Posts Tagged goals

Help Me, I’m Drowning

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 8.23.46 AM

Flikr Creative Commons via Aimanness Photography

Many writers feel overwhelmed. We’re frequently trying to balance a day job, family, special occasions, emergencies, blogging, social media, laundry and even BATHING. It seems like just about the time we get a good juggling rhythm, someone tosses another bowling pin in our hand (sick kid, car breaking down, computer crashing).

I’d love to say that I’m perfect at these tips I’m about to offer, but I’m a lousy liar. But, I will say that though I’m not where I’d like to be, I’m far from where I used to be (again, thank you Joyce Meyer).

Sometimes We JUST Need to Outsource

I do a fairly good job of at least keeping the house looking like it was hit by a Category ONE Hurricane and not a KATRINA. But, do I have time to scrub all the floors properly and dust the blinds and make the shower sparkle like new? To wipe away ALL the macaroni and cheese The Spawn has painted on various surfaces? To vacuum every crevice filled with Cheerios and cat fur?

*clutches sides laughing*

My solution? Once a month a team of housekeepers come to rescue me. I love Maid Day. It’s like Christmas morning for the working mother. The house smells of Lavender Pine-Sol and everything glows…for at least a half an hour. Granted, I had to give up Bikram yoga (and settle for working out at the regular gym). Also don’t get to eat out as much, but that $90 a month is priceless for my sanity. I tend to be a person that needs things to be tidy or I can’t focus.

Dust bunnies will start a rock band if you leave them together too long.

Redefine What Clean Means

In the comments on my last post, a lot of you fretted about the unmade beds and the dishes and the laundry. I do too. But I am getting better. There was a time I would not have been able to work until I made my house shine like Maid Day. Now? If I can see the floors and flat surfaces?

We’re good.

The inside of my house seriously needs to be painted. I got through half the rooms then developed such bad tendonitis, I couldn’t finish. So the livingroom has patched holes from where the previous owners hung their pictures. We also have a few Crayon “murals” from The Spawn’s early years.

We won’t even begin to discuss the condition of our carpet (Hint: a toddler, two cats and a dog).

But there was a time this would have bothered me to the point of needing medication. I would’ve sold a kidney to hire painters and get new flooring. Now?

Just look away. Learn to un-see.

The Spawn claims he "Zombie-Proofed" his room.

The Spawn claims he “Zombie-Proofed” his room.

This past week has been super stressful. Mom in hospital, niece graduation, final revisions on new book, but oddly, what stressed me out the most? The belt on the vacuum broke. Instead of hoofing it across town to the closest vacuum supply, I thought, “Let’s order one off-line. Surely it will get here in a day or so because the place is in Dallas (40 minutes from us).”

It took a WEEK. Apparently the vacuum supply never expected someone to order a belt and BAGS for their vacuum and had to have them shipped from North Carolina.

Seriously.

It’s been over a WEEK since our floors have been vacuumed. O…M…G. That is a week of crumbs, cereal, cat fur, and pieces of plastic from toys Pippa has half-eaten.

Pippa found the clean baby blankets.

Pippa found the clean baby blankets.

...and the load of clean towels fresh out of the dryer.

…and the load of clean towels fresh out of the dryer.

Again, just look away. Get back to work.

Does the Five Second Rule apply to dogs sleeping in your clean laundry?

To make it in this game, we have to up our standards in some places (our craft) and lower them in others (laundry can wait, just hide it in the bathtub behind the shower curtain :D). We can’t live at 1000% in all areas and not completely drown. We need lifelines.

Delegate

When Mom was in the hospital, they kept screwing up her food. She has all the same food allergies as I do (no gluten, dairy, soy, etc.). Harris seriously has the most incompetent kitchen staff, EVER. They put bread on every meal they brought me when I was in the maternity ward. Did the same thing to Mom this past week.

Actual statement from my stay at Harris: But your burger doesn’t have wheat. That’s white bread. *head desk*

But I digress…

There was a time I would have dropped everything, run to Whole Foods and then driven the 40 minutes to Fort Worth to bring her food. This time? Called Palio’s and sent her a GF, dairy-free pizza…twice.

And she loved it.

