The Secret Tool That Will Put Your Writing Over The Top

I’ve never taken a writing class so I’m not sure when I learned this trick. Somehow I picked it up over the past decade.

I don’t even know if it’s important to other authors, or if writing instructors teach it.

So maybe this is elementary, but here’s my secret tool:

The way to make your writing interesting is to use details.

Yesterday I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I got excited when I found her encouraging writers to use detail.

She says, “Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else.” She adds, “Be specific. Don’t say ‘fruit.’ Tell what kind of fruit—‘It is a pomegranate.’ Give things the dignity of their names.”

Typical Greece

 

The paragraph below is an example of her writing. Notice how rich it is. Instead of saying, “My friend and I spent some time writing in Greece,” she wrote this:

I am on a Greek island right now: the Aegean Sea, cheap rooms on the beach, nude swimming, little tavernas where you sit under dried bamboo sipping ouzo, taste octopus, watch the great sun set. I am thirty-six and my friend who is with me is thirty-nine. It is the first time either of us has been to Europe. We take in everything, but only halfway because we are busy always, always talking. I tell her about my dance recital when I was six years old in a pink tutu; how my father, who sat in the front row, broke down weeping when he saw me. She tells me how her husband in Catholic school in Nebraska came late for a play that he was the star of and how the nuns had all the school children on their knees praying that he would appear.

 

Just for fun, I read a few lines from my book Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World to find a paragraph where I had given detail. This is from my chapter on The Benefits of Solitude:

Right now I am alone. Snow is falling silently outside, and the only sound I hear comes from water trickling in my office fountain. Right now I can do whatever I want. I can slurp my split pea soup while taking intermittent bites of a chocolate bar.  I can sit on my chair with one leg tucked under in ladylike fashion. I can take a break to let the dog out, and I can sing badly while doing all of the above. These little freedoms are not to be underestimated.

 

Now that I’ve read Goldberg’s book, I see where I could have been even more detailed.

It’s much more fun to write when you’re giving details.

Take a minute to practice: Write about a favorite meal you had. Make sure you describe the setting, season, and the people you were with.

 

 

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The Shocking Marketing Surprises I Learned After My Book’s Release

A little more than a year ago my first book was published.

In the years before it was released, I made a persistent effort to build my platform.

For instance, nine or ten years ago, I started building a social media platform, first on Facebook, and then on Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Instagram.

For about six or seven years, I have been consistently blogging. I have been grateful to be featured as a guest blogger on many sites. Still, I did not fully understand the extent of marketing I would be doing once my book released.

The not knowing was painful at times.

Hopefully this post will give you some of the information I wish I had known ahead of time.

Here are the five biggest marketing surprises, good and bad, I learned after my book released.

wow big sale1. You won’t just market for a month or two, or three, or six.

I didn’t realize I would be expected to market for years. In fact, I think as long as you have a book being sold, you don’t ever get to stop.

2. Most of the time you won’t have any idea how well your book is selling.

I assumed publishers would send reports every month or every six months. That didn’t happen. At least not for me. I guess it’s difficult to determine the exact number of sales, partly because bookstores may order a few dozen copies but then send them back at a later date. I did receive a statement 12 or 13 months after my book released but it’s still not an accurate representation. By the time a statement is compiled and mailed out, more books likely sold. Without knowing how book sales are going, you have to market anyway.

3. You will market 101 ways and you won’t have any idea which marketing ideas will be most beneficial.

You’ll do contests, hold signings, and have book launch parties. You’ll do giveaways and attend conferences. You’ll have write-ups in college alumni newsletters, you’ll give hundreds of books away to potential endorsers and media types. You’ll speak to groups, and give radio and TV interviews, all the while hoping for sales.

amaz1

Here are two of my biggest marketing surprises:

*My pastor gave a sermon on Mother’s Day and mentioned my book. I sold about a 100 books. People rushed into the foyer after church to buy multiple copies for aunts, grandmas, sisters, girlfriends, and moms.

