Facebook: Friend or Enemy?

Facebook. So what IS it about marketing on Facebook that makes us all cringe? I know I’m not the only one who wants to forget about it and get to work writing my next book!

But after a couple of valuable appointments with marketing gurus at the ACFW conference in September, and after reading last month’s post by Casey Herringshaw, I started looking at Facebook a little differently. It is part of our lives, and it can be a valuable asset to our writing careers.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Treat both your author page and your personal page the same. Both of them are seen by your readers and potential readers. Once you’re a published author, you don’t have a private life on the internet. If you aren’t published yet, act as if you are!
  • Stick to your brand. I write historical romance books. Most of them are Amish, with a foray into a western being published by Love Inspired next year. On my sepia horse and buggyFacebook author page, I share Amish tidbits plus a fun picture of cowboys once in a while. That’s what my readers expect, and I try not to disappoint them! And yes, when I have news about one of my books, I’ll post about that, too. But that kind of post is rare.
  • Post regularly. Some authors use a service like Hootsuite to schedule their Facebook posts, but I’ve found that I like to fly by the seat of my pants when posting on my author page. I try to post at least once a day, only because that drives up traffic. Regularity is a key to reaching larger numbers of my readers.
  • Understand that even if you aren’t a public figure now, you will be. (At least 040that’s the goal, right?) As you’re sharing all about your dogs, grandchildren or passion for hang-gliding, don’t forget to insert a layer of protection between you and your reading public. Certain things need to be kept private. You can give your readers quite a bit of information about your life – and let them feel like they know you – without divulging every detail.
  • Be friendly. Whether on your personal Facebook page or your professional one, the personal distance you need to maintain shouldn’t keep you from giving your readers9780373282777_p0_v1_s260x420 a genuine smile of welcome when they drop by. Let your voice shine through. Be inviting. Make them want to spend time with you in your books.
  • Be professional. Facebook is not the place to air dirty laundry, complain about or celebrate political events, or argue theological differences. Never, ever complain about your spouse, children, in-laws, bosses, or co-workers. And never, never, never (can’t say enough nevers!) complain about or divulge information about editors, agents, or anyone else in the writing business. What appears on the internet has a horribly tenacious way of sticking around.
  • Be a good neighbor. Don’t you love when your peers share your latest status with all of their friends? Especially when you’re trying to pull readers to your latest blog post or publicize the sale price on one of your books? Do the same for them.

Sometimes I think of Facebook as a necessary evil, one of the many things we need to negotiate in order to be successful in this modern life. It won’t last forever, but as long as it’s around, we should use it to our advantage. And meanwhile, enjoy it!

In Praise of Editors

facebook personPosting a comment online this morning made me suddenly hyperaware of the publicness of published writing. Publishing actually does mean, as I tell my students, making something public.

“Everything you write for a class, even if it’s disseminated no further than the classroom, even if I’m the only one reading it, is public writing,” I tell them. “Don’t tell me you just wrote it for yourself or attach a sticky note saying it’s just for me. Assume that whatever you hand in may be made public. That it’s already public. It was public the moment you printed it up and put it in my hand or clicked ‘attach’ and then ‘send.’”

copyedited manuscriptIt’s easy to forget that writing is public, though. Consider Facebook, where people often post sentiments best kept to themselves. However tempting it might be to rail or even to agree—by liking it—with someone else’s railing, I generally restrict myself to happy birthdays, comments about good-looking photos, and commiserations with others’ suffering.

Today I was doing just that: commiserating with a friend whose autistic child had just “had a huge meltdown . . . complete with yelling, food throwing, and tears running down his face” in front of, as she wrote, “almost everyone I know.”

It was a wonderful post, as those who’d already commented said, because it was so frank. So, as my students say, “relatable.”

“Most of the time I suck it up,” my friend wrote, the “meltdowns, 10+ accidents a day, the stares, rude questions, the incomprehension on the faces of people around me, but today it was all too much, so I walked to the car sobbing my heart out.” She confessed, “it felt, somehow, like it was my fault,” and I sobbed too. For her. For her son. For sufferers of autism and their parents. For parents in general. Is there a more agonizing feeling than the unavoidable conviction that it’s somehow our fault whenever anything goes wrong—even something we didn’t cause and couldn’t have stopped—with a daughter or son?