If you have an intense period of revisions, ask fellow writers for guest posts. Post YouTube videos as your blog. Let your teenage kids find cool stuff for you. Allow your family to be part of your success. Let people help. We like to help.

I know I am still working on this delegating-asking-for-help-thing. I’m the first person to offer a hand, but seriously need to work on asking for help when I’m swamped. But I am improving :D.

All of this is a process. Some days we will rock it and others we will just….

Yeah.

Focus On What Endures

In the end, just remember. The laundry will never be finished. The dishes will never stay clean. Walls will need repainting and carpet will have to be vacuumed weekly…or hourly if you have a toddler. But relationships? Memories with our family and kids? Love? Finished books? Blogs that new people can discover or that can be made into books? Healthy friendships? Our art? Those things endure, thus need to be our priority.

What about you? Do you completely forget to delegate? Does asking for help just not even enter your mind until you’re one inch from a nervous breakdown? Are you good at delegation? Or are you a hopeless control freak (*guilty face*)? Have you learned to be better at asking for help or delegating? Any tips? Advice?

I love hearing from you!

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 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).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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105 Comments

3 Steps to Freedom–Grab Hold of Your Brilliant Future

This blog is dedicated to helping writers holistically. We are more than robots sitting at a desk pounding out word count. We have hopes, dreams, fears, bad habits and baggage. Monday is dedicated to helping you guys with craft. Wednesdays is to help you build your platforms. Fridays are my choice, but I like to dedicate these blogs to helping writers with life skills. If we want to be successful authors, we have to be good at time-management, stress-management, setting goals, facing fear, etc.

I always have people asking me how I have the energy to get so much done.  I am not where I need to be, but I can say that I am not where I used to be and that is great news. I still struggle with organization and time-management, but I do feel I have some lessons I can pass on that might help some of you reading.

Three Lessons of Confession

Confess the Real Emotion—Name It and Claim It

One of the first things that offered me a new sense of empowerment was when I learned to confess the real emotion I was feeling.

This was almost ten years ago, but I recall one day that I just couldn’t seem to get out of bed. It was a really dark time for me. I had lost my career in sales due to a misdiagnosis (doctors thought I had epilepsy), and I was on the verge of eviction and facing having to move in with my mother. I had no energy and no real desire to do much of anything. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat and all I wanted to do was cry.

Some of you may be able to relate to my upbringing. I had a single mother who was doing all she could to keep us afloat. Thus, my brother and I were never angry, disappointed, discouraged, or overwhelmed. We only had two feelings; we were “sick” or we were “tired.” Being ill or needing more rest would never make my mom feel guilty. Thus anything negative we ever felt ended up getting pigeon-holed into one of these two categories.

It was a really bad habit to get into.

So years later I found myself still only having two “emotions”—sick or tired. My mother came over to check on me. It was like ten in the morning and I was still in bed. Not sleeping. Just staring at the ceiling and thinking of all the reasons I was a total and utter failure. My apartment was a disaster and I couldn’t bear to ask anyone for help.  I knew I needed to pack, but I just couldn’t seem to move.

My mom stood in the door, crossed her arms and asked, “Kristen, are you depressed?”

I sat up and said something that marked a moment of change in my life. I said, “You know, Mom. I would like to tell you that. I have every reason to be depressed. I have no job, no money. I am afraid of my mailbox because it is full of all these bills I can’t pay. But that isn’t it.”

“What is it, then?”

“I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin. You know what else?”

“What?”

“I’m heartbroken.”

By naming the specific emotions I was feeling, I had unleashed tremendous power. I had opened a way to make a plan. As long as I was sick or tired, there was very little I could do to remedy either. And, to be honest, I wasn’t sick or tired. I was just so out of my depth that it was making me sick AND tired…all the time. I had lost a lot in three years—4 deaths in 6 months (including my father), my career, my health, my apartment, my dreams. And it was bad enough that I had lost those things, but then I never properly grieved any of those losses.

How could I? I was only sick or tired.

But this day was different. For the first time…I was heartbroken, overwhelmed, discouraged. For the first time I felt connected back to that intimate part that was…me.

