Posts Tagged fear

Asking “What If?” & Exploring the Unknown–A Final Word on Writing Horror

Kristen Lamb, WANA, We Are Not Alone, WANA Commons

Debbie Johannson WANA Commons

Fear is the most important tool in any writer’s toolbox. Fear is the beating heart of conflict, no matter the genre. Fear of death. Fear of losing love, not finding love, not recognizing love. Fear of change. Fear of remaining the same. In Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novella The Road, the story was less about a fear of death and more about the fear of survival at the expense of one’s humanity. In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan explores the fear of continuing generational curses.

In Winter’s Bone, Woodrell examines fear of family, what it takes to possibly betray family and risk death by turning on kin. In Virginia Woolf’s classic Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf probes the fear of being meaningless. Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World explores the fear of government, the tendency of the masses to devolve to mediocrity, and the dangers of society that only exists to seek empty pleasures and instant gratification.

Suffice this to say that I believe all great works (even outside of Horror) tap into our deepest primal fears, probe them, open them, expose them and maybe even (if we are fortunate) give us a glimpse of a cure.

Kevin continues today with a final word about horror.

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We’ve discussed many things in the past few days about why the horror genre is important, why writing it is important and hard, but I’d like to offer this final thought: if we expand our definitions of horror past chainsaw wielding maniacs and human centipedes, we find that horror, at the root of it all, is often about a quest into the unknown.

As I’ll detail in one of my workshops at WanaCon, almost all the horror plots involve some level of discovery, penetrating the unknown. So horror exists not only because of mankind’s universal fears and a desire and NEED to deal with those fears, horror exists because there exist those special folks – horror writers – who are consumed with the desire to KNOW things, to ask questions that others would never think of asking, or, as the case may be, never dare ask.

I’d like to leave you with this final thought from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, about why some of us blessed (cursed?) folks are drawn to writing horror:

“As you get ready to leave, think about this…or brood upon it:

Unknown.

Unknown.

The Story of “Little Miss Nobody”

On July 6th, 1944, the Ringling Brother and Barnum & Bailey Circus was giving a performance in Hartford, Connecticut, before 7,000 paid customers. A fire broke out; 168 persons died in the blaze and 487 were injured. One of the dead, a small girl thought to be six years old, was unidentified. Since no one came to claim her, and since her face was unmarred, a photograph was taken of her and distributed locally and then throughout the U. S. Days passed, weeks and months passed, but no relative, no playmate, no one in the nation came forward to identify her. She remains unknown to this day.

The job of the fantasy writer, or the horror writer, is to bust the walls of the tunnel vision we develop as  adults, bust it wide for a little while, to provide a single powerful spectacle for the third eye (our imagination). The job of the fantasy-horror writer is to make you, (the reader), for a little while, a child again.

And the horror writer himself/herself?

Someone else looks at that item about Little Miss Nobody – still unidentified – and says, “Jeez, you never can tell, can you?” and goes onto something else. But the fantasist begins to play with it as a child would, speculating about children from other dimensions, about doppelgangers, about God knows what else.

It’s a child’s toy, something bright and shiny and strange. Let us pull a lever and see what it does, let us push it across the floor and see if it goes rum-rum-rum or wacka-wacka-wacka. Let us turn it over and see if it will magically right itself again.

In short, let us have our Fortian rains of frogs and people who have mysteriously burned to death while sitting at home in their easy chairs; let us have our vampires and our werewolves. Let us have Little Miss Nobody, who perhaps slipped sideways through a crack in reality, only to be trampled to death in  a rush from a burning circus tent.

“It’s the best set of electric trains a boy ever had,” Orson Welles once said of making movies; the same can be said of making books and stories. Here is a chance to bust that tunnel vision wide open; bricks flying everywhere so that, for a moment at least, a dreamscape of wonders and horrors stands forth as clearly and with all the magical reality of the first Ferris wheel you ever saw as a kid, turning and turning against the sky.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Greg Koenig

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Greg Koenig

“Someone’s dead son is on the late movie. Somewhere a foul man – bogeyman! – is slouching through the snowy night with shining yellow eyes. Boys are thundering through autumn leaves on their way past the library at four in the morning, and somewhere else, in some other world, even as I write this, Frodo and  Sam are making their way toward Mordor, where the shadows lie. I am quite sure of it.” ~Stephen King, Danse Macabe

This is the best way to end my series, I think. I’ve tried to say some very noble things about the importance of the horror genre, and how it’s just as valid as any other genre, and why writing good horror is just as difficult as writing the next Great American Novel.

But all those comments come from my critical, analytical side (where I live every day as an English teacher), and all my own noble and worthy writing goals have become very rooted in my subconscious. What really pushed me toward the horror genre to begin with was the eternal, burning question: Why? and its inevitable follow up: What if…?

And for me?

The horror genre, the genre of the fantastic and strangely beautiful wonders and horrors, simply offered me the most room to play in. I could write a story about a father mourning the loss of his son, and, gripped by guilt, how he goes and sits next to a pond to watch the ducks, and maybe somebody rides by on a bicycle, and then through some heavy exposition – or through the symbolism of a burning sunset – our grieving father works through some resolution, gaining closure as he finally forgives himself.

But that’s just not me.

Cause I really like the idea of his dead son being on the late night movie, reaching through a very special and strange television screen….

Somewhere deep in my own little Twilight Zone.

******

THANK YOU, KEVIN! *does cabbage patch dance* Cabbage Patch Dolls. Talk about creepy (and yes I had them anyway).

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself holding back in your own writing? Afraid to go to the dark places? What other works (horror or not) do you think did a really fabulous job of exploring our fears? Why did they rattle you? What made you uncomfortable? Did you find relief at the end?

I LOVE hearing from you, and I know Kevin will, too. Ask him your questions. Tell him your fears. Comments for guests get double weight in the contest. Btw, I will announce September’s winner next week. Too slammed with WANACon right now to do it properly. Ah, the contest…

Which is…

To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror ChannelHis podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is forthcoming November 2013 from Crystal Lake Publishing.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

WANACon is THIS WEEKEND!!! Day One and Day Two are for sale separately so you can choose if you only can fit part of the conference. Just a note: A LOT of major authors sacrificed time for no or little pay to pay it forward and offer an affordable and easily accessible conference for those who need one and WANA is extremely grateful to have them.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

AGAIN, THIS WEEKEND!!!! Get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE for $149 and all recordings for anything you miss or need to hear again. Sign up today, because seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

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Why Writing Horror Is–SHOULD BE–Hard Part 2

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime

First, a quick announcement. For those who’ve been waiting, my new social media book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is now available in PRINT. Yay! *happy dance* Almost 300 pages and 1.1 pounds of AWESOME. All you need to build a solid author platform and have time to do the most important part of the job—WRITE MORE BOOKS.

