Sunday, May 31, 2009

The secret to marketing your career-at any stage

I read this wonderful piece on promotion by a 14 book veteran. She has simple marketing techniques down pat and as I'm reading her outline I realise that promotion is more than getting your signature line out. It goes beyond SEO (Search engine optimization), bookmarks and contests. It is about having a solid understanding of who and what you are as an author and grows organically from there.

From my experience these are the simple life cycles of a writing career:

Stage one: For me- and most writers- we write our first book to "see" if we can even do it. We are in love with the idea of writing an entire book. We work on our story idea or fan fic and we work on our craft. There is no real thought past can I do it? Will I let someone read it?

Stage two: For me it was book two-but for some this may still be book one. Give the book to someone to read. Take critiques. Polish book. Look for and send out queries to editors and agents.

Stage three: Sell a book. Woot! (I had written 17 manuscripts by this stage.* Some people sell their first manuscript.) Marketing begins. All thought is on how to sell this book so that you can begin to develop an audience and create a readership. Usually we rush to have bookmarks, postcards, pens, website, contests, etc. without real thought past having good sell through on this one book and perhaps it's option.

Stage four: The blush of the first book or two has worn off. You look around and start to really think about the publishing market-beyond trends, beyond a single publisher. The goal is to build a career. As the author of the piece I read stated-now marketing begins with the selection of story. You have to know your personal brand beyond your first book. Then select the next story that fits in this brand and let all others fall by the wayside. You choose your work based on long term viability and the umbrella of the brand you have developed. Everything you do from your website with "value added" content, to your blog must reflect this brand. (Hint: not a good idea at this time to be "neurotic, negative, and cynical" in your on-line blogs, e-mails and loops.)
At this point you may discover that a lot of the things you did to promote your first book no longer fit into the overall viewpoint of your career. These things must go to the wayside. You now promote based on career view and market not simply individual book.

Some people understand these stages quickly and naturally. To me they are strategic thinkers. They are usually the ones who sell their first manuscripts. Why? They have consciously or unconsciously studied the market, have a solid understanding of the differences between genres and classifications of genres and they write a book-not based on a cool idea- but based on a cool idea that works in the overall market. These same people are also the ones savvy enough to start schmoozing on-line reviewers and bloggers. They are already getting to know people who are "in-the-know" and developing friendships so that when their book sells, they can garner quotes from best selling authors and good reviews from important sites who are sympathetic to a long time fan.

*Truth is I am not strategic at all. I flit from one fun idea to another. (Oh, look, shiny. *wink*) It never occurred to me to build a relationship with Dear Author or Smart Bitches (influential on-line reviewers.) So, I find myself in stage four wondering what my personal brand really is and how to convey it. Studying the market has taken years of practice and still...not my strong point. If this is you, it might be a good idea to attach yourself to someone who is a strategic thinker such as a publicist or PR guru and work out your personal brand. (My advice here is to stay within your budget. These people can be very pricey.) Or join a group like Novelist, Inc. and listen and learn from other multi-published authors.

Because the truth is you can be successful at any stage whether you are a strategic promoter or not. The secret to marketing goes far beyond book marks and newsletters. It is understanding who you are and what you are trying to say. (Which is about as easy as boiling your book down to a 15 word pitch.) Good luck!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

WAG, part 14

“WAG #14: Do-Overs” Thanks to Carol for the topic idea! (This one is more of a mental/emotional exercise than observational, but you get bonus points if you can somehow tie this to a person you can see and describe OR a physical object.) Think of a time where you’d like to change what happened - whether it’s to get that witty retort in or to say something you never got the chance to say. Write how it should have been and compare it to the reality.

Well, poop- I hate compare and contrast- (sorry, Carol, nothing personal)-so, here's what I wrote:

I'm the kind of person who just goes blank when someone says or does something awful. I mean, I just stand there with my mouth open and people march on... full of their horrid little selves, making that funny snappy z with their fingers. Meanwhile my friends come around and say, "I can't believe she said/did that." I know- sigh. "I can't believe you just took that." Okay, all right. So I have a big L for loser on my forehead. Me, banging forehead on wooden desk.

And that is why I write. I write because alone in my office, I can fling comebacks at a moment's notice. I am the superwoman of jabs and sarcastic bits... I am Meg Ryan in "You've Got Mail" dancing around boxing the air, shouting, "go to the mattresses..." (I am also young, athletic and brilliant...okay. It's my office. I can be that.)

Do overs...not so good for me in person. Even if I think of a good come back, I regret every word... so, I've learned instead to simply say "ouch!" when someone is rude or snide. That one word is surprisingly good at taking the wind out of their sails. And I go back to my office and dance around, boxing the air, muttering about mattresses. (I have no idea why, I've never seen "The Godfather.")

