Writing for Strangers

For my first book release, I did what many authors do. I gave copies of my book to everyone I knew, followed up with them with the intensity of an air traffic controller, and then begged to be evaluated. It was only when I had garnered about twenty five reviews that I was comfortable enough to share my work with strangers.

PettyCashFor my second book, I have been much bolder. I only showed Petty Cash to a select few people (about five) and then launched it on Amazon. Each day, I pull up the page with one eye closed, bracing myself to get hammered. But you know what? It really hasn’t been that bad. In fact, total strangers have written the best reviews of all. Who knew?

It’s awkward to provide feedback to our loved ones at times. People often avoid conflict with those close to them, and they may whitewash their feedback in an attempt to encourage us. Although this is done out of love, we must take the feedback from those who love us with a grain of salt. The people closest to us will also see the content a bit differently than the writing of someone about whom they know nothing.Those close to us will have a built in filter as they regard each character, setting, and turn of phrase.

On the other hand, strangers have no such filters. Since there is no fear of impacting the relationship, the comments and reviews of strangers are incredibly forthright. Some of the feedback from strangers has been so outstanding and helpful, that I have modifed the story slightly to reflect their feedback, which is easy to do with an e-book. Some of the people who write reviews are so eloquent that it seems like they should be reviewing books on a professional basis – and maybe they do.

From what I understand, it is considered bad taste for authors to engage with strangers who have written reviews on their work. That makes sense, but sometimes it’s hard to keep silent and not thank them for putting in the time and effort of creating a review. The exercise has really driven home the concept of relying on the kindness of strangers. Honesty is actually a type of kindness, even if it stings from time to time.

For a myriad of reasons, friends and family may not be able to convey the true value of our writing. It just might be the people you have never met, perhaps in other countires or on the other side of the world, who may end up giving you more validation and insight about your work than you ever imagined.

Who do you trust to provide feedback on your writing?

Have you ever received helpful comments and reviews from total strangers?

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Writing is one of those creative aspirations that typically accompanies another salaried job. Few can sustain a living simply from writing. If you ever start to feel down about not being able to make ends meet via your writing career, don’t fret. You are in good company. Here are just a few famous authors and the jobs they maintained in order to pay the bills:

Large group of diversity workers peopleJ.D. Salinger was employed as the entertainment director on the H.M.S Kungsholm, a Swedish luxury liner.

Stephen King was a janitor, as well as a high school teacher.

William Faulkner went to Ole Miss for three semesters, then dropped out and became the school’s postmaster.

John Steinbeck ran a fish hatchery near Lake Tahoe. He would also give tours of the facility.

Harper Lee was a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines.

Jack London was an “oyster pirate.” During the night, he would steal oysters from the oyster beds  of the most successful farmers and then sell them.

If these famous writers had to have other means of making a living, then we shouldn’t consider ourselves immune. In fact, it is precisely these day jobs that often fuel our creativity, providing content for stories to make them more realistic.

Some authors are able to find jobs that support their writing. If you can find a way for your job to complement and sustain your writing, then so much the better. Perhaps you are a chef and like to write about restaurants. Maybe you are a nurse who writes about life in the medical field. Keep a diary of your daily experiences and the emotions they elicit (happy, sad, mad, surprise, fear, love) as each can similarly move your audience in the future. People enjoy writing that is insightful and allows them to visit places they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Isn’t that part of the fun, to enjoy vicarious adventures? So, as a writer who often lives in the career world, why not incorporate subject matter expertise into your writing? It will bring a three dimensional quality to each story.

Maybe you won’t give up your day job because it’s a significant part of your life and who you are. Did you know Wallace Stevens declined a prestigious professorship at Harvard because he didn’t want to leave his career (forty years in the making) with an indemnity company? Getting paid for writing is not always steady and consistent. You may have great book sales in August from a successful marketing push, and then watch sales decline in September. Maybe you sell one story and have to wait for years until selling another one. With creative careers, it is prudent to wait until making two or three times the salary of your day job before taking the plunge. Why? Because you will probably no longer have an employer who is helping to share or pay the expenses of benefits, such as health insurance, company profit sharing or a 401(k) match. Many employees do not adequately count the value they should be contributing to their current employer, so be sure and calculate the indirect earnings of any and all company perks (even gym memberships, mileage reimbursement, car allowance, et cetera).

It is the easiest thing in the world to allow the burst of enthusiasm from a great day in writing overshadow your career as a banker, doctor, lawyer, or teacher. There’s nothing like getting rewarded for what you love to do. If you can, enjoy what you do as much as possible, so it can feed and sustain your writing life.

What do you do as a day job?

