Guest Post: Skill vs. Talent – Which Do You Have? by Ryan Lanz

Please welcome back author and blogger Ryan Lanz! This time, Ryan will be discussing the differences between talent and skill, and which you need to make it in the writing world. 

  • tal·ent [tal-uhnt] noun: a special natural ability or aptitude.
  • skill [skil] noun: the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well.

What if you don’t have natural talent? Does that mean you may as well give up?

It’s not quite the chicken or the egg debate, but it’s up there. I’ve heard people go in circles about which comes first and which is necessary. At what combination of both does one continue the grind and attempt at success? I’d be surprised if you haven’t asked yourself that question. It’s a part of being human.

What does each really mean?

This comes from the university of my opinion, but I would describe talent as the natural ability that needs little to no refinement, and skill is the unnatural ability that you have to develop. For those of us who’ve played sports (myself excluded), I’m sure you’ve all encountered someone who strides onto the field and makes it all look so darn effortless.

This person hardly shows up to practice, and you have a fairly good idea that it took hardly any effort to accomplish. Same with the person who aced every test in college with little preparation, leaving you in study hall time after time with a bucket of coffee. You must have missed at least three parties because you had to cram for the Calculus exam, right?

Which is better?

Good question. And one not so easily answered. Sure, we would all like natural talent that we don’t have to pour so much effort into, but sometimes that doesn’t quite pan out. Often, we are born with enough talent to have an affinity for a profession, but the rest has to be made up with skill. In writing, there are dozens of abilities that need to be present to make a good novel, such as foreshadowing, prose, description, natural dialogue, pacing, etc.

Let’s say that you have a knack for writing dialogue, but your setting description rambles on and on. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and you’ll have to practice at writing setting description over time to develop it into a skill, even if it’s not a natural talent. To be fair, natural talent does get you to the goal quicker.


Related: Finishing a Book is a Skill


The combination of the two

If Tiger Woods is not the best golf player of all time, then he comes very close. He started golfing on professional courses at the age of two years old and was featured in a golf magazine at the age of five. Tiger spent 545 weeks combined total as the world number one. In my opinion, that is some superb natural talent. Although Tiger has mounds of it, he still had a golfing coach (and probably still does) through most of his career. That’s combining the natural with the refined skill that creates that sweet spot. Think about how you can make a similar combination.

Is it so bad if you don’t have natural talent? Should you give up?

The one downside to having natural talent is that you don’t have as much appreciation for the effort. Let’s look at two writers: one who writes his/her first book and quickly becomes published, and the other is a writer who labors for ten years to even become noticed. Both eventually become published and successful, let’s say. I think it’s fair to say that the latter writer has more appreciation for the effort of the craft. There are small nuances of writing that I feel are best represented when someone has to massage and mold their skill over the long-term.

I believe that about anyone can accomplish about anything if they were to dedicate their entire life to it, even if that person doesn’t have a drop of natural talent. Ask yourself what craft you can accomplish if you were to invest 20 years to its perfection. So, no, don’t simply give up on it. You may have been born with talent in a profession you’re not interested in. That’s okay, just work to catch up in a profession that you are.

Conclusion

If you sharpen your skill enough, people will believe that you’ve had talent from the very beginning, regardless of how much you actually had to start with.

Original post here.


Guest post contributed by Ryan Lanz. Ryan is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr.

Month-End Update: May 2017

I can’t believe I survived May.

As you cleverly inferred from the radio silence on this site and social media, May swallowed up all of my work time, then lapped up my free time for good measure. But you know what? It was a blast, and I’m so excited to share my many updates with you and get back to our regular programming.

So … what happened in May?

On the writing front, I finished the first draft of Desertera #3 and sent it off to the editor. She’s already returned round one of edits, and I’m floored and humbled by her feedback. This week, I’ll dive into the manuscript to make her changes and keep moving forward. Depending on how the next few rounds go (and when I finally select a title … I know, it’s my creative Achilles Heel), the novel should be on track for a late July or early August release date! More soon.

Rainy graduation day in a flattering blue poncho!

The second half of May revolved around my personal life. As you know, I’ve been living in Connecticut while my husband worked toward his Master’s at Yale. Well, Daniel graduated (so proud of you, honey!). My mother-in-law and her friend flew over from Australia to celebrate, then the four of us took an epic road trip around New England. (I’ll share more later, or you can check out some pics on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.)

And it doesn’t end there. Daniel begins his PhD at Stanford this summer, so we packed up our apartment and started our cross-country move. While I’m sad to leave our New Haven friends and the best ice cream on the planet, I’m thrilled for our next adventure together. Again, I plan to talk more about this transition later, once I’ve had time to process and establish a new routine. (Sensing a pattern yet?)