Cheers! For all the really wonderful writers and their interpretations of this assignment-visit Nixy Valentine's blog. Please come join WAG. it's a lot of fun to see what they come up with next.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Inspirational Quotes

This week I found myself revisiting "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. Part of the title reads- "A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self."
If you've never read it-it's a good study on writers block and life in general. I dug it out for a friend and when I thumbed through I discovered some of the things I'd highlighted when reading the book still held true for me today. So, I'm going to post a few here. On the off chance they touch a cord with you as well.

"Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving reception to all the creativity around us."
"Remember art is a process and that process is supposed to be fun..."
"(Sometimes our writing circles)...can produce the "How am I doing?" syndrome. This question is not "Is the work going well?" This question is "How does it look to them?" The point of the work is the work... instead of writing being about writing, it becomes about being recognized..."
"As artists we can't afford to think about who is getting ahead of us and how they don't deserve it. The desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be."
"As artists, we are asked to repeat ourselves and expand on the market we have built. Sometimes this is possible for us. Other times its not."
"I need to create what wants to be created...I write whether I think it's any good or not."

Finally-please know this quote is the honest truth:
"Good work will sometimes not sell...The market may be rotten even when the work is great. (You) cannot control these factors."

Create anyway- Cheers!


Thanks to Marty for this award. It's my second blog award and something nice to decorate my blog. Here's the blurb:

The Proximade Award is given for the following reasons..."These blogs invests and believes in the proximity - nearness in space, time and relationships, they are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends, they are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this clever-written text into the body of their award.”

I'm going to cheat a bit and not list eight bloggers to pass it on. But instead to encourage all my readers to copy and past the award to their blogs as I follow you back and think you all deserve an award to decorate your blog. Just leave me a note letting me know if you added it to your blog. Cheers!

WAG, part 13

“WAG #13:Dress for Success” Thanks to Peter Spalton for the topic idea! For this week, find yourself a stranger (Yes, we’re all turning into a bunch of WAG stalkers!) Notice what the person is wearing, and then imagine the process they went through getting dressed. Peter suggests: Add lots of detail so we understand what sort of person they are and where they’re going after they’re ready.

Okay- back to the mall for me...

She searched the tiny over-stuffed closet of her trailer and pulled out three pair of black pants. One had pockets on the thighs. One pulled on with an elastic waistband and the third was a bad imitation of a pair of jeans. It was Saturday and she would be busy so she choose the pull on pair. With so many kids coming into work on Saturday, this was a pair that was ugly, but indestructible. She had four white shirts but she hadn't gone to the laundrymat yet and so only one was clean. Without much thought, she tugged the shirt on over her head and tied the tiny straps in the back. It was a pinafore design with detailed stitching around the yoke, high puffed sleeves and the ties gave it the appearance of a smock. She brushed the worn cotton fabric down over the elastic waistband of her jersey knit pants. It was good enough--clean and met her work dress code. She bent down and retrieved black sneakers. Her one spurge, but when you were on your feet for eight hours straight it was important to have good support. Digging a pair of thin socks from the plastic drawer set that served as her dresser, she sat down on the built in bed and put on her socks and shoes. A quick brush through her thick unruly brown hair with a blue streak, then a dab of red lipstick and she was ready for her day. Grabbing her faux leather purse and the keys of her old Pontiac, she headed out the door, hoping and praying she wouldn't be late. The beauty shop owner would dock her pay if she was and that was something she couldn't afford...not if she wanted to eat next week.

To read and follow all the other great WAG blogs click on Nixy Valentine's blog. She has the links to all the participants and instructions on how to join wag. Come join us. It's great fun! Cheers-

Sunday, May 17, 2009

On conflict and torturing your characters

If you've been writing any amount of time, you know that conflict is what makes a reader turn the page. Conflict drives the plot. I've heard a million times, that when you don't know what else to do-say you hit a boring part of your story or you find your middle sagging and dull and lifeless-then torture your characters. Conflict pulls them together. (It's us against the world, baby.) Conflict tears them apart. (I can't believe you betrayed me like that.)

You have internal conflict. (I swear I won't eat another one of those luscious dark chocolate brownies...with nuts... and icing...sitting right there...) And you have external conflict. (The landlord is going to evict you if you don't pay the rent on time.)

Each scene in your book should have some form of conflict, but the conflict must move the story forward. Having your character hiding chocolates in their closet can be conflict if it moves the plot. For instance-mother can't find out about my addiction to chocolate. She already thinks me weak and will disown me. Without her money I won't have anywhere safe to stay while I search for the emperor's lost tomb. The tomb must be discovered in the next 48 hours or the world will end...