All right. Since it’s coming up on October, it seemed fitting to delve into the genre of Horror, and not simply for those who write spooky tales, but for the rest of us as well.

Elisabeth Kubler Ros once stated:

There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.

This means, the more we understand fear, the deeper our writing becomes, the more meaningful, visceral, and profound. In love stories, fear might be of being alone, of never finding “the one” or even losing “the one.” Conflict is always generated by fear. The protagonist wants something BUT THEN… The more intense the fear, the faster the reader turns the pages.

Thus, who better to teach about fear, its necessity, primal roots and tools for generating fear than the horror author? Kevin Lucia (who will be teaching MORE about this at WANACon this weekend) continues….

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Here’s the thing: if you’re an ardent horror fan and budding horror writer, you’re part of a tradition. And as good fans, you’re aware of this tradition. You’ve been fed on it, raised in it, and the most natural thing for you to do initially is pay homage to that tradition in your work.

I’m not going to try and define horror here (because that could take forever, and I’d still never get close to a definition), but anyone who wants an insightful examination of the horror genre should check out Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror, or, Paradoxes of the Heart.

It’s a work that really maps out some excellent ideas about what the horror genre is and why people pursue it and this bit here made me feel a lot better about my early “trope” stories:

The creators and consumers of horror fictions are aware that they are operating within a shared tradition (emphasis mine), and this is acknowledged openly, with great frequency and gusto…the horror fiction of the present, though not lacking in energy, also refers back to earlier times, to classic monsters and  myths, as if in a gesture of nostalgia.

Noel Carroll, pg. 211

Helllooooo, there, Kiddies...

Helllooooo, there, Kiddies…

So those zombie and vampire and werewolf and big bug monster stories you’ve been writing? (And the creepy evil clown ones, too?) They’re nothing to be ashamed of, really. If you’re a horror fan, you’ve been raised on a certain diet, and our earliest efforts are unconscious or maybe even conscious attempts to pay homage to the horror traditions we’ve come to adore.

ZOMBIES!

ZOMBIES!

But there’s a difference between horror trope stories and horror stories. I’ve come to this belief through my reading as both a fan and as an editor at several different publications (Shroud Magazine, The Midnight Diner, Cemetery Dance Magazine). And, just like all of you, I’m still trying to write authentic, personal horror stories.

And that’s the first step in writing stories invoking the emotion of horror: searching deep inside yourself and writing stories that come from your GUT, not from your knowledge of the horror tradition. Like when Bradbury made a threshold discovery – ten years INTO his career, mind you – in mining his personal childhood experience while writing “The Lake.”

I can best sum this up in the words of Bram Stoker Award Winning writer and author Mort Castle:

“The best stuff, the stuff that lasts, comes from the late-night conversations we have with our very own selves.”

This hit me hard the first time he said it to me (in an email discussing my work) because it made me realize I was writing horror “trope” stories lacking any personal value. These stories weren’t born out of my own fears and anxieties, but born out of my (admittedly) healthy knowledge of horror’s traditions.

Again – I worked hard on those stories. I believe their craft is sound, to this day. But those stories were motivated and inspired by exterior motives – a vampire story, a ghost story, a haunted house story, etc. – not inspired by my heart or soul. So even though they were fine stories that some people liked, they weren’t living up to their fullest potential.

Also, horror trope stories often lack that sense of violation, transgression or inversion that really evokes the emotion of horror. A story evoking the emotion of horror must begin in some sort of “normal world” – or whatever passes for normal in your story – and there must be some sort of transgression in which the normal world of the protagonist is violated.

What they believe is normal and safe must be inverted and turned against them. Again – as a writer you can never account for all readers. How can you possibly know if the transgression or inversion in your story is really going to impact a reader? That’s nearly impossible to tell.

But when a story begins with an immortal vampire mulling over a warm goblet of blood his plans to overtake the city in a tide of bloodshed with his vampire minions…the emotion of horror is not invoked. This is a horror trope story. It can still be written just as well as any other story on a craft level and be just as enjoyable, but it has fallen short of invoking any emotion of “horror.”

Kristen Lamb, social media consultant, author consultant

Actually that vampire was mulling over Starbucks.

Lastly, very simply…horror at its best comments on the human condition. For horror to live up to its fullest potential, it must SAY something meaningful and of substance about the trials and pitfalls and struggles and fears and nightmares about what it MEANS to be human, living in this flawed, cracked, all-too human and imperfect world.

It’s an overused quote by now, but I’ll reference Stephen King’s comparison (or someone’s comparison, even SNOPES isn’t sure WHO said it first) of Harry Potter’s legacy and that of Twilight:

“Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity… Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”

For the record, I’m a lover of ALL types of horror stories. I enjoy the often pulpy, thrill-laced horror trope stories of Robert E. Howard and Brian Keene right along with the atmospheric, literary stories produced by the late Charles L. Grant, T. M. Wright, Ramsey Campbell and Norman Prentiss. I adore the literary, gothic sensibilities of Peter Straub, and Dean Koontz simple morality plays are a guilty pleasure.

Writers like Norman Partridge have produced both kinds of stories, and younger writers such as Rio Youers and Ron Malfi have taken the horror conventions and twisted them to their own ends. And, in the end, we need to write what’s inside us, what we WANT to write.

But it’s an important question for all horror writers – especially new and budding writers – to consider. What are you writing? Horror trope stories, or stories truly invoking the emotion of horror?

And if your aim is the latter…go deeper inside yourself. Find your fears. Take normal characters and invert their lives, transgress their natural order and say something about what it means to be a human in this mean, bad old world of ours and then maybe, maybe you’ll write some of the “best stuff…the stuff that lasts.”

I know I’m still trying.

****

Thanks, Kevin! Wanna know my idea of a horror story that reflects society?

Aaaahhhhhhhhh!

Aaaahhhhhhhhh!

All kidding aside (okay I wasn’t kidding), what are your thoughts? Questions? I DO believe that fear is essential in ALL genres and ALL great stories. As an editor, one of the BIGGEST problems I see is the writer holding back emotionally. They fail to GO FOR THE GUTS.

Why?

Guts are sticky, messy, gross and leave us conflicted. THAT IS GOOD. Fiction is the opposite of reality. In reality we avoid fear, terror, conflict, but as writers—GOOD WRITERS—we should go right for the throat. RAISE THOSE STAKES! Scare the protagonist! Have them fear personal and LITERAL extinction of themselves, everyone they love and all they hold dear. MAKE THE READER WORRY.

It is our DUTY as authors to be sadists and saviors simultaneously.