With writing, how do you maintain a work / life balance?

It’s A Christmas Parade!

As our treat to our wonderful WaterCooler Readers, we thought we’d do another blog parade. Each of our authors below is blogging about their Writer’s Wish List. Hmm . . . I know I’m intrigued to see what’s on these lists. Funny? Quirky? Serious?

I don’t know . . . you’ll have to click on the links to find out!

1. Lucille Zimmerman
Blog Link: http://www.lucillezimmerman.com/2012/12/10/ape-author-publisher-entrepreneur-how-to-publish-a-book-by-guy-kawasaki-shawn-welch-a-book-review/

2. Janalyn Voigt
Blog Link: http://janalynvoigt.com/one-authors-christmas-wish

3. Kimberly Vargas
Blog Link: http://www.kimberlyvargasauthor.com/?p=241

4. Cheryl Ricker
Blog Link: http://www.cherylricker.com/2012/12/smells-and-whistles/

5. Jordyn Redwood
Blog Link: http://jordynredwood.blogspot.com/2012/12/wishing.html

6. Melissa K. Norris
Blog Link: http://melissaknorris.com/?p=1351

7. Gillian Marchenko
Blog Link: http://wp.me/p2Ds6m-zA

8. Dr. Rita Hancock
Blog Link: http://edensfreedomsisters.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-eden-diet-joins-a-blog-parade-find-out-how-to-win-dr-rita-s-b

9. Karen Jordan
Blog Link: http://karenbarnesjordan.com/a-writers-wish-list-grace-gifts

10. Kelli Gotthardt
log Link: http://www.kelligotthardt.com/1/post/2012/12/writers-wish-list.html

11: Jan Dunlap
Blog Link: http://jandunlap.com/2012/12/the-wishlist-of-a-writer/

12: Cindy Dagnan
Blog Link: http://cindydagnan.com/cindy-sigler-dagnan/2012/12/14/one-writer%E2%80%99s-wish-list/

13: Anita Brooks
Blog Link: http://brooksanita.com/a-writers-fantasy-wish-list

Merry Christmas!!

Radio Days

When I completed my first book, my boss was incredibly supportive and offered to get a marketing package for me of my own choosing. Having very little understanding of book marketing, I was soon swimming in a flood of possible opportunities of all different shapes, sizes, and price tags. I finally settled on the Readers Favorite’s Book Promotion Packagewhich I found to be reasonably priced and reputable. One of their strategic partners, The Authors Show, welcomed me as a preferred guest as part of said package.

I had never been on the radio before and was rather anxious about sounding like a moron.  I didn’t worry for long, though, because it was clear that The Authors Show staff had the interview process down to a science. They sent me an author interview form to complete. It asked for pertinent information about the book. They allowed me to create 8-10 suggested questions that would relate to its content and would connect with an audience. There was a place to create a synopsis, a call to action to encourage buying behavior, and a list of preparatory questions so I would have an idea of what to expect.  Some of the questions were very thought provoking and have helped me during other marketing initiatives as well. For example: What benefits will the buyer get from reading the book?

After I completed the interview form and submitted it, I didn’t wait long until the interview was scheduled. It was conducted over the phone by Don McCauley, who was very kind. Before we got started, he encouraged me to relax and be as natural as possible. He assured me that they would edit the interview and remove any pauses or filler words.

When the time for the interview came, I was sure to secure a remote location without any distractions or background noises. I used a headset which seemed to help the audio quality. My gracious host made me feel very much at ease throughout the call which only lasted about thirty minutes.

Once the interview was edited, it came out to be fifteen minutes long. The interview was featured on The Authors Show for an entire month. During this time, I leveraged all the social media tools in my arsenal to get the word out: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, my website, et cetera. After my time on The Authors Show website was up, they sent me an MP3 file of the interview. It’s still available on YouTube and accessible through my website. People have marveled, “You sound so knowledgeable!”  That’s nice to hear, but it’s because the marketing company set me up for success.

Aside from Amazon, the radio interview has been the best marketing vehicle I have found so far, and it’s by far the most impressive facet of my campaign.  It lives on the front page of my website and enjoys prime real estate. I will always be grateful to my boss, to Don, and to the good people at The Authors Show for providing me with this great facet of my marketing toolbox.

Have you ever used radio as a book marketing tool? How do you get the word out about your writing?

It’s A Parade!!

Welcome to WordServe Water Cooler’s Very First Blog Parade!!

Listed below are links to many of The Cooler’s authors and we are all writing on this topic: First steps we took to becoming an agented and/or published author!