So, yes, torture your characters, deny their desires but remember: do it with purpose. Torture for torture's sake is useless and will turn the reader off.

For example: arguing with a neighbor can be conflict but if you do it simply to show that the characters neighbors are nuts-cut it. It does not move the story along. If, however, the neighbors stand in the way of your characters ultimate goal, then keep the scene it moves the story along.

Finding the right quality and quantity of conflict in a story is like walking a high wire. Too much and the reader will put it down as misleading and ridiculous. Too little and the reader will be bored. Putting together the right amount of conflict takes practice but with time and a judicious eye, you can learn to create a combination of conflicts that grabs the reader and keeps them asking for more.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

WAG, part 12

“WAG #12: Memory Lane” Thanks to Lulu for the topic idea! For this week, describe something by memory. It can be a place, a person, whatever you like. Include as much detail as you can as well as your impressions. If possible, then go and see this thing, and also describe how your memory of it was different from the current reality. What had you left out? It also might be interesting to include how your memory of it is different from someone else’s! No limits on this one! No rules to break!

The cookie jar is smooth to the touch and glistens with clear glaze. It is tan and brown and about eighteen inches long. The jar is the shape of a cow. The head has horns and a cheery smile. The spine is bony, a Jersey cow, I think, with a long tail stuck forever in a half swish. The cow is resting on the ground, its legs stuck safely under it. The lid to the jar is a striped tabby cat with long whiskers also tan and brown, but the cat grins like the cat in "Alice in Wonderland." Its tongue wiping the remains for milk off its face. A whimsy of a jar made in the 1960s. When people still laughed at the idea of squirting cow's milk from the utter and letting the cat lick it up. The jar is valuable now, most of the cats having been knocked off the cow's back. I like it because my Great-Aunt gave it to me. She lives on a 150 year old farm and claims she had stored it in the barn.

I go downstairs and search the cookie jar collection displayed on my cabinet tops. There is the jar, just as I remember it. My fingers slide over the smooth glaze and bony back. I return the cat's smile. Happy to have such a rare piece of silly whimsy. I look around at all 25 cookie jars from owls, to rag dolls, to castles, to stoves and wonder which one I hid the keys in...

To read other wonderful WAG exercises go to Nixy Valentine's blog and click on the links. (There are also instructions so that you can join us in the fun.) cheers!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fear and Bravery

Fear (fir) n. 1. A feeling of alarm or disquiet caused by the expectation of danger, pain, disaster or the like; terror, dread, apprehension -- The American Heritage Dictionary

"Our problem is not to be rid of fear but rather to harness and master it." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Writers know fear. We work in constant fear or dread. Our over active imaginations create expectations of danger, pain, disaster or the like. I think it's where writer's block comes from. It's why you can't finish a story. Or why when you do finish a story you can't seem to let anyone read it. Or if they do read it and -heaven help you- tell you that it's not perfect...we scream, we rail, we curl up in a ball...
We fear humiliation. We fear censorship. We fear ridicule.
What if thoughts rush through our mind- I like this idea...what if they don't? What if the rejections are correct? What if I suck? What if the story sucks? What if I took this really cool thing and made a hash of it? What if I did all this work and it's not really a story. What if it goes no where? What if the middle sags? What if the end isn't right? What if I can't finish? What if no one likes it? What if everyone thinks I'm a bad writer?
Even published, I find that when someone reads one of my stories I blush and expect the worse...that I bored them or they found an error or worse... my writing doesn't live up to their expectations.
*smiles* Ah, social phobia... it's kind of why we are writers and not speech givers, isn't it?
To be a writer, one has to lay bare their soul to the world. I read recently where someone described selling a book like "walking naked through McDonalds with all your lumps and bumps exposed to the world."
The world is so quick to judge-to pick, to trounce, to trample the delicate bravery of a story. Why? Is it fear that someone might be better than them? That someone else might take their place in the market? That they might be entertained?Do they fear that they didn't get their money's worth? That your long hours of perfecting a story is somehow a joke to cheat them out of their time? Their precious entertainment dollar?
It takes bravery to put a story down on paper. It takes skill and practice and hard work. More bravery to let others read it and point out flaws. And then to fix those flaws. It takes the heart of a lion to send it out. To cultivate rejections and still refine and work. And then- oh, happy day, you found an agent, an've sold the book. Only once it's published, you can't control who reads it...what they think about it...what they say. And you find yourself naked on stage...and pushed to tap dance and glad hand-promoting your work to all and sundry.
Don't be afraid. Remember even Mozart and Shakespeare were pelted by their share of tomatoes. Keep dreaming, keep working and when fear settles into your heart and keeps you from writing, from finishing, from sending it out, from promoting-- remember to find the joy, the exuberance that caused you to write in the first place. Hold it dear, like a sword and shield in the darkness. Journey on- for you are the bravest of souls.