How you like that for alliteration? :D

I LOVE hearing from you, and I know Kevin will, too. Ask him your questions. Tell him your fears. Comments for guests get double weight in the contest.

Which is…

To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror ChannelHis podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is forthcoming November 2013 from Crystal Lake Publishing.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

WANACon is THIS WEEKEND!!! Day One and Day Two are for sale separately so you can choose if you only can fit part of the conference. Just a note: A LOT of major authors sacrificed time for no or little pay to pay it forward and offer an affordable and easily accessible conference for those who need one and WANA is extremely grateful to have them.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

AGAIN, THIS WEEKEND!!!! Get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE for $149 and all recordings for anything you miss or need to hear again. Sign up today, because seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

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31 Comments

The Secret to Selling Books Part I–Let’s Get Sticky

Two weeks ago, I introduced you guys to the WANA Theory of Book Economics and explained why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. Books are not like cups of coffee or breakfast cereal, and thus they require a different approach. Writers are unique as well. Since we are responsible for producing the product, we need a social media approach that leaves time to write great books. That was the first lesson to connecting to potential readers. We needed to know HOW to connect, WHAT kind of message to send and WHY.

We also needed to understand the critical element that could make a book a mega success. What was this key variable? We had to mobilize the fat part of the bell curve, that group of people who would not normally define themselves as readers. Harry Potter, The DaVinci Code, Tuesdays with Morrie, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and The Help all tapped into groups of people who normally didn’t read for pleasure. But, once some key non-readers read these books, word of mouth sparked like wildfire and made literary history.

Then, last week we discussed the typical non-reader. There is a misconception that non-readers don’t read. They DO read, they just happen to be highly selective. The benefit, however, is that once one of these guys becomes a fan? He is the most loyal, devoted fan any writer can have. Often this guy is the best salesman a writer can have, too. He is the flint that creates the spark that can start the fire.

Ah, but here comes the problem. Too many writers are getting on social media and hanging out with each other and marketing to each other. It is an over-saturated market full of people who can only buy so many books. Also, since all of us LOVE books, we might not be the best people for starting that wildfire of word of mouth that can push the non-reader population past the tipping point.

Many of you are chomping at the bit. Kristen, for the love of all that is holy, where can we find the magic well of readers?!!!

I would love to give a website. Go to www.loyalbookfans.com . Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Or a formula for success. A + B = Wild Success.

But, unfortunately there is no specific formula and no guarantee….BUT that doesn’t mean that we can’t change some behaviors that will improve our odds.

I did say it was simple to connect and mobilize the fat part of the bell curve, and it is. Simple, however, is not necessarily easy. There are actually a number of components we need to understand, but today we are only going to focus on one, because it is the most important. If we cannot do this, then nothing else matters.

We need to get sticky.

In The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell, Gladwell defines The Stickiness Factor in the following way:

The Stickiness Factor says that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a difference in how much of an impact it makes.

The Stickiness Factor not only applies to our social media message, it applies to who we are as writer personalities. It also applies to our books. Nailing what I will call The Sticky Author Triumvirate is key to publishing success. We need to get sticky on all three to have the best odds of reaching the tipping point.

Let’s take a look at The Sticky Author Triumvirate:

Get Sticky with Social Media Messages–One of the reasons that traditional marketing doesn’t work when it comes to books is because the messages are not sticky. In fact, we are so blitzed with marketing messages in modern society that most static marketing messages become white noise and invisible. Thus, why blitzing about our book non-stop on ten different sites is almost a total waster of time is that the message is rarely seen. Auto-tweets are ignored and are what marketing experts call clutter.

Additionally, it is not enough to have a million people “see” a message/pitch. There has to be a compulsion to SEE then ACT. If a zillion people see my commercial for car insurance, but none of them ever change policies, then the campaign is a failure. It’s a big waste of effort, time and money.

What can make people care? Care about them first. Just talking to people can go a long way to making a sale. People buy from who they know and who they LIKE. Stand apart from all the takers and learn to give.

Beyond that?

Sit and write out a hundred activities, shows, channels you enjoy. Yes, most of us love writing, but we love other things too. We need to extend ourselves and simply start talking to people. We have to learn to be unselfish. Stop demanding that others connect with us via OUR interests–books, craft, writing–and take initiative. We need to find the common ground and extend ourselves and connect where the potential READER feels comfortable.

Surely you have friends, family or coworkers on Facebook who are not writers. Who are they talking to? Who are their friends? Start poaching (befriending) normal people and talk to them. If you meet a pet lover on Twitter who works as an engineer and he is nice? Look at who his friends are and extend yourself. Hey, I am a pal of Jim’s. Thought I would say hello. (DO NOT pitch to them, just talk and be cool).

Just once a day make it a point to add non-writers who are active on social media to your network. Pay attention to them and start a dialogue. Be genuine and positive, and that will be STICKY. People crave attention and positive energy.

Next week we will talk more about why this is critical and how to use this tactic to reach the tipping point. Not all conversations have equal weight. But in the meantime? Let’s get sticky!

We Need to Be Sticky Writer Personalities–The Stickiness Factor applies to who we are as writer personalities. Chit-chat on social media is actually very valuable. People who repost, compliment, question, serve and are positive are MEMORABLE. We stick. People like us. When they think “writer” we become the first person they think about.

This is one of the reasons that it is beneficial to get out of the comfort zone and talk in other circles. As long as we are all hanging out with other writers we blend into the din. But, if we start talking to other people who love sports, parenting, knitting, the military, politics, animals, horses, celebrities, then we are now injecting ourselves into groups that are not comprised of people just like us. We stand out so we are a bit more “sticky.”

Pick a favorite channel on cable TV, a favorite show, or a video game, and I guarantee there is a Twitter # for it. Start talking to people who love #Lost or #AI, #Glee, #ESPN, #Oprah, #Ellen, #Halo #GoW. Profile your potential reader. What does she do with her day? Maybe she is a #teacher or she plays #WOW. Get creative and get out of that comfort zone.

Sure you can still hang out with writers, but we are your peers, not substitute for a fan base. To be sticky, we need to stick out.

Go to the websites of your favorite channels and shows and find their Twitter # and then make a column for it. Chat with people. I have columns for #GoW (Gears of War) ,#MW (Modern Warfare), #military because I am also an avid gamer and I am military. LOTS of great people in these groups.

We can use blogging to super increase this Sticky Factor. How? First, stop blogging about the same topics as every other writer. Blogging about writing is great, but not necessarily memorable. There are better things to blog about that can make you stick like Super Glue. Author blogs, written properly, are a FANTASTIC way to increase our Sticky Factor exponentially.