The goal of today’s post is to give you some great advice and to allow you to see some of the personal blogs of our authors where they offer their ponderings. I think you’ll be amazed at the variety of helpfulness each author gives to the community.

Thank you, our faithful readers, for making the WordServe Water Cooler a great community. Enjoy the parade!

1. Anita Agers-Brooks: Anita Fresh Faith

2. Julie Cantrell: Julie’s Journal

3. Dianne Christner: …plain girl romanticizing

4. Dena Ratliff Dyer: Mother Inferior

5. Jan Dunlap: Jan Dunlap’s Blog

6. Michelle Griep: Writer Off Leash

7. Karen Jordan: BLESSED Legacy Stories

8. Sharon Lavy: Sharon Lavy’s Blogspot.

9. Gillian Marchenko: Gillian Marchenko’s Blog

10. Katy McKenna: Fallible

11. Melissa K. Norris: Inspiring Your Faith and Pioneer Roots

12. Jordyn Redwood: Redwood’s Medical Edge

13. Cheryl Ricker: Fresh Air

14. Kimberly Vargas: Kimberly Vargas’s Blog

15. Janalyn Voigt: Live Write Breath

16. Lucille Zimmerman: Lucille Zimmerman

Hope you enjoyed our parade!

When Good Writers Go Bad

Recently I listened to a thought provoking sermon about how to tell when good leaders have gone bad. The lesson was universally applicable because we all have leadership opportunities at some point in our lives. Whether it is leading a major corporation, mentoring a student or babysitting, we are providing guidance. As writers, we have an incredible opportunity to lead others. Here is my spin on that lesson, exploring several traits that indicate a writer may have gone to the Dark Side:

A Big Ego

Being an author means creating a platform, and selling yourself and your product. At some point, you may begin to believe your own press. The praise feels great and after a while, you get used to it. Then, when it does not come readily, we wonder why. Although some of the most acclaimed writers of all time had healthy egos (Steinbeck, anyone?), focusing on how the writing might benefit others is much more inspiring to readers. Someone asked me this week, “Do you write to feel powerful and  make the characters do whatever you want?” I told her my writing stems from a desire to entertain. She looked baffled and said she would probably become addicted to the control over the story and other readers. It’s easy to see how authors could get wrapped up in the ‘power’ aspect of writing, if they were so inclined–but that’s not what inspires people.

Isolation

Alone time is a necessity for many writers who can’t focus with others anywhere in their vicinity. However, the more time we spend alone, the more we rely on our own judgement. The feedback from trusted advisors is invaluable, but if one is operating in a silo, that may not seem necessary. Excessive isolation can be dangerous, it keeps writers from being in touch with their audience, as well as with other writers with whom they might partner. Actor Jonah Hill has commented on how much easier it is to write with other comedians. Woody Allen has expressed that people are willing to help a writer in the creative process, as long as the author has put in the time to get a project close to being fully baked. Although there is nothing wrong with self-reliance, no person is an island. If you have it available to you, why not seek wise counsel?

Us/Them Mentality

When fellow authors enjoy success, we can either be happy for them or turn pea green with envy. We may console ourselves with the sentiments that so-and-so is only popular because they write scandalous material, or because they are friends with ‘the guy behind the guy’ at Google. Writing is a tough business to break into, and it’s understandable to feel jealous of our successful colleagues–but why not leverage them instead, and even adopt their principles for success? Author communities (i.e. WordServe Water Cooler) are committed to the prosperity of all. In this and similar organizations, writers help each other with social media support, comments on postings and general assistance in spreading the word around. It’s a huge relief when others help take up our causes. Disinterest in helping others only results in hurting oneself.

If you see yourself in any of these traits, don’t despair.  We’ve all been there at one point or another to some extent. The idea is to identify our symptoms and course correct to ensure we are keeping ourselves honest. As writers, we need to lead our followers somewhere worthwhile.

Have you ever experienced any of the above? How do you think the writing journey might change an author over time?

Writing Giants

Surf the web and you will see that the subject of writing is well-charted territory. No matter what your goal, a how-to manual is there to support it. Need to write grant proposals, company newsletters, technical manuals, instructional design or academic materials? Industry experts abound to provide a sea of knowledge about any aspect of writing imaginable. For advice on how to create fiction, it seems logical to consult some of the successful authors and writing giants among us.

As I began researching books on writing by authors, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft kept appearing on the horizon. I extrapolated all that I could from that book and have started recommending it to other writers. Some of his tips include writing the first draft of a manuscript with door closed, consulting an ‘ideal reader’ that represents the audience, writing consistently each day (1,000 words or more), and writing about what the writer really knows, because that is what makes a writer unique. I’ve been applying King’s techniques into my writing regimen whenever possible. With over fifty worldwide bestsellers in his wake, clearly he knows what he’s doing.

