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?

A Book Marketing Retreat

On Wednesdays, the authors here at the WSWC blog write about book marketing.

As I prepared to write this post, I thought about the marketing I do every day. I wondered if those activities are unique to me, or if they are common to fellow authors.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a WordServe Water Cooler retreat where we could combine our strengths in an effort to multiply our knowledge? When I close my eyes, I imagine all of us coming together in one place.

We’re in a retreat center, far from distractions, but close enough to nature where we could take breaks in a hot tub, forest, or dining room. I guess what’s coming to my mind is The Hideaway near Monument, between Colorado Springs and Denver. (In my former life, I was a Creative Memories Unit Leader and we had many scrapbooking retreats here.)

So play along, in your mind’s eye: Pull up an Adirondack chair, grab a cool glass of raspberry tea and a lemon scone, and dream with me.

A Stock Photo of Two Red Adirondeack Chairs

At our retreat, each person would be responsible for giving a short talk about the ordinary tasks they do to market their books. Just because an activity is mundane to me doesn’t mean other authors are aware of it, or understand how and why to do it. For example, today I learned Instagram wasn’t just a photo enhancing app. It’s a social media site too. If every author shared their regular activities, we would all benefit.

For instance, each day I check my Google Reader (*Google Reader is ending June 30th, so I’ve switched to Feedly). I have about 60 blogs I subscribe to which feature material related to my brand of selfcare. Feedly compiles all my unread posts in one place. When I have time, I skim the posts. Ninety percent of the time they aren’t worth noting, but occasionally I land on a gem. I email myself the link (because usually I’m downstairs in my pajamas looking from my iPad). I post these on my Facebook and Twitter pages later.

*As an aside, it’s important to be giving your audience material other than you own.

Here are the other daily marketing activities I do:

  • I take a glance at my Google analytics just to see which of my blog posts are getting read and where my hits are coming from.
  • I do a quick search on Twitter under “#selfcare.” I try to re-tweet some of those posts, for the benefit of my followers and as a way to attract new followers.
  • I scroll through my Facebook page and share any posts I think would be helpful to my friends and fans.

Then at our WordServe author retreat, each person would share some of the less ordinary marketing activities they do. These don’t have to be remarkable. Instead, these are the activities you do from time to time, or even once, that might spur the imaginations of the other authors.

For instance:

  • I might post an article or photo to my Pinterest boards. I have boards about my self, my favorite books, counseling, videos, etc.
  • I queried IdeaMensch to do a feature story about me. A year later they let me do a guest blog post and a book giveaway.
  • I did two giveaways on Goodreads. This was a fabulous way to get thousands of readers to at least look at my book and put it on their reading list, while they registered to win a copy. (*In order to take part in the giveaways, your book has to be within six months of its release date and it has to be a paperback.)
  • I submitted blog posts to Michael Hyatt’s blog, which has hundreds of thousands of readers. He let me write a guest post two different times.
  • I volunteered to be a special marketing contributor for The Dr Phil show. Though my own book and brand are a priority, it won’t hurt to have this experience and attention.

If every author shared the regular and irregular activities they do to market their books, we would reap huge benefits.

So, let’s pretend we’re curled up someplace cozy. Whether or not you are a WordServe author, would you share some of your best marketing ideas? 

Tomorrow is Another Day (for Publishing)

Cover illustration, Harper's Weekly September 7, 1861

The one constant in the print and digital publishing business these days is change, and change isn’t easy. Isn’t that the crux of most novels—thrusting your protagonist into unprecedented circumstances to change their world forever? I relate to strong heroines in those novels—Scarlett O’Hara being a favorite. While I don’t think the publishing landscape is doomed to resemble post-war Atlanta anytime soon, I can imagine when all is said and done, there will be those sitting around shell-shocked, sipping mint tea among burning embers, and those who will thrive with the flurry of a lumber mill during reconstruction.

One thing I’ve learned for seizing opportunity amidst upheaval is to apply basic principles of change management. 

“I can’t think of it now…I’ll think of it later.”1

As much as I enjoy Scarlett’s character, indulging in such thinking could be dangerous. The publishing business is changing, whether you take notice or not. If you don’t want the road to Tara to be riddled with potholes, it’s important to arm yourself with information. Fortunately, lots of people are talking about what publishing changes are in store, and you can follow any number of blogs for an understanding of the essentials or simply pose a question to a trusted writer’s loop and see what personal experiences you stir up. Do anything but ignore change. It’s not going away. 

“It’s better to know the worst, than to wonder.” 1

Expect to grieve a little. Change has a life cycle that passes through phases, including ‘loss’. Think about why you want to be published. This doesn’t have to be the answer you’d give anyone else, but be honest. Is it for the recognition? Because you have a compelling message to tell? Whatever the reason, with that need for being published in mind, ask yourself what you would lose if your choices no longer made sense.

Through the traditional print publishing route…would you lose time waiting for publication? Could your genre be overdone by the time you hit the shelves? Could the physical shelves be long gone by then? Could you lose out on the higher author cuts from e-publishing? And what about the e-publishing route…would you lose big name industry reviews? The satisfaction of seeing your book in print? Store placement to drive sales? Ask yourself if your expectations around what you have to gain or lose are realistic to begin with. What good is a higher e-publishing royalty if you can’t figure out how to move the books? Do you need ‘big name’ reviews if hundreds of GoodReads fans are singing your praises?

When you figure out what you really stand to lose, start brainstorming replacements. Can you hire PR to promote your book or join a group where authors help each other market? Can you fill down time waiting on publication by working on a new novel or building a platform? There is no easy answer here. Loss is painful, but coming to grips with it sooner than later frees you to move through the cycle and gets you thinking about moving forward.