If you want to learn to get sticky with your blog, I highly recommend taking my Blogging for Author Brand Workshop. It’s only $40 and TWO months long (one month lessons and one month launch) and it is from the comfort of your home. There are tools and tactics that I am only sharing in my workshops and that I am saving for my next book, so this is a cool opportunity to get lessons I won’t be teaching on the blog.

Finally, We Need to Write Sticky Books–At the end of the day, THIS is why I teach social media for writers. We need to have time to write great books. Great books are STICKY. Sure, if I have a popular blog and a good social media presence I will probably sell some books. But, the only way my book can break past that initial layer of contact is to write a sticky book. Turn politeness into PASSION.

It is not enough for someone to buy our book. They must also love it so much that they can’t wait to tell someone, recommend our book or even buy a gift copy for a pal. THIS is how word of mouth wildfires get started. We will talk more about this next week and I hope you pick up a copy of The Tipping Point. It’s a fun read and highly relevant to all authors serious about creating a long-term fan base.

What are some things that make authors on social media memorable to you? What makes you want to share a message? What turns you off? What are your thoughts? Opinions?  I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Fave Stuff

My NEW favorite blog, Penelope Trunk’s Blog Blog Under Your Real Name and Ignore the Harassment LOVE THIS POST. Read THIS blog. “Awesome-sauce” as the brilliant Chuck Wendig would say.

Kait Nolan’s Can Cinderella Save Herself?

This is another gem (well they are all gems but this one is particularly shiny) Terrell Mim’s Living in the Dash. I cannot tell you how important it is that every one of you read this blog.

Writing Stuff

Don’t Be a Cheerleader for Crappiness–25 Things You Should Know about Self-Publishing by Chuck Wendig

Why Your Blog’s “About” Page Matters by Joel Frielander

Are You Keeping Yourself on a Short Leash? Great post about getting outside of the comfort zone by Kerry Meacham

What Do I Look Like, a Protag? Great advice about how to describe our protag without being ham-fisted and obvious.

The Changing Landscape of Publishing for Writers by NYTBSA Bob Mayer

Playing to Your Strengths by Jenny Hansen

Behold the Power of a Nap by Jennifer Hale

The Great Back-Story Debate by the amazing writing teacher James Scott Bell

How I Do It: Ease Into Responsibility by Jody Hedlund

Three Keys to Marketing in the Current Fiction Environment by Michael Hyatt

Three Things that Come First before You Tackle Social Media by the brilliant WD contributing editor Jane Friedman over at the awesome writer resource Writer Unboxed

Is Your Writing Group Helping or Hurting Your Career? by Steenah Holmes

You are Not Tolstoy or Dickens by Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner

How to Get Your Blog Post on Google’s 1st Page by Keli Gwyn

The Anti-Procrastination Diet by Roni Loren

How Much Time Do We Really Need to Write? by Natalia Sylvester

Funny Stuff

The Must-Have Urban Redneck Belt by Natalie Hartford

Planking–Not Just for Pirates Anymore by Piper Bayard

Lili Tufel’s Top Ten Signs You’re Married to an Author

My Dirty Little Secret by Tameri Etherton

Fun and Nerdy Fact Blogs

Who Were the Celts? by Kate Wood

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81 Comments

Initial Thoughts on Google +

Actual photo of Kristen Lamb on the inside.

When I first saw Google + pop up on the social media radar, I tried to ignore it. But, as an expert people tend to believe we know what we’re doing. I have tried to convince you guys that I make this up as I go, but alas I some of you sent me messages like this:

So, what do you think of Google +?

Um is… Crap. Is it too early to drink? a viable answer?

I was just kind of hoping they would stop inventing stuff for a week or two so I could get caught up. Can we ever keep up with it all? Social media is not immune to evolution. Some things work, others don’t. People behind the technology are always asking if there is a way to streamline. Can we make this better? More user-friendly? Can we make it easier for people to interact? To connect? To filter out all the white noise? I can’t blame them. It keeps the programmers off the streets, even if it gives us stress hives.

It seems that Google is taking on this challenge with launching Google +. So, as your Social Media Jedi Master, I am taking this bullet for the team. Thanks to one of my blog followers I scored an invitation to be part of the beta testing for the one social network to rule them all…Google +. So I will be pressing buttons and shouting expletives at my computer so you don’t have to.

It is too early to give a good opinion. I don’t quite understand how THIS will be different, wonderful and fantastical. Maybe it will be, but time will tell.

You guys might find this shocking, but I hate anything new. I am really an 58 year old Jewish woman from Long Island, New York at heart, and all this technology makes me seriously verklempt. The fact that I have written two best-selling technology books is proof God has a sense of humor.

I get set in my ways and, like a lot of people, I don’t care for change. And sometimes, especially when it comes to technology, I want to yell ENOUGH, ALREADY!  I feel like I am caught in a digital riptide and drowning in digital daiquiri mix. I have the schmeltz.

The Downside of New and Improved

It is wonderful that the social networking sites want to always be offering something new and shiny, but sometimes? I wish they would leave things alone. For instance, I LOVE Twitter and TweetDeck, yet it seems that every other day there is a new version that I need to install. Really? I just figured out the buttons on last week’s version, and now I need to install a NEWER version? A faster version? A version that allows me to tweet straight from my brain without having to type?

Facebook is no better. Oh we know you just finally figured out version 37, but version 38 WILL BLOW YOUR MIND!

I think that this was a big reason MySpace collapsed. Yes, I mention MySpace in WANA. Feel free to ignore all 5 of those pages.  Yet, MySpace is a lesson in how “new and improved” can go tragically wrong.

MySpace was a force to be reckoned with a few years ago, but MySpace wasn’t happy with prosperity. They had to new and improve and add more and more gizmos, ads, games, apps, gadgets and flashy thingies. Eventually, people had so much crap on their profile that the page loaded slower than Eeyore on Quaaludes. No one could open a profile without risking a computer crash….which defeated why MySpace was so popular. Originally, it was a simple way to connect, hang out and make friends. MySpace “new and improved” so much that you risked a seizure every time you tried to visit a profile.

MySpace also lost sight of what it did well and kept trying to copy Facebook. The irony of this approach was that people who liked MySpace generally didn’t like Facebook. So here MySpace was copying the very place many of us were trying to avoid. In the end, all this copying of Facebook was the source of the hemorrhage of people to Facebook. If MySpace was going to be Facebook, then um, why not just go hang out on Facebook?

A couple of months ago, Facebook decided to force everyone to change the layout of their profile.Oh, they made it seem like it was optional at first (kind of like the Nazi party). Every day when I logged in, Facebook would have a pop up message touting the “new look” and ask if I was ready to change. Every day I said no. I’d finally figured out where everything was.

Then, one day I logged in and … everything was moved. I know they are trying to be nice, but that’s kind of like surprising Helen Keller with an extreme home makeover while she’s away on vacation. The intention is noble, but the result is not pretty when Helen falls into a wine cellar she didn’t have when she left to visit relatives in Florida.