Another writing giant willing to share his techniques is Ray Bradbury, who still cuts quite a swath. The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine and his other stories will forever swim in the waters of literature.  Bradbury’s book for aspiring writers Zen in the Art of Writing is full of sage advice. He suggests that people write about what they love or what they hate because that conviction and passion is crucial to the story. He advises authors to run after life with fervent gusto, to pursue their interests, and write about the things that make them happy.

Starting out, even surfing small literary waves can feel like riding giants. I’m getting more comfortable with what lies beneath (although it’s harder than it looks).  King and Bradbury cared enough to show the rest of us that it’s possible to conquer the sea, and when you do, an ocean of opportunity awaits. Besides, what one person can do, another can do.

Are you ready to paddle out?

Antisocial Media

God bless the Internet.

It’s the great equalizer of our time. It has been a tour de force for introverts the world over who feel more confident and less prone to risk behind a laptop than a podium. Marketing no longer is the exclusive playground of handsome and highly articulate extroverts, people that really know how to connect with other people.  A website can have an infinite amount of charm – or at least charm enough not to require a spokesmodel.

How has this been possible? One reason is a fundamental shift in marketing itself and how society sees it. Marketing strategy has evolved from outbound to inbound. An outbound marketing strategy involves actively finding people and making them aware of your product and offerings.  An inbound marketing strategy is about being easy to find. It requires a high level of visibility. If you are invisible to Google, it’s not going to work.

This being said, I recently met with a visibility coach to discuss the next steps for how to continue building a writing platform. It seemed like many bases had been covered, and now I was stuck on how to proceed. After all, the infrastructure seemed to be coming along:

  • Website
  • Blog
  • Writing contest award site
  • Book reviews
  • Smashwords and Amazon purchase links
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest board
  • YouTube radio interview
  • Google Adwords, Google+

I reviewed all of these facets of the marketing platform with the visibility coach. She was glad that some visibility had already been created, but there was still a lot to do. She said that the aforementioned social media sites are tools. Such tools are only part of a marketing strategy’s infrastructure and did not constitute its entirety.

Some of the things I had been putting off on my to-do list started coming back to mind:

  • Determine how many prospective customers would be interested in your product
  • Define that group – Who are they? How old are they? What is their demographic data?
  • Create a buzz among that target profile
  • Identify their buying behavior
  • Develop a message that speaks to that group
  • Become highly visible to that customer group
  • Learn their communication style and preferred methods of contact

The coach said, “I think we need to get you some REAL fans and not just virtual ones.” She kind of laughed a little bit, and I hadn’t realized until then that it was kind of funny. All my supporters are either friends or ones I’ve garnered online.  “Virtual fans are all well and good, but you need to meet and connect with some REAL people, some actual people now. We’re going to move forward with a press release and creating some events.”

The coach could probably tell that I was a little uneasy about the whole ‘events’ thing.  It’s awkward enough pumping up a site with one’s name and picture on it in cyberspace. How could I look people in the eye and do it for real? I would know if they didn’t really want to meet me.  What if someone told me to get lost? What if they said they had already read my book and they thought I was destroying literature or something? Besides, I had never met any of the authors I had always admired. Was that really necessary? Talking about my work with strangers… ugh. It seemed like the worst kind of vanity.

But the visibility coach pointed out something enlightening. When positioning the book and other works to the audience, there is no reason to focus on the author. The focus is on the characters in the book. She said to become the cheerleader of my main characters and pump them up constantly – and to take myself out of the equation. That resonated with my introverted nature, and I breathed a little easier.

Marketing is about telling a story. Who better to market, then, than us storytellers?

The ancient concept of the group storyteller conjures up images of tribes fixated on a speaker, basking in the orange glow of a campfire.  That kind of storytelling is interactive. Actors are storytellers, but of a different sort. They tell stories with their physical beings-not with words.

Writing, as a form of storytelling, can’t be purely antisocial because life and the human experience aren’t antisocial. That’s the whole point. People are trying to connect and feel something.  The Internet has made it very easy to forget that – but people go to the movies and read books for a reason. They are looking to connect. And as uncomfortable as it may be at times, connections just do not belong in the realm of the antisocial.

In what ways have you RECENTLY connected with your non-virtual reader fans? How might you reach out to them, specifically, this week?

Hunting and Fishing: Tackle Box Tools for the Aspiring Author

What does hunting and fishing have to do with being a writer? More than you might imagine. If you think you’re exempt from needing these skills, you may find you’re going to need a bigger boat, so to speak.

