lit fans out there who would love to hear from some new voices in the genre.

Was the self-publishing process easier or more difficult than you thought it would be? It was a much more involved and time-consuming process than I’d first imagined, but I’m a control freak. So, I absolutely love being in charge of everything — editing, cover art, marketing, etc. I have learned SO much along the way to self-publishing my book, and I think it’s been an amazing and enlightening experience!

What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That it’s easy. It’s not. Writers have to have a tremendous amount of focus, self-discipline, and determination to see writing a book through to the end. It can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be very daunting and enervating.

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I always love it when the characters go from being an abstract idea in my head to a real, multi-dimensional person on the page. My non-writing friends think I’m nuts when I say this, but my characters take on lives of their own, and I love it when they do and say things I didn’t expect them to! For me, it’s the unplanned bits in a book that are almost always the best.

What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? I can’t say enough good things about Twitter as a marketing/networking tool. I have become a part of the most amazing community of writers and readers on Twitter who have been so supportive and encouraging throughout this whole publishing process. Facebook is another good avenue for connecting with people and talking about your book. And I think it’s crucial for authors to have a blog, although you shouldn’t let blogging distract you from your writing. My advice for writers is to build buzz about your book in the months and weeks leading up to your release. Get people excited about what you’re going to be selling. And don’t give away too much in advance. You want to entice people with just enough info to make them want more.

How has life changed for you since the publication of your book? Well, I’m not rich and famous yet, but I do have a great sense of accomplishment, which is something I value highly. As scary as it was to put my book out there for public consumption, I’m glad I took the risk because I’ve loved getting feedback from readers. To know that I’ve entertained people with my stories and characters is truly a gift.

Do you find yourself obsessively checking sales stats? Not yet, but give me time. My book hasn’t been out for long. I’m sure that I’ll be a sales stats-checking maniac a month from now!

Do you plan on writing another book? Blame It on the Fame is actually the third book I wrote. I’m hoping to release book two, a Chick Lit novel with a Latina heroine, this summer. I’m currently working on several projects, a Regency novel, which I’m hoping will be the first in a series, an era-hopping romance with a paranormal twist, and I’ve been playing around with a YA novel as well. So many ideas, and so little time to write them all!

My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I would definitely agree that luck is difficult to come by for most authors, myself included. The publishing industry is in a state of flux, and it’s next to impossible for new writers to get their voices heard. So, you have to go out and make your own luck with hard work and perseverance. The opportunity for me was digital publishing, which was something that wasn’t even an option just a few short years ago. My advice to everyone is to never give up on a dream because there is always more than one way to make it come true.

‘Yes, It Is a Long Process’

Ah, waiting.

My agent checked in with me yesterday. I love getting an email from her. Even when there’s no news. Her name appears in my inbox, and I feel my entire body lift in excitement and anticipation, as in Can this be the email? Should I start preparing my Oscar-acceptance speech for the screenplay I adapted from my bestselling novel?

Alas, it was not. Just a status check. The Baby Grand manuscript continues to be sent out. Editors are still reading.

“Yes, it is a long process,” she wrote.

That’s okay. I can wait. In the meantime, I keep busy. Writing. Editing. Reading. And even cooking, now and again, to the utter delight of my kids.

Truth be told: Sometimes it’s hard to wait, particularly in a world when everything is done so quickly. But as I told my 14-year-old son the other day: Good things come to those who wait.

Of course, he responded: “Wait? I’m not going to spend my life waiting. I’m taking control of my life.”

Someday he’ll learn that sometimes taking control of your life means waiting. If that’s what you really want. :)