This simple lesson was the first major step to a more productive life. Once I admitted that I was overwhelmed, it was easier to break big problems into manageable bites and get busy. Once I admitted out loud that I was discouraged, it freed me to dust off and try again. Suddenly, it was okay to be disappointed. I could grieve, feel the pain and then start anew. I have found that life is lived best in forward gear.

From that point on, I made it a habit to name the real emotion. It was too easy to hide behind, “Oh, I am just tired.” It took courage to say, “I am disappointed. You said you would help me with this project, but you haven’t been doing your share.”

It was scary, and still is. Naming my emotions has opened me up to possible confrontation. I suck at confrontation. It’s easier to just take a nap because I’m “tired.” I would love to tell you guys that I have been perfect in applying this. I haven’t. But, with practice, I am getting better and better.

When I hear myself saying, “Oh I don’t feel well” or “I’m just tired” I stop and ask the hard questions. What am I really feeling? What can I do to change things?

We are more healthy and productive when we focus on what we can control then refuse to worry about things we can’t. The trick is to cast our care but keep our responsibility. Too many people cast their responsibility and then keep their care.

Stop worrying about not having enough money. Focus on where we can minimize waste and save.

Stop worrying about the future of publishing. Focus on that 1000 words a day.

Stop worrying about whether our platform will be successful long-term. Focus on forging relationships.

Confess the Real Problem

One thing I have learned is that we will never get a handle on time-management until we confess the real problem.

Oh I just cannot find the time to write.

Possible translations:

I am terrified of failure.

I don’t deserve success.

I’m overwhelmed and I don’t know where to start.

There is a problem in my story and I don’t want to admit I don’t know the answer to fixing it.

Whenever we start hearing ourselves make excuses, we need to stop and peel back the layers. What are we afraid of?

If we won’t get to the real problem, we cannot recruit help. Recently I found myself saying I didn’t have time to work on my fiction. I stopped myself and asked the tough question.

Kristen, what are you afraid of?

When I got real honest? I was afraid to delegate, and I was afraid of not being in control. I grew up taking care of everything. If I didn’t do it, it didn’t get done.

Guess what? Life is different now. I have capable people dying to help me. I needed to let them, but I was too afraid of being out of control.

The problem was that I had to make a choice. I could control everything and do everything…and not have any time left for my fiction. OR I could step into my fear, face it, and take a chance that I might actually free up some time.

So, I made a list of all the things that were eating my time and I—GASP—delegated. And guess what? Not only did my world NOT blow up *round of applause* but the person I asked for help actually did a BETTER job than I ever could (Thanks, Ingrid).

But the lesson I hope you guys get is that I needed to first admit the REAL problem. How can we climb over an obstacle we won’t admit is there?

Confess Your Brilliant Future

Did you know that the subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between truth and lie? That is why we need to watch what we say. It has been scientifically proven that we believe our own voice more than any other.

What are you saying about you? Your future? Is it positive?

When I was growing up my grandmother had this saying every time I screwed up, “Kristen, you just can’t stand prosperity.” Now do I think my grandmother sat up all night thinking of ways to make my life miserable? No. To her it was just a comment. Just words. Didn’t mean anything.

But, I recall years later being plagued with problem after problem and one day, I finally heard what I was saying to myself. Every time I made a mistake I said, “Kristen, you just can’t stand prosperity.”

What was my subconscious hearing…then believing?

When I learned to make positive confessions, my life began to change.

I can’t wait to be one of those writers who busts out 4000 words a day.

I still have room to grow, but I am more organized than I used to be. Every day I get better and better.

I know that persistence prevails when all else fails. Baby steps count.

The mind is a powerful thing, and we are wise to get our mind on our side. Now don’t misunderstand. We can’t think happy thoughts and that be enough. We also have to put in some sweat equity. But, we must be ever vigilant to guard our mental and spiritual state. We are not just physical creatures.

Hard work paired with negative thinking is counter-productive. Our will is pulling the opposite direction of our work. Our will and our work are most powerful when they pull in the same direction toward the same objective.

Our will and our work must pull the same direction for forward momentum.

We cannot let our feelings rule. We rule our feelings. Every day we are wise to say aloud that we are blessed, grateful, happy, joyful…even if we don’t feel it at the time. Our body and emotions will catch up with time and practice.

If we keep saying, I’m tired, I don’t feel well, I don’t have time,  I’ll never have time to write, what future are we deciding for ourselves?