What will I do while Daniel studies? Well, obviously, I’ll still be writing, blogging, and building my author business. I’m also elated to report that I have been able to take my day job with me, so I’m still a copywriter for a fantastic wine marketing company. I love my job (and wine, duh) and getting to do it without three hours of commuting every day is awesome. While I’ll miss writing on the train, I won’t miss the train itself, the bus, other commuters, or braving the elements to get to the office!

Looking forward to June, my top priority is editing, titling, and starting the cover design process for Desertera #3. Second on the list? Establishing a new routine that balances my author work, my copywriting job, and my personal life. I’d also like to catch up on my favorite podcasts and my ever-growing to-read list (a big shout-out to all my fellow authors waiting on reviews … I haven’t forgotten you!).

Have a great Monday (or whatever day you’re reading this), and best of luck with your own goals! As always, I’d love to read what you’re working on in the comments section.


What did you accomplish in May? What are your goals for June? Share in the comments!

Month-End Update: April 2017

Well, I’m back from Camp NaNoWriMo, covered in bug bites and stuffed to the brim with smores. While I didn’t win (darn it!), I did add nearly 40,000 words to my draft of Desertera #3. This puts me well on the way to done, and I should have the manuscript wrapped up over the next week or two.

To be honest, most of April is a blur. Specifically, a blur of Scrivener documents, penciled outlines, and story discussions with my alpha reader. Still, I managed to sneak in a little bit of fun. In preparation of my husband’s graduation from Yale, we’ve started a taste tour of local restaurants and have had many fun double dates and friends’ nights.

It’s definitely been a challenge to balance writing, business, my day job, and my social life, but I’m doing my best. That’s all any of us can do, right? As for May, the first half (and a bit) will be focused on getting Desertera #3 to the editor. Over the second half, I’ll be celebrating my husband’s graduation and spending time all around New England with him and our parents. It should be a lovely (and well deserved) break!

Writing & Publishing

Main goals:
Create five days a week – back on track!
Write Desertera #3 – almost done!

Thanks to the pressure of Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve made fantastic progress on my manuscript of Desertera #3. My main goal this month will be finishing it up and completing the necessary content edits before it goes to the professional editor in the middle of the month. Because I’ve been editing as I write, this process should be pretty easy!

Business

Main goals:
Make $2,000 from Boxthorn Press – catching up
Blog twice per week – slightly behind
Maintain social media schedule – slightly behind
Read 52 books this year – slightly behind

As tends to be my pattern, I struggled with balancing my writing and other business activities. However, I did blog at least once a week, and I did participate in two separate marketing events. Given my editing deadline and upcoming personal commitments, I anticipate more unevenness this month. Luckily, I should have plenty of time to get caught up in this area over the summer.

Books Read:
None

Book in Progress: Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Personal

Main Goals:
Work on positivity – great!
Exercise 3x per week – better than zero
Break a bad habit – on track
Make post-Yale plan – pretty much done

Even with all the craziness and uncertainty coming up, I’ve stayed in positive spirits and haven’t fallen back into bad habits. Most excitingly, my husband and I have made our plan for after his graduation from Yale, and while we still have a few minor details to iron out, we’re in good shape for our short- and mid-term future. We’ve also planned two fun mini-vacations for the end of the month, so watch my Instagram for photos!

Goals for May
Send Desertera #3 to my editor
Enjoy our post-graduation mini-vacations
Keep refining my balance between writing and other responsibilities


How did my fellow NaNoWriMo campers fare? Any exciting plans for May? Share in the comments!

How to Overcome FOMO as an Independent Author

How to Overcome FOMOHow Indie Authors Get FOMO

If you choose the path of independent publishing, you’ll quickly learn that you have a lot of responsibilities. You’ll need to write your book, manage the editing, cover design, and formatting, and handle the publishing and marketing. While you can (and should!) hire professional help, in the end, you’re the one who makes the big decisions. This pressure alone can make you feel like you have to be a super human to make it as an author.

The good news? There are thousands of books, podcasts, blogs, and other resources ready to help you in your journey. The bad news? Each one exalts a different method of writing, publishing, and/or marketing – and new tactics emerge almost daily.

As this information flies at you from all sides and other authors skyrocket to success (seemingly overnight!), you’ll feel like you’re missing something, some crucial key to your success. So, you latch onto those new tactics. Yes! Signing up for a new social media site will boost my exposure. Yes! Paying for this new ad service will increase my sales. Yes! Selling my soul to a crossroads demon will make me a best-selling author for 50 years!