It’s hard to respond to someone else’s pain in a way that doesn’t compound it, though. I learned that when, in the aftermath of a sexual assault at gunpoint, friends commented, among other intended condolences, that I was “lucky not to be dead.” I didn’t feel lucky and wished I was dead. Being told the contrary merely intensified those feelings.

I was thinking about that as I commented and (hopefully) didn’t make that error. Not this time, anyway—thanks to my best editor, the Holy Spirit, who, I’m convinced, translates our groans not only to God but to everyone else and (with some effort, in my case) bleeps our stupidest words. After telling her I’d cried, I advised her not to blame herself: she was doing the best and only right thing to do—loving her son—and doing it perfectly. So far so good, I thought—or anyway, I didn’t feel that tug in the direction of the delete key at that point.

BloggingI did feel it moments later, though, when I helpfully passed on a reassuring comment from a pastor’s wife eons ago when I was in the throes of parental shame about a problem with one of my toddling daughters: “God chose you, precisely you, for your girls,” she said, “because he knew you’d be the best possible mom for them.”

Sounds safe enough, I thought. And I was mightily comforted by that woman’s words at the time. God chose me to parent my girls. I was the best possible mother they could have. Everything was going to be fine.

But, as I say, the Holy Spirit apparently didn’t think so. In the fraction of a moment before I pressed enter, stories of parental abuse and neglect poured into my brain. A friend whose mom once told her children she hated them. Did God choose those children’s parents, too? What child, grown now but surely still suffering that meanness, might be reading my post?

The public is a tricky sea to navigate alone. Our kindest intentions, our most heartfelt theologies, have as much potential to mislead and hurt as to inform and uplift. Thank God for editors.

For the Brokenhearted

reaching out to you

Psalm 34:17-18 “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

This is the season of Joy. Glistening lights, happy Christmas carols, gifts given in love. But for some, the season is not as bright. For the father who is struggling to put food on the table for his children, let alone buy them Christmas gifts. For the old woman who sits in her rocking chair, her life but a memory and her children too busy to visit. For the child who wants to be a part of a loving family. For the mother who cries over the son she lost in the war.

For those who have gone through a year of endless trials and heartbreak and feel you have no reason to celebrate, this is for you. God is a God of love. He loves you. The Bible says He hears the prayers of His children. He knows the pain and sorrow you carry even without you telling Him. But even more so, He promises to deliver you from your troubles.

Even if your sorrows haven’t been as grievous, know that God has walked by your side. That He is ever faithful to love and keep you. Psalm 34 is loaded with promises from God—He answers our prayers when we seek Him, He encamps around us to protect us, His eyes and ears are attentive to our cries, and He promises to deliver us from our troubles.

It’s easy this time of year to get caught up in the trappings, the glitter, and the clutter and lose sight of the real reason for the season. God did not come to earth to judge us, but to save us. To lift us up when we are discouraged. To be our comforter and the lover of our souls.

May this holiday season be a time of refreshing for you. I pray you can leave your cares at His feet and that God’s presence will fill your hearts and souls to overflowing.

The Art in Writing

Strange and wonderful things happen when we keep our eyes peeled, our ears sharp, our hearts welcoming, and our minds creative. This year, I met someone who at first glance was not an obvious fit with my writing life. But first glances are often wrong.

Mary Young Zog the DogI am a Christian non-fiction author. The woman I met at a local women’s expo is a children’s book author. She launched as a self-publisher via Pucky Huddle Books — I have chosen the traditional route as my foundation. I’m a business coach, she married a rock star. Literally.

But we both live in the same tiny county.

Mary Young is married to Rusty Young of country rock group Poco fame. They still play for exclusive events, and tour around the country. But in their desire to escape the crazy life of frenzied fans and intense concert schedules, they built a beautiful cabin nestled about twenty minutes from where I live. On a serene hill overlooking the stunning Huzzah Creek, Rusty gets to relax with his music and Mary peacefully plays with her muse.