Not all of us work for Facebook. We have other things to do with our time than try to figure out yet another page layout. Leave it alone. Really.

Cell phones….yeah. Don’t get me started.

Are People Wanting to Move Again?

I know that Google + is promising new and wonderful things, but it kind of reminds me of when I was young and used to move every three months. Sure moving to a new place was fun and exciting when everything I owned could be packed in less than two hours…but now? When my crap would fill two moving vans? I am just not that motivated.

I think that maybe some of the younger generations that are new to social media will probably embrace Google + far quicker.  To put it bluntly, they have less crap to move.

Many people have been building Facebook pages for years. I have 4000 followers on Twitter. Do I really want to start anew? One of the reasons I kept hoping MySpace would pull its digital head out of its digital butt was because I had a lot of hours invested in that network. I didn’t want to start all….over….again.

I am hoping Google + has learned from these issues and can make transitioning easy.

Change Can Be Good

Okay so I have whined now for a few hundred words and you see what I mean about really being an 58 year old Jewish woman from Long Island, New York. I don’t like change. Again, this is why I am proof that God digs irony. Yet, in ways I think that this is an attribute that has made me better at teaching social media to writers.

Many social media people LOVE gadgets and gizmos and the newest way of doing anything shiny. They are lovely people, but a lot of them have the attention span of a ferret with a cocaine habit. Many of them just don’t get that we still have to write books, too.

Yes, we need change. Change can be great. I hated cell phones and e-mail when they first came out, and now I am tethered permanently to both. But, change for the sake of change is a waste of time and energy. I think it is wise for us to pan back and take a minute to think. See if we really need to change, why we need to change and when we need to change.

Google + is promising to make social media a better experience. I am thinking it might be a meta-program (I think that’s a word. If not, now it is). A meta-program to act as a hub to for all other social media sites. But, I had to give a DNA sample and 32 background references to create a profile so I haven’t started digging under the hood yet.

So, I am tying off to a safety line. I have my backpack full of Red Bull and Dr. Phil books. I’ll go whack it with a hammer and see if it screams then report back. Just because there is a hot new social networking fad is no reason to tear down the tents and set off for parts unknown. But, we also want to make sure we aren’t clinging to a sinking ship.

*cough* MySpace.

Google + might be the new evolution of social media. But it could be a giant brain cramp that we can avoid. I will keep you posted. So what do you guys think? Any of you using Google +? If you are, can you come find me? I’m the series of 0s and 1s wandering around crying. I have a balloon on my arm and am wearing an orange jumper. Are you guys tired of the “new and improved”? What’s your opinion? Are you excited? Do you need a Tums? Are you also an 58 year old Jewish woman from Long Island on the inside? Are you verklempt? We can compare bunions.

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of June I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Last Week’s Winner of 5 page critique is Thomas Ross. Please send 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.


Mash-Up of Awesomeness

FUNNY Post by Lani Wendt Young Don’t You Dare Breathe on That Baby

The Rules of Social Media Optimization 

Self-Publish–Is It a Dirty Word?

Social Media–Protection from Facial Recognition Software

Failing Doesn’t Make You a Failure by Jen Rothman

60 Tips to Improve Your NF Writing (this is excellent for blogging, too)

Literary Agents: An Endangered Species? by the brilliant and talented Anne R. Allen

Can getting published make you happy? by Michelle Davidson Argyle

Will self-publishing hurt your chances of being traditionally published? by Agent Rachelle Gardner

What’s the difference between plot and story?

Why Understanding Conflict Will Make You a Better Writer by Bubblecow

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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97 Comments

Struggling with Burnout? Word Poop Happens

Whoa. Sorry about that. Thanks for cleaning me up.

We are now over halfway through 2011, and the New Year’s Resolutions are long forgotten, dulled by the screams of children racing through your house on a sugar high. Perhaps this was the year you vowed to take that novel more seriously, and you set out with bold promises of daily word count.

The first week of January, you were off like a shot. The creativity was flowing, and you couldn’t remember a time you felt so alive. You might have even wondered why you put this off so long? Fingers flying across the keyboard, you laughed in the face of all your naysayers.

Now? Seven months in?

Calgon! Take me away!

Maybe you are heading into July, and, what was so exciting and fun in January, now feels more like slogging through a rice paddy wearing ankle weights and snow shoes. I feel your pain. So when you hit that mental wall, what can you do to push past and find that same kind of energy? Here are some tips to help.

1. Recognize that stalling is normal.

When we start off with a new sparkly idea, it is like a first date that goes really well. We spend every spare second dreaming of our next time together, and every moment apart is torture. But, like the dating world, the one month point with our new project marks a transition in our relationship. This is the point we often ask, Can I commit for the long haul? ‘Til “published” do we part? By 6, 7 months? There needs to be a committment.

Be encouraged. Just because we don’t get giddy every time we think of our work in progress in no way means that something is wrong. It just means we have an opportunity to dig in and go deeper. This is no longer a fling, a wild fleeting affair. It’s a commitment. That’s a good thing.

2. Revisit the plan.

There is a saying we used all the time when I was in sales. Fail to plan and plan to fail. Many writers (I’ve been guilty) just take off writing without any prior preparation. It is usually about the 30,000 word mark that this initial failure to plot starts becoming clear. We stare at our screen and realize our story is so complicated the reader is going to need a GPS and a team of sherpas to navigate our plot.

What went wrong?

Maybe we should have spent a tad more time plotting. We have a choice. Keep writing, or stop and make a plan. Often, if we will just go back to the original idea and construct even a basic outline, we can easily see where we got off track. Think of it like taking a wrong turn on a road trip. We can keep driving and hope to stumble across a familiar interstate, but the better idea might be to drag out that AAA map we ignored in the beginning because we wanted to be “spontaneous.”

Frequently, when we hit a mental wall in our writing, it is because our subconscious is shouting, “You took a wrong turn!” If we will listen and retrace our steps, we will be cooking down the Inspiration Interstate in no time.

3. Revisit our goals.

At the beginning of every new year, a condition called RDD sweeps the globe, and writers are particularly vulnerable. What is RDD? Reality Deficit Disorder. I don’t know if it’s the champagne or peer pressure that makes us believe we can lose thirty pounds, build our own California Closet out of spare Popsicle sticks,
and win the Pulitzer by summer.

Let’s be honest. New Year’s Day makes us crazy. Spring Break only reinforces the original crazy idea and summer is the first time we can really grab hold of some sanity.

In January, we seem to lose all grasp on reality and forget that we do have a life. We have spouses, children, pets, day jobs and needy houseplants that all need our attention, too. These things don’t just go away because we decided to write a book, which you have probably been reminded of in the past seven months.