In the end, these three simple confessions have made a HUGE difference in my life.

1. Name the real emotion. It is okay to be hurt, angry, disappointed, or frustrated. If we leave the real emotion untended it is putting a Band-Aid on a boil.

2. Name the real problem. We can’t make a plan or ask for help if we avoid the hard stuff. Everything is doable if broken into smaller, manageable bites. How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.

3. Claim a positive future. Yes, we must work hard. But we will get more mileage for our efforts if our will and our work are both on the same team.

What are some setbacks you guys have had? How did you tackle obstacles? What would be your advice? What still gives you trouble and why? What self-talk have you caught yourself saying, but hadn’t noticed before? Does your family or close network affect you negatively? What have you done to counter that negativity?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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 January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also 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 the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books

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91 Comments

2012 and Planning for Success in the New Year

 It’s our first Monday of the New Year and we are standing on the threshold of a shiny new year. It’s almost as good as getting new school supplies. The smell of virgin paper not yet touched by a ballpoint. A new start. No mistakes. Nothing but potential.

Okay, so if you are anything like me, your initial New Year’s Resolutions might look something like this.

  1. Lose 20 pounds by February 1st
  2. Run a marathon
  3. Go to gym 5 hours a day
  4. Win the Nobel Pulitzer by my birthday
  5. Save 85% of my income
  6. Go on vacation to Bora Bora (Note to Self: Look up actual location of Bora Bora)
  7. Clean out garage
  8. Paint house inside and out
  9. Finally have all my socks match
  10. Write 3 award-winning novels by summer

There is something about facing a new year that instills us with such hope that we lose all touch with reality (blame it on the booze and sugar). It’s great to set goals, but if we get real honest, most of the time we are our own worst enemy.

Odds are, if you are a fan of this blog, you are likely a writer, an aspiring writer, or this is a condition of your parole. Regardless, all of you need to learn to set effective goals and learn habits that will keep you from sabotaging your success. Hey, I hear ya! I am the world’s worst.

But this past year, 2011, has been one of my best. I reached a lot of goals. Why? Because I learned some good lessons and applied them consistently. I hope to do even better this year. So I am going to pass these lessons on to you and hope that you will benefit as well.

1. Grant Permission to be Imperfect

The world does not reward perfection. It rewards people who get things done.

Perfectionism is a noble trait taken to the extreme which can serve as an excuse for mediocrity and a mask for fear. Perfectionists tend to be self-saboteurs (I would know nothing about this *whistles innocently*).  We perfectionists nit-pick over every single detail often at the expense of the big picture. Perfection is noble, so it makes a great shield. I mean, we just don’t believe in churning out shoddy half-ass work, right? Um…maybe. Or maybe we have a fear of failure, or even a fear of success.

So long as nothing is ever complete, we never have to face our demons and can happily fritter away our days perfecting our scenes and dialogue. Here’s the deal. No publishing house ever published half of a perfect book.

2. Give Baby Steps a Chance

How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.

All or nothing thinking, a close relative of perfectionism, can tank the best projects. It is so easy to fall into this trap of, If I can’t do X, then I do nothing at all. Baby Steps are still steps. Small steps, over time, with consistency add up. It’s sort of like working out. We can choose to show up January 2nd at 5 a.m. and work out three hours, but that is a formula to end up sore, injured and burned out.

Same with writing. Make small goals. “I will write 15 minutes.” “I will write 100 words.” Sometimes all we need is a little momentum. Can’t rev the motor if we never turn the key. A good way to get going is to use kitchen timers. Set the clock and write for 30 minutes.

I use sticky notes and set my big goal, then I divide it in half. One sticky note is on the left-hand side of my monitor (starting count). I then place the half-way point in the middle, and I am not allowed a break until I make that number (even if all I write is pigeon poo). The finish line is on the right. Getting started is always the hardest part. I generally find that if I can make it to the mid-point, I am golden.

3. Establish Accountability with Other People of Excellence

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

We do need to establish accountability. But, better than that, we need to make sure we are accountable to the correct circle of friends. A critique group is not enough. If a critique group is comprised of people who whine, complain and write when they feel like it, that attitude can rub off. Find people of excellence and they will help you stretch to meet a new bar. Hanging around a bunch of whiners who aren’t successful authors (and who likely will never be) is poison to your muse.

