Archives for September 2013

WHAT MY CATS TEACH ME ABOUT WRITING

005My cats, Frankie and Flynnie, are eight year old orange tabby brothers and certified editorial assistants. They love to hang out on my desk, reorganize papers, and suggest that I need a clearer work space by stretching out and “inadvertently” knocking items like pens, books, files, and my phone to the floor.

Still, I would find it difficult to write without them. It’s interesting to note that although I ghostwrote thirty nonfiction books before I met them, I only wrote Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption and The Soul of Selling after Frankie and Flynnie adopted me.

It’s no accident that so many writers choose cats as companions. Cats are quiet, self-contained, undemanding (unless they want something), and affectionate. They have deep wisdom and the capacity to teach without words.

Just by sitting in the same room, paws tucked under, eyes at half mast, purring gently, they can transmit such messages as:

  • Be patient. All treats come to cats who wait. We writers are inclined to be hard on ourselves, impatient about success, and worried if fame and fortune didn’t find us yesterday. Cats help.
  • Look inward for validation and esteem. Cats rank #1 among mammals, and perhaps in all of creation, on this score. This lesson can make the difference between being a frustrated writer and a happy one.
  • Be persistent. Or, as Frankie and Flynnie say, purrsistent. Frankie has learned that if he steps onto my lap when I’m working, flops on his back, stares at me, purrs loudly, and kicks my hands away from the keyboard with his hind legs, I will eventually stop that silly typing, gaze into his eyes, and stroke his furry cheeks and tummy. I have learned that I can pill cats—and that if I persist until the job is done, they will realize that resistance is futile. Persistence is a sine qua non for writers.
  • Seek the Zone. This is what cats are really saying when they blink slowly from across the room. Next time your cat does this, notice that he or she was actually in the Zone when interrupted by you and is calling you to join!

Thanks, guys!

PEACE OF MIND BOOK PROMOTION

best seller“Help! I’m not promoting my book!” I heard this last week from a client who self-published an excellent novel. Her eyes were wide and horrified, as if she’d done something shameful and vaguely unnatural. Immediately, I took out my Author Sanity Toolkit. There, in Drawer #1, I found the two fundamentals of self care for “not yet rich and famous” writers: kindness and common sense.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. We used to complain that Old World publishing houses only accepted authors from their own circle or their own schools. It was more a question of who you knew, than of what you knew or how well you wrote.

When New World self-publishing became the norm, everything changed. The good news: If we have a good book, we don’t have to wait for the gatekeeper agents and editors to bless it. We can publish it ourselves! The bad news: We are entirely responsible for promoting it as well! (This was also the case with Old World publishers, but few people realized it).

So along with our new freedom and opportunity came a lot of “shoulds.”

THE “SHOULD” FACTORY
If you subscribe to self-publishing marketing blogs and newsletters, you hear this kind of thing over and over:

  • You must know all Google’s and Amazon’s algorithms, and launch each new book so that it shows up first and becomes an instant best seller.
  • You must create a virtual author’s tour, guest blogs, book trailers, and podcasts to promote your book.
  • You must blog daily and grow your email list, creating a huge gang of people who hang on your every word.
  • You must hawk your book at webinars, virtual conferences, and meetups of every kind, every day.
  • You must be everywhere, all the time, in real space and cyberspace, screaming “Buy my book”—or else come up with a promotional idea that nobody else has used, one that sells hundreds of thousands of copies within two weeks.

Even reading this list is exhausting. The suggestion is that if we don’t do all these things, yesterday, we’re bad—or at least lazy. Many very good writers who’ve had the courage and persistence to self-publish wind up beating themselves up because they don’t toe the promotion line and do all these activities. At precisely the time when they ought to feel happy and proud of their accomplishment, they feel defeated and ashamed.

BLUE JEANS, SHOVELS, AND WORDS
Where did we get this promotional line, and the idea that we had to toe it, or else? Mostly, from folks in the new and burgeoning “author support” community who sell promotional services. Some of these people are wonderfully helpful; others simply see financial opportunity. They understand that the shopkeepers who sold blue jeans and shovels to the 49ers made a lot more money from the Gold Rush than most of the actual miners.

It’s true that we’re unlikely to have many book sales if we don’t promote our books, but I believe that there is “A time to promote, and a time not to promote.” Some times not to promote are:

  • When it gets in the way of writing at a time when you have not chosen to stop writing and focus on promoting
  • When you really, really don’t want to (Promotional efforts by authors who really, really don’t want to are rarely a pretty sight.)