Oh yeah, I guess I do need to sleep.

If you are burned out, then it might be a good time to revisit your original goals and grant some grace for temporary insanity. Clearly the original goal was a tad unrealistic if it’s now summer and you are only halfway finished and are now afraid of your computer. Obviously you needed longer than 8 weeks to write
your opus magnus.

Just because we move a personal deadline does not mean we have failed. Sometimes our creativity will lock up simply because it is caught like a deer in the headlights. Give your muse some breathing room, and she might just spark back to life.

Summertime is a great time to set new goals. If you are live in TX it is currently hotter than the hammered-down hinges of Hell and you are pretty much forced to stay indoors to keep from spontaneously combusting anyway. Make use of that indoor time.

4. Focus on love.

One great way to rest and recharge our creativity is to read. Remind yourself why you love to write. Get away from your own work and out of your own head for awhile. Go to the pool and read the kind of stuff that inspired you to want to write that novel in the first place. This is a good way to recoup, but still be “working.” Often, by “plugging in” to the creativity of others, we can recharge and be ready to write in no time.

5. Write No Matter What—Word Poop is Part of Life

One of my favorite quotes is by Stephen King. The amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work. 

If the goal is to do this writing thing for a job, we just have to get up and do it anyway. If you aren’t currently writing full-time, this is the time to train. It doesn’t get any easier; the demands just get steeper and the
deadlines actually mean something. There are consequences.

I have chapters due to my agent. He needs 15,000 words. In the past 6 weeks, my grandmother has been in the hospital three times and nearly died twice of a bacterial infection (she is fine now), I had surgery on my right hand, and I have an 18 month old who actively pursues Death every waking moment. All great excuses  to not write, and it’s likely no one would have held it against me. But I wrote anyway. I want to be a big author one day and life is not going to stop to give me time to write. I figured it was great training for the next legs of my career.

Almost every day I sat at the computer I wrote pure unadulterated CRAP. I made writing goals of 3000 words and I wrote 3000 words of garbage. Not only did I write garbage, but every word was like pulling literary teeth. Why? I was tired, sore, strung out, and sometimes full of pain medicine. But I knew a little
secret.

The best writing is often behind a wall of garbage. We have to prime the pump. And, yes a lot of gross words coated in leaves, mud and squirrel dropping might come glopping out, but there will come a point where beautiful pristine spring-fresh awesomeness will start to flow and you will need a mighty large bucket to catch it all. It took 5 weeks of writing redundant junk to get to this past week. My writing has been better this week than ever. My subconscious has come up with stuff I never could have thought of deliberately. But my subconscious needed me at the keyboard clearing out the word excrement. I had to clear out my mind and then clean up my Book Baby.

Too many writers go to their “Book Baby” see it’s covered in word poop and they just figure they will come back when the baby smells like roses and angel kisses. Nope. It will still be covered in word poop and if you leave it long enough, your “Baby” will be painting the walls of your hard drive—

Okay, I’ll stop.

Just go change its diaper and get to work. It’s a Book Baby and word poop happens. It goes with all babies.

In the end, know that writing a book is more like a marathon. We have to train, prepare, and then pace ourselves, or we will end up curled in the fetal position on the side of the road waiting on the rescue van. It’s normal to make mistakes and have setbacks and feel less than thrilled about our decision to become a writer. What is important is to remember that all of the doldrums and depression is temporary, but the thrill of publication is forever.

What are some ways you use to bust past the writing doldrums? What do you think causes your creativity to “lock up?” What tactics do you use to get unstuck? How do you handle Word Poop?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for this last bit of month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of June I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements

Due to 4th of July Holiday, winners will be announced on Wednesday.

I am teaching a Blogging to Build Your Brand Workshop at Write It Forward. Sign up HERE. If you want to blog and you need my dedicated help to helping you find your own unique brand and develop a plan for blogging, then the $40 Blogging to Build a Brand will fit that need. In this class I will run you through exercises to help find and create a brand as unique as you and then tailor it to connect with your future fans.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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48 Comments

Understanding Influence–Making the Most of Our Time on Social Media

Photo thanks to Jason Bacues of Bacues Billiards 

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, chock full of tips to rock your social media experience and based off my best selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me Writer. One of the biggest complaints I hear about social media is that writers believe they have no time. I am going to share a little secret. We have plenty of time if we do it properly. The problem is that too many writers are approaching social media like traditional marketing instead of social marketing. When we try to apply traditional marketing tactics, we will be spread too thinly to be effective and, truthfully, can do more harm than good. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading my books for a clear understanding of the key differences between traditional marketing and social marketing.

Social marketing capitalizes on networking. Embrace the great news. We don’t have to do everything alone!!! Traditional marketing will tempt you to be on every last social media site and make a bazillion “friends,” yet all those “friends” will likely not be too vested in your success. So please trust me. A smaller network of effective influencers is far more powerful than a thousand followers who add little social media value.

What is social media value?

Well, these are the members of your social grid who participate actively and add good content to the Internet community. We are going to talk about the different kinds of influencers in a moment. Find these key individuals, and there are no limits to your digital reach. These influencers are platform-building GOLD and your most valuable asset.

So how do you find the key influencers?

There are a number of ways to pinpoint our major influencers, but it is tricky. Why? Because unlike direct marketing or old-fashioned PR, the goal of social media is to influence entire groups of people. We aren’t just targeting one individual, but rather the individual and his/her surrounding community. That is one of the reasons that, unlike direct marketing, the overall effectiveness of social media is not as easy to measure. There are some SIM (Social Influence Marketing) metrics that one can run, and companies that can help you locate your referent influencers, but I don’t know that they are all that helpful for authors wanting to build a platform.

Yeah, you are going to have to do some work. Sorry. But I help you make it fun.

Writers are different than companies doing social media. That was the impetus behind me writing  social media books specifically for authors. Not all tools that work well in the corporate world cross over.

Unlike General Motors or Sealy, most of us are a one-man operation. We don’t have a marketing department to do all this stuff for us, and we also have a different kind of product. The CEO of John Deere is not responsible for making every tractor that comes off the assembly line. Yet, most authors are required to write their own books. We cannot outsource our social media content (blogs, articles, excerpts, commentary, group activity, etc.) like, say, All State or Heineken.

The plain fact of the matter is that the more we participate in social media, the better the results. And when I say participate, that means strategized participation (mixed with fun) with clear end goals. This has become far easier to do since I launched the #MyWANA group on Twitter. I liken #MyWANA to the writer’s water cooler. Yes, there is time to chit chat, network, share links and encourage one another, but trust me, you spend too long on there and one of your digital colleagues is guaranteed to threaten to use #thepantsofshame if you don’t get back to your word goals.