*Ann Voskamp mentioned my book on her list of links one Saturday morning. My book sky-rocketed on Amazon. It was fun to watch the numbers for a day.

Amaz

4. Your publisher is likely to give you books in order to help you market.

When I signed my contract, my agent negotiated a certain number of free books I would receive in addition to my advance. However, I have been surprised with the generosity of my publisher. Several times I’ve headed to conferences and my publisher has given me books to give to the attendees. Also, Goodreads has a program where authors can participate in giveaways within the first six months of a book’s release. My publisher alloted quite a few books for these giveaways.

5. The things that make you the most happy won’t be the sales but the people you touch.

It sounds cliche, but it’s true. I am humbled each time someone sends a thankful email or posts a review on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, or Barnes and Noble. This week I received a letter from someone who said my book encouraged her to go back to school to earn a graduate degree in Christian counseling.

If you’ve marketed a book, what surprised you the most after it released?

What Olympians Can Teach Us about Getting Published

Recently I read an article about the cost of becoming an Olympic athlete. It mentioned that former U.S. speed skater Eric Flaim, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, estimated that his decade-long training amounted to at least $250,000.

“. . . Like many Olympians, Flaim describes plenty of tough times, when he and his parents faced having to pay for big-ticket items (say, a pair of custom-molded boots for $1,500) or ongoing expenses (private coaching could run up to five grand annually.) To make ends meet, Flaim often worked in gyms, cleaning lockers after patrons departed. Even with a medal around his neck – he won his first at the 1988 winter games in Calgary — life didn’t become particularly easy. Flaim says in his best years as an athlete, he might have earned $75,000 from prizes, honorarium, and sponsorships. ‘It was not million-dollar money,’ he adds.

But at least he made money. Athletes who aren’t seen as strong medal contenders are less likely to receive significant support from their sponsors, let alone their sport’s governing board. And if they’re competing in a less-heralded sport, the problems are compounded . . .

. . . for another Olympian, Rick Hawn, a U.S. judo competitor at the 2004 Olympics in Athens who also tried out for the 2008 games, it all added up to a significant tab during his Olympic career. ‘My parents nearly went bankrupt. They put whatever they could into me and I’m the oldest of six kids.’”

iStock_000001330542XSmallIt takes a very special blend of character traits to become an Olympian. The cost in time, energy, and money rarely makes a return on the investment, so Olympians must have skill, drive, persistence, and a belief that getting to the Olympics is its own reward.

Becoming a published author is a lot like that. Many people have the desire to be published. But it takes more than desire. Over dinner the other night my husband and I talked about the people we know who want to publish a book, but probably never will, because they don’t have the special blend of character traits.

  • The first person we thought of has written many books but has failed to get published. That’s because she doesn’t want to learn the rules. She doesn’t want to attend writers groups or conferences to understand how the industry works so she sits at home writing, hoping someone will come along to publish her work. In order to get a book published you have to know the basics: how to query an agent and how to create a proposal. I spent six months working on the proposal for my book, and it was about 80 pages in length. In your proposal, you have to be able to show editors and agents that you know the competition. You have to describe your platform, and you have to lay out your marketing strategy. Your learn how to do this by investing in conferences, writers groups, and reading books. 
  • The second person we thought about is brilliant. He has wisdom that could really help people. But he doesn’t discipline himself to write. He spends all week at a job and relaxes on the weekend. I don’t blame him. But to get published, you have to discipline yourself to write when you’d rather be relaxing.
  • The third person wants to be published but he doesn’t have the persistence. He has a great idea, writes about it for a few weeks, and then gives up. And since most authors don’t make money at this gig, there has to be a reason bigger than money that would make you spend years trying to get published. Can you envision devoting five to ten years researching and writing about a particular topic?

All writers must have skill, and they must have an important message told in a fresh way.  They must learn and follow the rules of publishing, and they will probably have to persist for years. Lastly, they must believe that getting published—not getting rich—is its own reward.