THE AUTHOR’S LIFE
Here’s an odd thought. What if the things we wanted from publishing a book don’t have much to do with how many books we sell? What if what we really want is to express what is ours to express, have a published book, and live the author’s life—whatever that means to us?

Whoa! That would mean we could make up our ideal author’s life, and just do the things we wanted to do—whether or not those activities resulted in book sales. We might do readings (just with our friends, or at bookstores), have lunch or drinks with literary pals (perhaps fellow self-publishers), attend writers conferences, write in our jammies, drink Scotch, or just gaze at our book sitting on the self. There it is! That’s what we set out to do!

Of course, this tack requires that we not depend on book sales to purchase food—but sometimes it’s worth keeping the day job so that we can live the author’s life we want to live, rather than the one we “should.”

If we apply a little kindness toward ourselves, and a little common sense about money and promotional energy, we can be happy authors regardless of how many books we sell. In the end, I think that’s what most of us want.

SELF-PUBLISHING as KITCHEN REMODEL

kitchen remodel“I can’t believe you’re so calm about your kitchen remodel!” a friend emailed last week. My response was:

“Remodeling a kitchen is just like self-publishing. You start from zero, jump in, and just keep going.”

A pause, and then she fired back, “You should blog about that!” In fact, remodeling a kitchen and self-publishing a book have more in common than I realized when I sent that rather flip email.

APPLES AND APPLES
Here’s what these two activities have in common:

  1. They are largely unknown and daunting. Both self-publishing and kitchen remodeling seem like enormous undertakings. Very few people know much about either of them, and so we tend to shy away.
  2. Both are either “Do It Yourself” or “Pay Through the Nose.” You can turn over the whole project and the umpteen choices about countertops, cabinets, and faucets to a contractor, but your kids may not go to college. You can turn your book over to a vanity press or one of the many “book shepherds” who have set up for business recently— but some of these are less reliable and less thoroughly vetted than kitchen contractors. In both cases, you’re taking a chance and paying dearly for the opportunity.
  3. You can learn to do either activity yourself if you’re willing to invest a little time and energy. I knew nothing about kitchen remodels. I come from a family in which the “handy” people are those who can screw in light bulbs. Yet after a couple weeks of running around on the internet and to home improvement stores, I could make good decisions with some degree of confidence. Despite working in the book biz for forty years, I knew nothing about putting a book together physically or marketing it. When I finished with the copy, it disappeared for a year and came back as a successful book. (That was Old World Publishing, with the traditional houses that are no longer viable alternatives for most writers.) Yet I jumped into self-publishing, learned each new thing as it was needed, and wound up publishing four books. Each one was easier than the last, because my skill set grew exponentially each time I did it.
  4. Both kitchen remodels and self-publishing have to be done eventually in most cases—so it may be best to jump in now, deal with whatever comes up, and just keep going.

JUST DO IT!
When it comes to kitchens and books, I think that Nike got it right. Self-publishing will never look easy from the outside, before you jump in. But honestly, it gets easier and more accessible by the day. Maybe by the hour.

People in the business of helping authors self-publish—Smashwords, CreateSpace, and Lightning Source, to name a few—are making their services easier to find and use. Bloggers, consultants, and others have created a mini-industry of supporting people in publishing their books. If you’re willing to delve into this information, you can get an extraordinary education in self-publishing for little or no money.

My advice: No more standing atop the high diving board, shivering and wondering! Jump! There are a lot of us in the pool, and we’re holding one another up.

Any questions or thoughts about self publishing?

 

CREATIVITY ON DEMAND: Is It Really Possible?

creativity on demandCan we really just sit down and call up creativity whenever we want it? I believe we can.

Maybe “call up” isn’t the best phrase. Maybe “relax into” is better. When we learn to relax into the Zone—that magical place where we write without striving or self-consciousness, where the words seem to pour out of us on their own, where we feel completely focused and absorbed, spontaneous, clear, energized, imaginative, joyful, out of time and space, and effortlessly productive—then we can be as creative as we like, whenever we like.

Easy to say, but what’s the trick? Actually, it’s all about tricks.

WRITING IS MAGIC, BUT IT TAKES SOME DISCIPLINE—AND SOME TRICKS
That has been my motto over forty years of making a living as a freelance writer. I love writing in the Zone, love feeling that wonderful peace and wellbeing spread through me, love writing quickly and well, from a place deep inside me. The Zone is why I write, but I learned early on that I couldn’t just sit back and wait for it to show up. It didn’t simply descend on its own with shiny little bells on its toes and pink sparklies cascading from its magic wand. I had to take charge.