But basically, when it comes to building an author platform, we all need to have a plan. In order to have a plan, we must understand the players if we hope to identify those who can maximize our influence, thereby minimizing the time we spend on social media. Not all users are created equally. They are divided into categories that correspond with the influence they exact of their surrounding networks.

Expert Influencer—is just what it says. These are the authorities in a certain subject, and people look to these experts for information, advice, and guidance. The experts are heavyweights when it comes to influencing the decisions of those in their networks. Expert influencers usually have a picture of themselves as their icon. They also generally have huge following that number in the thousands or tens of thousands, depending on the platform. Also, a quick glance to their website (which is usually denoted in the bio) will give you a clear picture that this person is an expert in her field. Oprah. Enough said.

#MyWANA has been very blessed to have a wealth of experts who participate regularly. We have quite a few agents and even NY Times best-selling authors. We also have quie a few people who have been very successful at indie publishing and self-publishing. There is a wealth of expert knowledge out there if we are willing to pay attention. The other benefit of the experts who gather at #MyWANA is these people are actually participating and interacting. The downside of following most experts is the content is often automated. We might get the benefit of their knowledge, but it will be next to impossible to actually network with these folks. Ah, but on #MyWANA @jamesrollins, @bobmayer, and @allisonbrennan are regularly there to share their awesomeness with the rest of us.

Referent Influencer—is in the person’s social network and exercises influence. Referent influencers are a little trickier to figure out. They generally have a fairly large following, but not always. Quality and quantity are not the same thing.

So how do we figure out the referent influencers? We have to participate so we can pay attention. For the most part the referent influencers are highly active on social media and thus usually have a larger following than the casual user, but maybe not as large as the expert. Yet, it is their level of meaningful activity that makes them essential to have in our network. They post a lot of times a day and are well-known, liked, and respected for good content. People around them trust them for good stuff. These are the people you miss when they take a day off.

In my opinion, the referent influencer is the most valuable. Why? First, it is easier to get close to them and befriend them and gain their support. If you write a blog about overcoming substance abuse (as part of your NF book platform), what are the odds of becoming part of Dr. Phil’s inner circle? Referent influencers are far more approachable and, frankly, there are more of them. Also, they are more likely to have followers who are active on social media.

For instance, when I first started helping James Rollins, it seemed almost ridiculous. I had 4,000 followers and he had almost 15,000. What did little me have to offer? Well, many of my followers were very active and had regular blogs and their own platforms. My followers are on Twitter to influence. That is our goal. But what about Jim’s followers? Maybe some of them have influence, but a lot of his followers are on Twitter to chit-chat with family and keep tabs on their favorite author. So in ways, the playing field isn’t as disparate as one might initially think.

Positional Influencer—is often in the person’s inner circle. Friends, family, spouses are all examples of positional influencers. Yes, whether most of us admit it or not, our mothers’ opinions still influence us.

Virtually everyone on social media is a positional influencer to someone else. Positional influencers can be very valuable to a writer, especially in certain genres. For instance, I imagine that most 4-year-olds don’t drive down to Barnes & Noble, slap down a credit card and buy a stack of kid’s books. But moms do. If you happen to write for children, middle grade, teens, or any group that typically would not be the purchaser of the book, then you must target the positional influencers or risk losing a huge percentage of your potential consumers.

What this means is that everyone on social media holds some value. They may not have large social networks (yet), but they hold a lot of influence when it comes to their friends, family and peers. I know last year when Jody Hedlund’s The Preacher’s Bride was released, it quickly rose to the top 20 on the best-seller list and a lot of that had to do with 1) it was a really excellent book and 2) a lot of us couldn’t quit talking about how awesome Jody is and that she had a new book. I think at least 5 of my family members bought copies of Jody’s book just because I wouldn’t shut up about it :D.

At the end of the day, be good to anyone who is being good to you. Networks are hard to build, and we need as much help as we can get from our social community. So if others help “raise your barn,” (repost your posts) make sure you pitch in with theirs. It is just good manners. Yet, it really can help maximize your time and influence if you will be mindful to befriend thos who exercise greater impact on social media. If you get a chance, come join us at #MyWANA. Our sole mission is to support, encourage and promote one another.

So what are your thoughts? Do you find social media overwhelming? For those of you who’ve been on #MyWANA, has it helped?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of June I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements and Mash-Up of Awesomeness Below

I am teaching TWO workshops at Write It Forward. Sign up HERE. There is a Becoming a Brand class for $20, but if you want to blog and you need my dedicated help to helping you find your own unique brand and develop a plan for blogging, then the $40 Blogging to Build a Brand will fit that need. In this class I will run you through exercises to help find and create a brand as unique as you and then tailor it to connect with your future fans.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Kicking out a Fast First Draft by Anne Greenwood Brown over at Writer Unboxed

Should Writers Use Excel by Jenny Hansen

7 Deadly Sins of Writing over at The Bookshelf Muse

25 Things You Should Know About Revisions by the HILARIOUS Chuck Wendig (And, yes, I am a total fan girl of Chuck which is why I always mention him. His blogs are THAT great.

Adventures in Children’s Publishing is a WONDERFUL resource for all writers, so I highly, highly recommend this treasure trove of awesomeness.

6 Benefits of Having an Agent in Today’s Publishing World by the talented and brilliant Jody Hedlund (yes, I am a fan of hers, too :P)

Chuck, Jody and then there is Tawna Fenske. If you want a place for a guaranteed good time, seriously gop check out her blog. Tawna is amazing.

Also, check out Camp Cheerful over at Piper Bayard’s blog. Can you tell I love funny blogs? Life is short! Laugh and laugh often.

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45 Comments

Failure–The Forge of Excellence

Today, we are going to talk a bit about failure. All writers who dare to dream seem to have this same fear–FAILURE. It can seem larger than life and everything fades away in the face of this looming beast. I want to let you in on a little secret. For many years I was the best, the Big Kahuna, the Big Gal on Campus. I was positively THE most successful person…at failing.

A little about me…

I was a high school drop out at the age of 15, then again at 16. I worked as a waitress, but was a really bad waitress. I lost my job and returned to school. I finally graduated high school at the age of 19. No one figured I would make much out of my life since it’s highly likely I graduated last in my class. I think by the time you get a GPA as low as mine was, they just start listing you alphabetically.

I came from a military family, so I decided to enlist in the Army…only I got sick in the middle of the physical and failed. Doc gave me a medical disqualification (DQ).

Great.

So, I dusted myself off and attended junior college. I figured I’d go to school and try the Navy. I come from a family of Squids, so that wasn’t so bad. I put in all my paperwork…then they found out about the Army. Sigh. Apparently a medical DQ lasted two years.