What other traits do you think are necessary for becoming published? 

Being a Published Author Won’t Make Me Happy (And How I know That)

As I finished grad school, I began writing about my experience. I wrote about what I wished I had known earlier in life. I wrote about psychological tools that heal people. In summary, I wrote about pain and what healed that pain. One day, while sitting in a coffee shop, I decided I was going to write a book about all this. So let’s see, it only took eight years to figure out how to find an agent, query an idea, write a proposal, change my idea, change my agent, and finally write the book once it sold. And only eight years of full time engagement in social media, blogging, and marketing. Only eight years of researching and learning through writing and speaker events. That in addition to my real job as a Licensed Professional Counselor and part time professor at a local university.

Getting a book published is difficult.

20130314-_MG_7882So the idea of seeing boxes of books on my front doorstep feels both surreal and monumental. It’s a huge accomplishment that I will celebrate with a party, in a red barn, with twinkly lights. There will be music, friends, food, and revelry. But I know that a published book won’t bring me happiness.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend who has authored over 40 books. I told her I knew that having a published book would not make me happy. She seemed surprised and wanted to know how I knew that ahead of time. I told her I thought it was because I had done so much research on the topic of happiness. I understand what poor judges people are at knowing what will bring them happiness and what won’t.

Striving authors need to know that a published book won’t make them happy. Here’s why:

  • People have a happiness set point. Fifty percent of happiness is genetic, ten percent is based on life circumstances, and forty percent is within our power to effect. For instance, Americans will put themselves in debt for decades thinking a dream home, boat, or car will make them happy. But the new wears off within a few days because of an effect called hedonic adaptation. Most people don’t understand that the lotto winer and the paralyzed person will bounce back to their prior happiness level within a few months of their changed life condition.
  • The joy is in the journey. I’ll never forget what my friend Zeke Pipher said when his book released. In essence, “Whether this book sells or not, it won’t define my worth, happiness, or success.” He went on to describe his faith and his relationship with his wife and children, saying those were the reasons for his joy. Zeke should know. His mom wrote an international best-seller. She soon found that the harried pace of traveling and speaking made her miserable. There’s an interesting research study that found when people were randomly beeped, and told to write down what they were doing and how happy they were, folks were happiest while in the creative state of “flow.” Flow is when you are fully absorbed in an activity, so much so that you lose sense of time. Numerous studies have shown that it is the striving, not the achieving, that makes us happy, especially when our goals are realistic, flexible, valued by the culture, authentic, non-materialistic, and not negatively impacting other parts of our lives.
  • The more we attain, the more we want, and this negates our increased happiness. Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky in her newly released book, The Myths of Happiness, explains that aspirations are misleading. We attain more, so we want more, and the wanting makes us feel bad. Crazy huh? She concludes that we shouldn’t expect less but that we should simply not allow our desires to continue escalating to the point where we end up feeling entitled and convinced that we would only be happy if we got more and more of this or that.
  • Relying on external rather than internal validation makes us unhappy. Some people think they will be happy based on other people’s opinions of their success. But, when we ask ourselves the question, “How good (successful, smart, prosperous, ethical) am I?” the people who rely on an internal rather than external objective standard are happier. There will always be someone wealthier, more attractive, thinner, more popular, and more talented. Therefore, relying on other people’s opinions rather than our own is a recipe for misery. In short, goals which cause growth, make us feel competent, and connect us to others are the ones that make us happy. Goals that make us strive to be rich, famous, popular, or powerful make us unhappy. (I wrote more about this over here at Michael Hyatt’s blog.)

*I orignially wrote this post just before my book released in March 2013. It’s true, having a published book has not made me any happier than I already was. I feel a sense of achievement and gratitude, but I’m glad I knew it wouldn’t make me any happier than I already was.

Think about the last big milestone you achieved.

How long did the happiness last?