After placing well in a writing contest, I was approached by several people who wanted the same thing. They resembled eager, wide-eyed hunters, sure that there was a sportsmen’s paradise within reach, if they could just locate the geographic coordinates. The questions have been pretty standard. How do I get started? What should I write about? How do you get an agent? How do you get published? But the most interesting question so far has been how do you find the courage to put your work out there? This question was from a woman (we’ll call her Nancy) who had already written an entire series of books, but lacked the confidence to move forward. She was stuck.

In addition to being a strong writer, Nancy had an impressive graphic arts background and was perfectly capable of designing the entire book herself. She had all the tools she needed and then some – but not the confidence. It’s a common dilemma. Many writers are introverted and sensitive to criticism. They may have much better work in their garage than most of what is available, but we’ll never hear about it because they are unwilling to send up a smoke signal and let us know where to find them.

Not everyone is going to love our work, and we don’t need everyone to love our work. We just need to find our audiences. Fishing with good bait obviously helps exponentially. Nancy came to peace with the fact that she was going to have to learn to fish. She then accepted the fact that although she didn’t think her book was good enough, it was certainly better than some of the other books out there. If those books could get published, then why not hers?

Next, we tackled the business about marketing and promotion. Nancy realized that she would not have to just catch the fish, but cook it, clean it and perhaps even serve it as well. The author is expected to do a great deal of their own marketing. The publisher can’t do it all for us; they have other authors they need to promote. No one has as much of a vested interest in our success as we do.

Nancy was horrified to learn that she would probably need a website with her name and picture on it, and she might even have to speak about her book in front of people. The most uncomfortable concept for her by far was that she would have to ‘sell’ her work. But she figured out that it doesn’t feel like ‘selling’ if you are simply providing a service or commodity and increasing awareness for people who really want your product. Blogging and tweeting and self-promoting are awkward concepts for most of us. However, unless you have staff to hunt and fish on your behalf, there aren’t too many other options.

Nancy still isn’t crazy about all the hunting and fishing she has ahead of her, but she is committed to surviving as a writer. She has started working on her book covers and finding books on how to overcome her shyness. She’s bravely entering Writing Territory and looking for a spot to set up camp. Best of all, she is no longer stuck and is actively pursuing her own hunting and fishing sportsman’s paradise.

Have you caught any tasty fish lately? How are your hunting skills? Figuratively, of course, but if you want to share some literal experiences, that’s okay, too. 🙂

The Create Space Experience

Many people gaze at online publishing as settlers must have viewed the wild, wild, west – with fear and awe. However, life on this frontier is not as lawless as one might think. It can be a useful accelerator on your path of obtaining or supplementing traditional publishing efforts. Take Create Space, for instance. Well-organized and structured, this tool can provide the positioning and leverage you need to take your creative efforts to the next level. Where you go from there is entirely up to you, and there are a myriad of options for you to ornament your work with whatever bells and whistles you want.

Even before you receive what is called an advanced reader copy (ARC) or a gallery (similar to an ARC), you can print out books for your readers and reviewers. In turn, they can begin your marketing buzz by word of mouth. With Create Space’s step-by-step application, the author is guided through all the necessary steps to correctly setting up their book. Setting up the title, creating the interior, and selecting cover art are parts of the process. You can upload interior files as a PDF to ensure formatting will not change. You can either create a cover with the website’s cover creator wizard or upload your own. In this case, be sure to follow their directions to the letter to ensure you don’t frustrate yourself by having the wrong size spine or files with poor resolution that will look shabby.  If you aren’t the type that can sustain the trial and error it will take to get this right, then recruit a patient friend to help you with the details.

Even before your book is actually for sale, you can choose to have sample chapters viewable to your social media networks through Create Space / Amazon, even if you don’t have your own website. You will have a way for people all over the world to familiarize themselves with your book. Create Space also has very good deals and is a low cost vehicle for having copies on hand for your book signings and giveaways.

The flexibility for authors is also remarkable. There are no minimum print runs with Create Space. You can order as few as one at a time. For perfectionists who want to make sure everything is just right before committing to a large press run, this is an unprecedented luxury. I ask readers to write Amazon book reviews, which are better than gold, and send out those links via Twitter. Perhaps best of all, actual customer service people answer the phones and they do so 24 hours a day.

Thanks to Create Space and other emerging platforms, there are more options than ever for authors to distribute their work. Technology has opened up an ocean of opportunity, and the new world looks brighter than ever.

Have you ever utilized non-traditional publishing methods to support your traditional publishing dreams? If so, how? How might a tool like Create Space help your marketing platform?