RC Woods What Lies BeneathDue to Mary’s prompting, she and I, along with local Indie author RC Woods, have pooled our talents. Recently, the Crawford County Author’s Group held our first event, called The Art in Writing. Three diverse but driven authors determined to learn from, promote, and support each other.

Until recently, in our small region, we each felt alone. Let’s face it, those of us who put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard are a strange breed to normal folks — most people don’t get the weird ways our minds work. Or sometimes, the strange hours we keep.

When my brain fries, when my creative juices dry, when I’m too tired to think of new ways to market my books, a couple of hours with fellow writers revives my brainstorming abilities. The art in writing is not magical — it’s intentional. It’s not competitive — it’s cooperative. No matter how similarly or differently we write.

I have other author friends who equally stir my creative brew. They don’t live close, but because of twenty-first century technology, we can call, text, private message, Facetime, or Skype. We can schedule retreats with each other, (my favorite). We can compare marketing efforts, research, and new ideas.

Getting Through

Releasing, April, 2015 through Barbour Publishing

The WordServe Water Cooler is another way to stay in touch with those who get the crazy business of writing. Sharing and learning with folks like you keeps my energy up when it threatens to flag. I often write about difficult subjects, so I need an occasional boost.

No matter whether other writers live near or far, I’ve discovered I don’t do as well without them. For me, the real art in writing is community. A brother/sisterhood of folks who will pick you up when you feel down. An encouraging message, a timely quote, a pertinent fact, a social media shout-out, even insights to help you market like a rock star. The writing community is the magic behind my words.

What infuses the art in your writing?

Tips for Managing Time as a Writer

You’ve heard the age-old story: Creative individual decides to write a book. They sit down with paper and pen or keyboard, and painstakingly write that heart story. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes it takes years. When talking with their friends, you often hear them say, “Something came up. It isn’t quite right yet. I just haven’t had the time.”

It’s pretty clear that time is precious. In fact, outside of my loved ones, my time is my most treasured possession. Since signing my first contract in January 2013, I have learned an important writing tip, probably the most important tip.

There is NEVER time, unless you choose to make it.

In fact, I’ve noticed one common trait among the published: They make time to finish. Once you sign that dotted line and make a commitment, “I didn’t have time” doesn’t fly with the publisher. Neither does “it’s just not ready yet.” You better make time and make it ready fast or risk losing your credibility.

After signing that contract, time to market becomes important. And time to edit. And time to promote. And time to interact with readers. Lots of time. So it’s important to figure out how to manage it.

My friends hear me say that I’m overwhelmed more than anything else. But I’m learning how to carve out time, discipline myself to finish, and not miss out on the world around me. We aren’t only writers. We are marketers, publicists, graphic designers, speakers, and more. So I’ve learned a few tricks to maximize my time in every area of this writing journey.

Kariss Lynch - timeCreate margin.

I am a night owl and can write and create relevant marketing content easier when my checklist for the day is accomplished. It clears my mind to be creative. Determine your best time of day to write or create, and maximize those short windows.

Set a timer.

Write every day. Set the timer on your phone for an hour, then put your phone on silent and put it on the other side of the room. Clear your mind and write. I found when I did this, I could easily write close to two thousand words if not more in an hour! When the timer goes off, I feel accomplished, satisfied, and ready to write even more.

Carve out marketing time for social media.

I work full time as a writer for my company, so in the middle of the day I am tired of writing. I’ve started taking thirty minutes of my lunch break or fifteen minutes in the morning or afternoon to create social media graphics that I then pre-schedule so I don’t have to think about them. Think about content that is relevant to your brand, then have fun with those designs.

Strategize for online interaction.

The internet is a wonderful tool, but managing our online interaction can eat our time if not handled correctly. Block out thirty minutes every few days to catch up on emails. Take a few minutes to respond to every person who comments on social media (within reason of course). Know your brand, what you are passionate about, and have character and author interviews on hand for guest blog posts. Don’t overthink. Just do.

Know your audience and limits for speaking engagements.