WAG, part 11

“WAG #110: Scaredy-Cat” Another people-watching exercise! Choose a stranger and observe him/her for a little while. Now give them a phobia. A full-on, jump on the chair, scream like a little girl, unreasonable fear. (Or however you imagine them to respond.) Try to choose something that fits the person you’re watching, and let us know what it is about them that clued you in to their secret fear. The object is not just to describe the fear, but to make us understand why it fits with this particular person.
Special thanks to Christine Kirchoff for this week’s topic idea!

This is a true story:

He was a handsome man in his late thirties, thick dark hair, pretty brown eyes. He wore an expensive navy suit with a pale blue dress shirt and an understated blue patterned tie. An aura of power surrounded him. It should. He was the president of the local chamber of commerce. He'd spent years politicking, hand shaking, schmoozing business owners, lawyers, and local politicians. Bringing together the most powerful people in the community, he earned his position through two degrees and many hours at picnics, golf tournaments and coffees.
I sat at my desk and welcomed him one morning. He barely acknowledged me. His eyes held a sort of panic.
"If anyone asks for me, I'm not here." He made a bee-line for his office, went inside, closed and locked the door. Then he drew the blinds on the window between the main office and his.
Within minutes a chubby man with thinning hair wearing a rumpled dress shirt and slacks entered. His small blue eyes bounced around the room looking for someone. He ignored me and headed toward the president's secretary. They chatted for fifteen minutes. The flubby man's gaze kept traveling to the door as if he were waiting for someone. When the secretary mentioned she had to get back to work, he moved on to me. Introducing himself he held out his hand. I shook it. It was clammy and soft. He handed me his card. "Mr. Jingles, clown." Their was a picture of a clown face on it. I glanced up and could see that the flabby jowls did indeed match those of the clown.
He asked if I'd seen the chamber president today. I gave the standard line. "He's not in right now."
The clown/man studied me as if looking for the lie. Then smiled and made a punny joke and left the office.
When he was well and truly gone, I asked the secretary what that was all about.
"He's afraid of clowns," she said.
"The President?"
"Yep. He does this every time. "
"But the guy didn't have any makeup on..."
"It doesn't matter. Just the fact that the man is a professional clown gives him the heebee jeebees." She glanced at the locked door. "It'll be another hour before he comes out. It freaks him out that much." She looked into my eyes. "We'll keep this between ourselves, okay?"
"Okay." I studied the clown's business card for a moment then looked at the closed door. It never fails to amaze me what people fear. That a big handsome guy who is complete control of his community couldn't handle the thought that a man who played a clown might come into his office. There has to be a story behind that... don't you think?

To read all the other fine entries of the writer's adventure group and for information on how you can join in the fun visit Nixy Valentine's blog.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Book review and advice to live by

I don't usually do book reviews. Why? Well, being in the business as long as I have been, I know too much. I know too many people. I've seen the tiny man behind the great and powerful OZ.

That said, I want to talk about a bio I read. It's "A Little Bit Wicked," by actor Kristin Chenoweth and Joni Rogers. I like to read bios because I like to hear other people's stories. How the people who seem so far away and famous are in fact just like us-struggling to reach their dreams. Kristin's stories are light hearted and fun. She talks about how people complain that she is just "too nice." (Something I get all the time...sigh.) The funny part is the critics only complaint about this book is that she was...yes... "too nice" and didn't get into the dirty gritty details. Please. Some people like to keep some things private. I get that. Anyway, for me this was a fun read. I'm from southern Kansas which is practically Oklahoma. I have friends in Oklahoma. I have friends who are music theater majors with opera masters degrees. For me it was like listening to a girlfriend tell stories of her life.

Why review it here, you ask? Because I want to quote her. Here is the quote I want all writers and would-be writers to hear:

"Cool Aunt Kristin's Advice for Young Actors (writers)

* It's been said a thousand times, and it's true: if there's anything else you could be happy doing, you should do that.
* Run with the big dogs or stay on the porch with the puppies but let your ambition be about WHO you want to be, not what you want to get.
* Awards are on the outside. Rewards are on the inside. That means rewards don't have to be dusted. :)
* Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
* Never, NEVER, forget the FUN factor."

Great advice for writers. Cheers!