No Navy for me.

Back to the drawing board (school). I knew the medical DQ would run out, so I worked really hard and ended up winning a full military scholarship to become a doctor. I didn’t really want to become a doctor, but this was the best scholarship and I was broke ergo not picky. I transferred to T.C.U. and began pre-med. I swore in to the Air Force (yes, I made my rounds of all the branches) and pledged my life to serving my country as a future military doctor.

Two years in, I was a shining scholar with a 3.79 average. Then, in March of 1995, Fort Worth was hit with an ice storm and T.C.U. refused to cancel classes. On my way to class, I slipped and fell and hit my lower back on a concrete curb…and fractured it.

Bye, bye military. Bye-bye scholarship. Bye-bye medical school.

I returned to school a semester later. I had to use a cane for eight months as my back healed and there was no such thing as handicapped access to anything in those days. It seemed every class I had signed up for was on the third floor, too. But I did my best and took it one class at a time.

I didn’t want to be a doctor if the DoD wasn’t picking up the tab. Didn’t have the money. So I changed majors because I could no longer afford to be on a medical track. This was all well and good except that it set me back. Instead of being a junior, I was back to being a sophomore.

Felt a little like high school.

But, I had changed degrees and really loved political economy. I studied the Middle East and North Africa and felt I could make a difference. So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to help with a business development project in Syria. I would live in the Yarmouk Camp (a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria) and help modernize a paper facility.

Well, that was the plan at least.

The day after graduation I hopped on a plane. I was full of hope, dreams and passion, and just knew I would make a difference. I would knock this project out of the park and it would look SO awesome on my grad school application (I was applying for a special doctorate program).

Yeah….um, no.

It was a great experience but pretty much a huge failure. No matter what we tried, we hit a wall of bureaucratic red tape and corruption. I came back to the States and gave up on grad school. The hallowed halls of academia were too far removed from reality and I realized it was no longer for me.

I went to work in software sales and then paper sales and was dismal at both. I was a hard worker, but it always seemed that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the competition was eating me alive. Thus, it was only a matter of time before my position—and me—would be eliminated.

I failed at high school, failed at the military, failed to become a doctor or a professor and now I was quite possibly THE worst salesperson on the planet.

…and I wouldn’t trade one minute of it.

My failures taught me far more than success ever did. Many of you reading this are terrified of failure. I want to let you in on a little secret–Failure is not the end. Failure is a teacher. It will guide you to who you should be. Too often we give failure too much power. We think it is the end, when in reality it is training us for a better future. What if I HAD been successful? What if I was now a military flight surgeon? I wouldn’t be doing what I love and I wouldn’t be here to help you guys, to let you know it isn’t as bad as you might think.

Failing in school taught me to keep pressing on, even when that meant being embarassed. It was humiliating being 19 in an English class full of 14 year-olds.

Failing at the military taught me that some doors shut for very good reasons. Sometimes our prayers are answered, it’s just the answer happens to be “no.”

Failing in Syria taught me discernment. I jumped into a project before I thought it out fully. I wouldn’t trade the experience for all the gold in the world, but the project was doomed from the start. I should have done more research and planned better.

Failing at sales taught me that trying to do everything myself was a formula for disaster. It taught me to form teams and that relationships are the most important possession we have. When I was in sales, I didn’t want to bother other people and I tried to do too much on my own. My failure was an inability to delegate and form a team I could depend upon.

I now understand that any success I enjoy is not because of ME, because I am anything special. It is because of opportunities, blessings and support granted me from other people.

Our success is only a culmination of a lot of team support. There are no self-made best-sellers.

We can’t do this alone.

Failure is scary, but failure is priceless to the person who can embrace it. Failure should be rewarded because it means we are taking a risk. People who never fail rarely do anything remarkable. Nothing great was ever created in the comfort zone. Sure there are people who seem to succeed at everything they do, but the Midas Touch is not the norm. I want to learn from great people who failed yet pressed on and succeeded despite setbacks. I want to learn about creating wealth from Donald Trump, not the latest lottery winner.

Many of you who read my blogs want to be successful writers. If I can give you any advice, it is to learn to embrace failure. When we are in the middle of the storm, it is hard to see the bigger picture. It is tough to see how these setbacks and disappointment might actually be shaping a more brilliant future than we can ever imagine.

When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a famous writer and teacher, but I was told that was a foolish dream. So I traded in that dream for more practical dreams—a military career, becoming a doctor, sales. And you know what? I thank God every day that I failed at everything I ever tried because eventually I failed so much I no longer feared it, and THAT is when success started coming my way.

I took bigger and bigger risks and was more willing to throw my heart and all my passions into something because I finally understood failure never meant the end…it just meant the beginning of something new and I would be stronger for it.

The strongest blades are forged in the hottest fires. Adversity is the fire that removes the impurities in our character. Failure is the forge that creates excellence. One of the strongest forms of steel in the world is Damascus steel. Damascus steel is fired, folded and hammered hundreds of times, and it is this fiery brutal birth that makes it so strong. What about you? Are you a failure, or are you on your way to being Damascus steel?

Fifteen years ago, I had the talent to do great things and reach great heights, but I didn’t have the character to stay there. Failure taught me to work hard, set goals and, above all, remain humble and value people. YOU guys are my most valuable possession. You guys are my team and my support and I cannot reach my dreams without your help. It is my honor and privilege to keep your company, to hear your voice and to learn from you. If I can offer anything in return, it is my support and lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of doing just about everything wrong.

Failure is our friend. When I get what I like to call a “God’s-eye point of view” and see the big picture, I am SO thankful I didn’t succeed in the military, medical school or even sales. Success would have robbed me of all of you. I remember the tears and the depression and the self-loathing I felt after each failure, but what if I had been given a look at my future? I would have danced for joy!

We all start out a hunk of metal, just like the Damascus steel blade. Adveristy and failure fire out the impurities and strengthen our character and resolve. Failure might sting now, but if you could see the bigger picture, I imagine you would dance for joy as well.

What are some challenges you guys have faced? What did you learn? Are you facing something now and feel as if you are losing your nerve? What lessons do you think you can take away?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of June I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements

I am teaching TWO workshops at Write It Forward. Sign up HERE. There is a Becoming a Brand class for $20, but if you want to blog and you need my dedicated help to helping you find your own unique brand and develop a plan for blogging, then the $40 Blogging to Build a Brand will fit that need. In this class I will run you through exercises to help find and create a brand as unique as you and then tailor it to connect with your future fans.

Make sure you join our LOVE REVOLUTION over on Twitter by following and participating in the #MyWANA Twibe. Read this post to understand how this #MyWANA will totally transform your life and your author platform.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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