First step is find excellent peers. Join a critique group that has actual published authors or people regularly being paid for writing. If you can’t find that in person, look to Twitter. #MyWANA #RoW80 #writegoal #wewrite are all groups of dedicated professionals with a focused work ethic.

Critique groups and partners do keep us accountable. It is easy to blow off writing when it is just us, but when we will be a let-down to others? Different story. This is one of the reasons I LOVE blogging. Blogging has done so much to change my character and I highly recommend it to help you make the mental transition from hobbyist to professional. Blogging creates deadlines and accountability.

This is why writing down your goals is imperative. If nothing else, it is a cue to your subconscious that you are committed to something. You will feel a lot more conviction if you write out a goal than if you decide to let it float around your gray matter. I would even advise taking it to the next step and sharing your goals with others.

I feel this is why so many writers have a hard time saying aloud, “I am a writer.” To say it means we have to own it and that people will be watching. We are going to invite a whole other level of accountability and people will notice if we are screwing off. But I say that accountability is the best way to reach your dreams faster, so bring it on!

4. Small Change Will Grow into Big Change

If we cannot manage a little, why should we be given more?

Good habits have a way of filtering through our lives. I have a saying, “Smaller truths reveal larger truths.” We don’t have to do mind-blowing alterations in our routines to start seeing real change in our lives. I guarantee that if you just start making your bed in the morning that other things will fall in line. Soon, you will notice that your bedroom is neater, and then the kitchen. As your house gets tidier, so does your purse and your car, and so on and so forth.

Just start with small writing goals and I guarantee that bigger better changes will follow suit.

5. Understand that Feelings LIE

Emotions are important, but not necessarily a useful tool for direction. Sort of like the bumper of my SUV is important, but not for helping me get directions.

Modern pop psychology loves to ask about our feeeelings all the time. Feelings are important, but they are a lousy compass to guide our actions. Why? Feelings can be affected by so many things—fatigue, diet, too much sleep, too little sleep, jerks at the office, kid toys underfoot, PMS, hormones, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, cat vomit in our house slippers, and on and on and on.

If I can pass on any lesson that will change your life it is for you to understand that your feelings will almost always take the path of least resistance. If we are going to accomplish anything in life we cannot let our feelings have a vote.

I blog whether I feel like it or not. I don’t wait until I feel like writing to sit my tuchus in a chair. Feelings can be the enemy and steal your dreams. The Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies will capitalize on your feelings and do everything in their power to convince you that you will get to it later when you feel like it. Shut them down. Don’t give your feelings a vote.

The best way to shut down your feelings is to make lists of goals. I make lists every day and it keeps me focused. I can be exhausted, disenchanted, disillusioned, but it doesn’t matter. Getting over inertia–getting started–is usually the toughest part. Discipline yourself to be a starter and it is much easier to learn to become a finisher.

6. Make a Plan

Fail to plan, plan to fail. 

A good plan will keep you focused, accountable, and give you clear benchmarks to measure success. I recommend buying NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer. He teaches how to craft a plan for a writing career. I also recommend 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Getting Things Done, and Eat that Frog. Find ways to structure your life so that you maintain peace. Anxiety and clutter kill creativity.

In the end? Just Do It. Put that slogan on a Post-It notes and paper your house if you must. Put a Troll doll on your computer to remind you to be wary of Crappy Excuse Trolls in your midst. If any of you are new and don’t know the M.O. of the Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies, go here. They make 12% commission off your shattered dreams.

And remember:

  1. Grant Permission to Be Imperfect
  2. Give Baby Steps a Chance
  3. Establish Accountability
  4. Trust that Small Change will Grow into Big Change
  5. Understand that Feelings LIE
  6. Make a Plan

What are some struggles that you guys have? What are tactics you use to keep focused? What are your goals for this year? Be brave and put them in the comments. What are some goals you’ve always wanted to reach but haven’t? Why? What is your advice?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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 January 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 will announce the December winners on Friday. 

I also 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 the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

See you next year!

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91 Comments

What’s the Magic Number? How Often Should Writers Blog?