My favorite interviews and speaking engagements are via Skype since it helps me conserve my time, but I’ve also enjoyed those in person speaking engagements with small groups or crowds. Determine your price (if you have one), the size of the group you are willing to speak for, if it is wise to travel or Skype in (this is great for book clubs and classes that may not be close). Bottom line, know your options and then plan accordingly. Don’t forget you still need to write and market and live life, so carefully plan the weekends you will be gone.

Managing time is as much mental as it is physical. At the end of the day, be satisfied with what you accomplished and leave the rest for tomorrow. What tips have you found effective in managing your time?

Making It Real

Hoh River Cascading Through RainforestWhen I first started writing my Birder Murder Mystery series, I wanted readers to feel like they were actually walking in the footsteps of my protagonist, so it was a logical choice for me to use real locations for book settings. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much readers enjoy books that take place in areas they know and how much those real places can shape what I write. Once I figured out that my real locations were one of the more powerful means of attracting readers, I began using real places as much as possible, not only for marketing later, but to provide me with inspiration for other pieces of my story.

As a result, I now take detailed notes of places I visit in the course of my book research. Fat Daddy's BBQ in WeslacoFor instance, last January, I was researching McAllen, Texas, for my next murder mystery. Since friends had recommended I try the barbeque at Fat Daddy’s, I made sure I had lunch there one day. As I ate, I observed that large groups of National Guardsmen sat at many of the tables, which I also noted in my daily travel journal, along with descriptions of the patriotic posters and flags adorning the walls. When I developed my plot, I found that the soldiers I’d seen could play into my story in a critical juncture, so I wrote them in – something I never would have come up with if I hadn’t personally visited Fat Daddy’s. Now, when anyone from the area reads the book, they’ll immediately be able to say, “this author really was here!” and it gives me the instant credibility which every fiction writer craves to lure readers into the story.

diner open signAnother big benefit of writing real places into your books is that some readers identify so much with a favorite place, they tend to talk about your book simply because of the setting. In one of my books, I used a small diner where one of my daughters waitressed years ago. Not only did it give the story a strong local connection, but once it was published, the diner owners prominently displayed the book, which delighted all their customers, who then told their friends that their favorite diner was in a book. By using the diner as a piece of my story, I also didn’t have to think twice about what that setting would look like, because all I had to do was describe what I saw.

Perhaps the best guideline I can provide about using real places in your fiction is the rule my publisher gave me: If you say nice things about a place, use the real name; if you want to be negative, make up a place. That should give you more readers and happier business owners (who will become your friends if they aren’t already!), and much less chance of getting sued.

Who knows? You might even get a sandwich named after you…

Adventures into the Unknown through Writing

Writers are dreamers. We capture daydreams in paragraphs on pages. We are also planners. We sacrifice hours now for hopes of communicating to future readers. We work in the present and have faith for the future.

winter happy girl 3

Dreaming, hoping, and planning are good activities. Yet, as a Christian who writes, my dreams belong to Someone greater than I am. The wise and practical words of James give me the perspective to keep my feet on the ground and remember my human limits, even as my hopes soar in faith.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this city or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that'” (James 4:13-15).

Even with our best plans and the wisest advisers, we do not know what the future holds. Businesses can come and go, altering the landscape of opportunities for us. The publishing industry is constantly changing. Our favorite bookstore may go out of business before our next book ships from the warehouse. Future events may change how people view our writing. We may become the voice that speaks to current needs, or our relevance may fade.

Such thoughts should not put a damper on our joy as writers. Whatever the dimensions of our window of opportunity, writing is a tremendous privilege. Our books can travel to places we have never visited. We can instruct, entertain, and comfort people who may remain unknown to us. They will know us through our words. As a Christian who writes, my words reflect God’s love for people and His message of hope. The chance to become a vehicle to carry that message, however imperfectly, is a priceless gift.

And so, on any given day, I plan. I keep writing. I dream of reaching more people. I stack books on bookshelves in far-flung bookstores in my faith-filled imagination. I bundle up and head outside into the unknown for an adventure. I do my best and expect the best of everyone working alongside me. But I know the outcome belongs to God. His will and His plans will prevail. And that’s good news for me and for everyone else!

What helps you face the unknowns of life as a writer?