Okay, that last one might be an exaggeration (everyone knows crossroads demons only give you 10 years), but you get my point. All this chasing and hustling and worrying has a name: Fear of Missing Out (aka FOMO). And the best news? Once you know its name, you can define and defeat it.

What is FOMO?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, FOMO is “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.”

Applied specifically to independent authors, it’s what I described above. Anxiety that you’re missing out on a new marketing tactic, writing technique, book convention, etc. that – if you did participate in it – would be the key to your success.

How Can I Overcome FOMO?

If you’re still with me, I assume you don’t want to live in constant fear of missing out. Or, you at least want to learn how to know when you’re really missing something and when you’re wasting your time. As I always say, you’re the only one who can answer that question for yourself … but I’ll do my best to help guide you.

Know Your Why

This is my favorite lesson from the gang at Sterling & Stone (one of the top indie publishing outfits). Essentially, you need to know what your goal is for your author career. Is it to replace your full-time income? Is it to win a literary prize? Different goals require different paths.

Personally, I want to earn enough money from my book sales to become a full-time author. So, whenever I sense FOMO creeping in, I take a step back and evaluate the tactic from that goal. Will signing up for a Snapchat account help me gain readers and sell books? Maybe. But wouldn’t the time it takes to sign up, build a following, research how to effectively use the platform, and actually use it, be better spent writing more books, utilizing proven advertising methods, and connecting with readers via my email list and familiar platforms? Absolutely!

Think Like a Business

If you’re in independent publishing to make a career, then you’re an entrepreneur. Think like one!

Whenever you participate in a business activity, you’re investing resources: time, money, energy, etc. Before you jump onto the latest craze, ask yourself: what is my investment? And what is my logical return on investment?

For example, let’s say I find a book review service. I pay them to reach out to book reviewers on my behalf. How much does that cost? How many reviews can I expect in return? Who are these reviewers, will they like my book, and do they write quality reviews? How many reviews do I need to actually impact my book sales? What is the “cost per review” then?

It’s not a perfect science, and with the qualitative nature of our field, the answers might be unclear. But the more precise you can be, the more intelligently and effectively you’ll use your resources.

Take an Outside Perspective

When we see what other indie authors are doing, it’s easy to evaluate their decisions in a logical manner. We can look at someone else’s Twitter timeline and say, “They should spend less time tweeting about their book and more time editing it.” While I’m not advocating you scour your feeds looking for authors to criticize, I encourage you to take note when those thoughts strike you. When they do, you’re probably basing that person’s actions on your own goals.

Consider the last tactic you tried and imagine that this “misguided” author was the one doing it. Would you judge them? Would you list “more important” tasks they could complete? Or would you admire their hustle and business savvy? That should tell you everything you need to know.

Find a Mentor

My indie author mentor is Joanna Penn. No, I don’t know her personally. However, her career path aligns with my personal goals. Therefore, whenever I learn of a new tactic that worked for her, I know it’s worth considering for me.

Focusing on one author helps narrow your options, and if they meet your definition of success, it gives you one (of infinite) paths to take. Which author could you follow?

Do What’s Really Important

It all comes back to the first point: knowing your own writing and publishing goals. Define your goals, research the best way to achieve them, and then do it. Focus on the broader strategies (not the new tactics and get-rich-quick tricks that pop up) and you’ll get there.

You’ll feel better, too. Earlier this year, I spent a lot of time feeling overwhelmed. So many authors have been touting new services and courses and tactics, and it gave me a serious case of FOMO. This month, I’ve focused almost exclusively on writing my next book, which right now, should be my No. 1 priority. And you know what? I haven’t felt FOMO once, because I know that I’m actively doing the most important thing for my author business.

When is FOMO Justified?

Here’s the BIG secret: most of the time, you’re not missing out on anything. There will always be a new social media craze, snazzy marketing service, or revolutionary writing technique to adopt. If you spend your time, money, and energy chasing them all, you’ll never get anything productive done.

That being said, sometimes your FOMO will be justified. In those rare cases, the shiny new button will be something that aligns with your goals, makes good business sense, works for other authors with similar goals, and doesn’t leave you with the nagging sensation that you’ve wasted resources or the guilt that you’ve ignored what’s really important. If you stick to those tenants, you’ll know something valuable when you see it.

What Now?

Use your best judgment. Be honest about your goals and how your actions serve them. And, as the latest catchphrase insists: work smarter, not harder.