“Now you are beginning to think for yourself instead of letting others think for you. That’s the beginning of wisdom.” 1

Success still resides at the crossroads of opportunity and preparedness. Recognize you have choices. You can go down the traditional publishing route today and find success, and you can go down an e-publishing route and find success. Or both. The choices mean you have some control over your fate. Treat your career decisions with as much careful planning as your circumstances will allow. Once you know where you want to go in the changing landscape, set milestones to mark your progress to keep alert to progress and risks along the way.

“In the end what will happen will be what has happened whenever a civilization breaks up. The people who have brains and courage come through and the ones who haven’t are winnowed out.” 1 

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

What about you? How are you coping with the changing publishing landscape?

Social Media – When Less is More

When I first joined Facebook I thought, “This is ridiculous. Who would ever do this?”

But I was told if I ever wanted to be considered by a book publisher, I better have an author platform. One of the foundational ways to build a platform is by using social media venues such as Facebook and Twitter.

So I grudgingly used my Facebook account. I logged in once a week to see what others were up to.  But then a weird thing happened. I discovered I loved social media. I made real friendships online and looked forward to hearing from my “peeps.” I enjoyed getting ideas and opinions from people all over the world. I loved knowing what people were thinking and talking about. I looked forward to laughing, crying, and praying with my online friends.

As soon as I mastered Facebook, I noticed authors talking about something called Twitter. Twitter seemed overwhelming so I read a few books about it:

*Twitter Revolution by Warren Whitlock and Deborah Micek. I wrote about it here

*Twitter Means Business by Julio Ojeda-Zapata You can order it here.

I learned that Twitter is very different from Facebook. Twitter is a powerful tool for specific purposes such as checking how snowy the roads near Vail are, what Judge Belvin Perry is ordering Casey Anthony’s jurors for lunch, discovering what the police are doing near I-70, talking out loud to politicians and celebrities, and telling companies about their bad (or good) service.

As I settled into my social media routine, I saw my heroes adding tens of thousands of friends, so I did likewise. I added and “friend-ed” everyone who crossed my path.

It makes sense. We all want to be part of the group like this little guy:

My friends and followers list grew, but I dreaded getting on my computer. I didn’t know whom I was talking to, and I felt like I was being spammed when I wanted to relate. So one day I deleted all 800 of my Twitter friends and started over.

I carefully and deliberately chose which friends I would follow (now less than 100) and paid little attention to who was following me. Every few months I clean out my Facebook account. I unfriend lurkers, spammers, and people who spew their message but never interact. One thing I’m proud of is that people I interact with on social media are not strangers, they are my friends. I have found several benefits to cutting back:

  • I am more eager to login to my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  • I have built relationships with my online friends, so when my book gets published I won’t be a nameless face spamming everybody.
  • My friends and followers are more likely to pass my books, videos, and blog links to others.
  • I’m interacting with people who share my interests.
  • I’m filling a social need by relating instead of spamming. Research shows that people form communities on Facebook and Twitter in order to get social needs met.

More and more people, whose expertise I admire, are limiting the ways they interact on social media. As authors we are continually trying new marketing ideas, so we experiment, take risks, and try new things. I don’t know if the way I do social media is right for you…

Do you think more followers and friends are better? Why or Why Not?

The Write Death

Writing

They raced through my brain going Mach 5. Brilliant ideas and heart-grabbing experiences I felt called to share. They screamed to be captured for the multitude, so write I must!

Lassoing the brilliance and transferring it to paper would be a piece of cake. C’mon, I’m from Texas. Throwing a lasso comes naturally.

Full of self confidence with excitement electrifying every nerve, I arranged my desk just so. Lamps dimmed. Candles glowed. Laptop waited. Coffee brewed. I knew something epic was about to happen.

My fingers hovered over the keys. I took a deep breath and slowly typed, “Chapter One.” I stared at the screen at those wondrous words. Enraptured. Savoring each letter.

This was a glorious moment. I had embraced my calling as a writer! And now…time to write. Let the brilliance shine!

Blink. Blink. Blink went the cursor.

Blink. Blink. Blink went my eyes.

Repeat 30 times.

And then it happened. My brain’s hard drive melted like wax. (It must have been all the self-induced brilliance.) The ideas tangled like rubber bands. The mental beavers built a dam at lightening pace – smack dab in the middle of my brain.

My lasso kept missing. The brilliance was just an illusion. My coffee grew cold. In tears, I blew out the candles and turned off the laptop. Those two words were all I typed that night.

And so began the journey of writing my first book. Thrilling, right?

That evening something died, and rightfully so. Ego. Writing a book isn’t about me. It never will be. It’s about an unlasso-able God who desires to communite to me, through me, and oftentimes in spite of me.

In my eagerness to stand as a published writer, I forgot to kneel before the One who called me to it.

That night drastically altered my writing perspective. I don’t care if my desk is tidy. It doesn’t matter if the candles glow softly. It doesn’t matter if the coffee gets brewed. If I don’t start in prayer, I don’t start at all.

Today, Chapter 1 has successfully passed through the hands of my editor. But God accomplished something far greater that night. He caught my fall, reminded me of His love, and encouraged me to start again.

Something epic did happen. Instead of allowing me to capture the perfect phrase, He
re-captured my heart.

Thank you, God, for your brilliant grace.

Let’s chat: What did you experience as you launched into writing your first book? At what point did you have a meltdown (or did you)? What kept you writing after that?