WAG, part 10

“WAG #10: The Professional” As we go through our days, we’re surrounded by people doing everyday jobs: the guy that reads the gas meter, cashiers, bank tellers, security guards, doctors, circus clowns… This week, your assignment is to observe someone doing a job (their profession should be one you don’t know that much about). Describe him/her and also what they’re doing, why they’re doing it (as best you can tell), and how. Feel free to use your imagination, but don’t forget the concrete observation! Special thanks to Lulu for this week’s topic idea!

The MRI tech takes me back into the bright white room. She is tall, average build and wearing a light green scrub shirt over a white long sleeve tee. Scrubs pants and efficient white athletic shoes help her walk silently on the linoleum floor. Her hair is a dirty blonde and pulled back into a pony tail at the nape of her neck. She looks to be in her mid thirties and concern fills her hazel eyes.

"The machine is loud so put on the ear plugs." She moves efficiently to the machine. I put the orange plugs in wondering how I'm suppose to hear her with plugs in my ears.
"Okay, hop up here and lie down with your head on the pillow." She smiles encouragingly. I can hear her fine and now I wonder if the plugs are in right or will do any good. I smile and
do as she asks, trying my best to be calm and alleviate her concerns as she tries to soothe mine.
"Scootch down a little. That's good." She goes to work on checking my placement and straps a large plate over my hips, tying me down.
"All strapped in now."I joke, knowing even if I panic I'm basically tied down and can't move. She smiles but her eyes have the "oh, boy" look of wondering if I'll panic.
Meanwhile a second tech, this one also pretty but rounder and more blonde, smiles. She is wearing a colorful scrub shirt with balloons on it. "I'm going to place the IV in your left arm, now."
She goes to work. The first tech distracts me with questions. "Are you cold?"
"I'm sorry?"
"Do you get cold? Are you usually cold? Can I get you a blanket?"
I feel the prick of the IV. "Yes, I'm usually cold."
She wraps me up cocoon style in a white blanket. "Now, this will take about forty five minutes. The last ten will be with the contrast dye. You aren't allergic to latex or iodine, are you?"
I blink trying to process while the second lab tech does things I don't understand. "No, I don't think so." I do my best to answer and ignore the big white coffin they are going to slide me into.
"Okay, good. It's very important that you don't move once the scans start. I won't talk to you. So, simply close your eyes and try to take a nap. I'll let you know when we inject the dye. It should feel cold but there should be no burning or itching."
"The laser lights are bright," the second tech lies. "So we're going to put a light cloth over your eyes."
She places a terry cloth over my closed eyes. I suspect this is to encourage people from thinking too much once the scans start.
"Okay, we're ready." The tech sounds far off now. Probably behind the glass in the monitoring room. "Here we go."
My heart starts to pound as the machine slides me in. It is loud, like being inside a washing machine. And surprisingly bright even through the terry cloth and my eyelids. I try to do yoga hold and two... three. Try not to think about forty five minutes being so long. Try instead to use my over wrought imagination to put myself on the beach. Where the bright light shining through my eyelids is the sun. Breathe. Think about the colors of blue in the water...the sky... imagine for a moment what the tech is thinking. Is she still worried that I'll bolt? Does anyone bolt halfway through the scan? The machine jerks and repositions, startling me and I feel a tug on the IV and grab hold of...what? The sled I'm on? Things settle back. She does not speak as she promised. I concentrate on breathing and being somewhere else.

A microphone clicks..."Okay," the tech's voice floats in. "I'm going to release the dye now. It should just feel cold. No burning or itching." I feel the cold run through the tubing along my arm then enter my vein. The machine starts back up and I feel vague burning, vague itching... should I panic? Breathe in and out. Try to go back to the beach. It can't be long now. One of the machine sounds twirps like a bird. Think about birds...

"Okay, all done." The sled pulls out into the air and the second tech removes the terry cloth with a smile. No more concern in her eyes.
"I'll take the IV out now." Pinch and tug.
The first tech has unwrapped the blanket and unstrapped the hip harness. "You did very good." Pride shines in her hazel eyes and relief. I smile. Somehow as I leave the room to get dressed I feel as if I made her day. One more successful scan without hysterics or panic. She goes off to talk to a male tech in the monitor room. I get dressed and go out into the world, glad I don't have to spend my days calming nervous people and wondering if the next person won't cooperate and help me do my job.

Thanks to Nixy Valentine and all the other great Wag members. Please click on the link to Nixy's blog to read the other fun posts. It never ceases to amaze me how much diversity and creativity comes from these assignment. Instructions to join WAG are also posted on Nixy's blog. Cheers!