For me, writing in the Zone has been largely a matter of developing, honing, and practicing some very good tricks—tricks that fool the linear left brain into reaching over and hugging the creative right brain so that they can work together in the service of whatever we’ve been given to say to the world.

The Zone may be magical and even mystical, but the times and places that I needed it most were usually very gritty and down to earth—places like newspaper City Rooms or smoke-filled rooms at Chicago City Hall—and so the tricks and techniques I developed to call up the Zone had to be equally practical and gritty.

These tricks were developed specifically to let even a naturally lazy, anxious person like myself write in the Zone, on demand, even on a deadline. That skill—and it was a learned skill—changed everything. With it, I could make a good living as a writer. Even more importantly, I could feel that divine spark that we call creativity moving within me whenever I wished.

THE CREATIVE CLICK
All the tricks I learned are in my ebook, CREATIVITY ON DEMAND: Write in the Zone, available for less than the price of a Starbuck’s Latte on Amazon, Smashwords, and other retail platforms. This book is about how to live and work in the Zone, be creative on demand, and finish your artistic projects so that you can start new ones. It’s about developing and nurturing your own unique relationship with the Zone, and your particular way of using it.

I invite you to click through and check it out!

How to Survive Book Marketing Overwhelm

book marketing overwhelmUnfortunate Truth #1: We all have to market our own books, whether we publish independently or with a traditional publisher.

Unfortunate Truth #2: Most of us don’t.

Why? Book marketing today (translate: internet marketing) can involve a steep learning curve. What to do? Where to start? How to build a brand on social media? How to create, manage, and optimize a website? Not to mention interpreting algorithms, mastering Search Engine Optimization, and finding where in the world your target audience hangs out–especially if you write non-genre fiction.

THE PROBLEM: TOO MANY CHOICES
There’s no shortage of information. You can find out anything you want to know via Google, usually with a snappy YouTube video or 17 to demonstrate how it’s done. White papers, free webinars (translate: video sales pages), and websites hold the answers to whatever questions you might have.

Sure, you usually have to subscribe to somebody’s email list, but so what? You just keep getting free information in these emails. There is often an “offer” attached, tempting you to buy the one essential piece of information that is not free, but nobody holds a gun to your head or reaching into your wallet for your credit card. Truly, you can learn almost everything you need to know without much cost, if you’re willing to invest some time and energy.

After I published Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption, I signed up for all of these author marketing newsletters, blogs, webinars, etc. I learned a vast amount of techie and marketing stuff in a short period of time, built my own website, and started blogging.

But the emails kept coming! Each day, I got 30-40 emails warning of the dire consequences of not clicking through to the latest offer, mastering another algorithm, creating an “irresistible” sales page, getting hundreds of new people to “like” me building a platform, selling hundreds of thousands of books in 24 hours, or earning “six figures” within two weeks. (Early on, I started deleting anything with the words “six figures” in the title.)

My initial enthusiasm began to wane. Each email suggested about 30 minutes of work that day—so there went 15 hours out of each 24 hours. I couldn’t do it. But I knew I should. So every morning as I watched all those emails drop into my Outlook, I felt more guilty. What kind of a miserable author was I, not to do everything I could to promote Chasing Grace?

Ultimately, I got so overwhelmed not only by the emails, but also by the guilt, stress, and anxiety that I became PROMO-PARALYZED. I just stopped opening the emails, and stopped promoting. I did not, however, stop beating myself up.

Obviously, I had to find a solution to AMO: Author Marking Overwhelm.

THE SOLUTIONS
For me, there were two solutions, and I switch back and forth between them depending on how I feel and what I’m working on.

1.Give yourself permission to stop marketing the book(s). Set a time limit for your hiatus—a week, a month, six months—so that you don’t just drift off into the edge of the cyber-universe. Tell people you’re “working on your craft” or “totally consumed by writing the new book.” Then resist the temptation to beat yourself up—and return to some minor marketing at the end of the hiatus. Re-enter gradually, as you would if you were returning to the gym after a rest.
2.Choose 30 “to dos” from among the thousands of suggestions you’ll encounter each week in your emails and put them on a “Chosen Marketing Activities” list. (The title of this list is an affirmation.) Make some of them fun, like (for me) learning to edit images for your site and blog posts, or learning to build a website the easy way. Also include some “must do’s” that you may or may not yet realize are fun, things like (for me) understanding SEO and trying to see the world as Google and Facebook do.

The point is not to go crazy, and to give yourself some space so that you can keep writing—not to mention remain a happy person. Marketing is important, but not at the expense of your writing, your sanity, or your enjoyment of life.