Do that, over and over, day-in and day-out, and you’ll make it. The only thing you’ll miss? All the time you wasted worrying about or chasing all the crap that never mattered in the first place.

Guest Post: Branding Basics for Authors by Dave Chesson

Today, I’m thrilled to host Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur.com. If you don’t know Dave and his website, you’re missing out on a wealth of self-publishing knowledge! In this article, he discusses the elements of an author brand and how to design a unique brand that fits you. This is an aspect of publishing I’m still working on, so I’m super excited to read his tips! Over to Dave …


What Is An Author Brand?

At first glance, the concept of an author brand may seem strange or out of place. After all, doesn’t an author’s work speak for itself? Shouldn’t an author be judged by that alone?

The first thing to realize about author branding is that every author has a brand, whether they choose to deliberately develop it or not. The brand an author has is simply the way they are perceived by those who encounter them.

It is natural that readers form an opinion and an impression about writers whose work they come across. The impression formed is influenced by the choice of words the writer uses to describe their life and their work, the type of images they use when promoting their books, and the design and feel of their website, blog or any other platform officially associated with the author.

When you think of author branding as inevitable, it makes sense that an author would wish to take control of their brand and how they are perceived by the public. If readers are going to hold a certain perception, it makes sense for authors to try and influence that perception in their favour.

Read on to discover the benefits that come with taking control of your author brand, the main ways in which authors are able to influence the ways they are perceived, and some easy steps for getting started with your branding efforts.

Why Author Brands Matter

The term ‘brand’ sounds somewhat sterile and corporate and this can be off-putting for creatively minded people, such as authors. It’s better to instead think of the ways in which authors form connections with their readers, as this is the ultimate effect of a brand.

By ensuring that their brand is a reflection of who they are, authors are able to allow their readers to connect with them on a human level. Think about how much nicer it is as a reader to know something about your favorite writer in terms of their life, personality and the things which influence their creative output.

In the world of self-published books, there is more choice than ever before. People are likely to have a range of books to choose from on any given topic. If you are able to present yourself in a way which increases your credibility with readers, your book stands a better chance of being chosen ahead of the competition.

Branding Through Bios And Language

One of the first things that  browser on a major bookstore will do when researching a purchase is to try and find out something about the writer whose book they are considering buying. This is especially true in the era of self-publishing and pen names.

An author bio is one of the best ways for an author to convey who they really are to readers. Amazon Author Central, for example, offers writers the chance to feature not only a bio, but also links to their website and blog posts.

So how exactly does a bio impact branding?

The choice of language an author uses when describing their life and work directly affects how they are perceived.

Consider someone who writes inspirational, motivational self-improvement books. Imagine that their bio contained dry, dense language. Wouldn’t this be off putting and incongruous to readers? A much better impression would be formed if the author bio contained the same type of uplifting and inspirational language as found in the books.

It’s important that the language used in an author bio matches the tone and style of an author’s work. It should feel like a natural extension of their books. Readers should feel at home and familiar when reading bios of their favourite writers.

Visual Branding

A writer’s image in the eyes of readers is more than the sum of their words. The photographs, videos and design choices made by authors also impact their brand.

Writers should approach their choice of photographs and other visual elements of their brand similarly to choosing language for their bio. The visual material used should be appropriate for the style and tone of the author’s work.

Visual branding is an art and science of its own. For many writers, it can be intimidating and hard to know exactly which images are best suited to their work and audience. Two simple solutions exist for this problem.

First, writers should take the time to get a feel for what other similar writers are doing visually. By spending time checking out similar authors, any trends in terms of the type of image or colors used will emerge. This allows authors to work within the visual conventions of their genre.

Second, it’s important to get objective, outside feedback on any images chosen. Ideally, this should be from a group of relevant readers without a personal connection to the writer. This allows for truly impartial feedback from people in a position to offer valuable insight.

Author Branding Final Thoughts

Some of the keys to making author branding work for you are —

  • Seeing it as a valuable opportunity rather than a sterile chore
  • Learning how to match reader expectations to your own ideas
  • Being willing to accept feedback and make changes accordingly

We are fortunate to have a wealth of author branding examples available to us as inspiration.

If you don’t know where to start, spend some time browsing the websites of authors you admire. You’ll soon get a feel for what appeals to you.

Get inspired, find a way to put your own unique twist on the ideas you come across, and start to experiment. Have fun and make something that truly shows the world who you are.


About Dave

In his own words: When I am not fighting dragons or chasing the bogey man out of my kids closet, I like using my previous Online Optimization skills to help other authors with the ‘technical’ stuff and get the right authors to the top of Amazon and any other eBook service out there.