Blogging is probably one of the most powerful ways to build an author platform. The blog gives others a chance to know us and support us because of our writing. Yet, there is one question that I always get when I mention blogging:

How often should writers blog?

Everyone has an opinion, including me. But, before we get to my two cents, I know there are competing theories. Let’s take a quick look at those.

Blogging Every Day or Multiple Times a Day

Some experts recommend micro-blogging—blogging in short burst several times a day or short blogs every day. I think if your goal is to be a famous blogger, this can work. As writers, though, most of us are already balancing a day job, kids, housework, and a WIP. So blogging every day or more than once a day is hard on us and probably hard on our following as well.

Can you blog every day? Sure. It is a great way to saturate the Internet with your content and help fast-track a brand. I don’t think this approach is a good fit for most writers, though. If you can commit the time and be interesting that often, rock on!

Blogging Once a Month

Some experts advise once a month. Whoo-hoo! Yay! Only one blog a month!!!! *happy dance*

Okay, yes, there is that benefit of only having to write one post a month, but there are a lot of advantages we lose with this method.

I think that what we lose in this approach is the ability to build community and relationships using the blog.  Sure, we save time in having to write fewer blogs, but then we need to commit time in other areas, like lengthy e-mail lists. So, do we save time, or do we just shift it elsewhere?

If we post blogs regularly, people are connecting with us regularly and come to feel as if they know us. Why? Because they DO know us.

We are vested, posting content that serves the reader, and we are interacting with those who comment. We aren’t just surfacing once a month, expecting those around us to drop everything to pay attention to us and our blog.

Can the once a month approach work?

Sure. But this approach relies heavily on going viral…which is hard to do without on-line relationships to
propel the momentum.

For instance, my blog has a very large following. But, this blog has allowed me to forge relationships with other bloggers who also have large followings. My efforts now work exponentially instead of linearly. I don’t have to personally connect with 100,000 people. I have a team to help me. What’s better is that when my team promotes me, it is more genuine (psst–it’s also called word of mouth). Traditional marketing cannot compete.

I also think that blogging once a month makes it very easy to lose the top-of-mind with others. People have very short attention spans these days and a month with no content is a lifetime. Also, I don’t know about you, but once a month is really hard for me to remember. I had to get my computer to remind me to give my dog a heartworm pill once a month and I was STILL lousy at remembering. I think if we blog only 12 times a year, the blog is easy to forget all around.

What is the “Magic” Number?

I recommend a minimum of once a week. It is enough to stay top of mind with followers, yet not overwhelm anyone.

Ideally? I recommend three times a week, especially in the beginning. Why? Well, I know this sounds weird, but three times a week is actually easier than once a week. Blogging three times a week holds a number of advantages that are especially beneficial to professional writers:

Regular blogging places us in a professional mindset.

Writers write. Blogging is a great way to warm up those fingers and get the brain in gear. When we are writing a novel, we get little outside validation. Most of the time, friends and family think we are, at worst, lunatics, and at best, hobbyists. In short, others do not believe what we do is work or even a job. Blogging is a great way to demonstrate that we take our craft seriously. How? We wouldn’t spend time building a platform for a book we had no intention of finishing. Also, again, writers write.

When someone asks, “What do you do?” and you say “I’m a writer,” you know the next questions are going to be, “What books have you written? Anything I might have read?”

Blogging helps with confidence. We can say, “Well, I am finishing my first novel but you can go to my blog here.” A blog gives a professional front. It also helps switch us from hobbyists to true professionals.

This transition is vital. What if you decided you wanted to play baseball at a professional level? Would you just wait until game day to pick up a bat? Or would your lifestyle have to change to incorporate regular practice to take this “hobby” to a new level?

Blogging makes us faster cleaner writers.

When I look at some of my early blogs, I cringe. My thoughts are all over the place. Blogging works on our ability to mentally organize content. This helps us become better writers all around. Even plotting for a novel requires us to be able to organize our thoughts efficiently. Blogging is great exercise for that.

Let’s look at sports again. Years ago, I played soccer, and we had to run through a lot of tires. In three years of playing soccer I was never once assailed by a Goodyear tire on the field. So what was the point? It taught me to be quick on my feet so I would play the game better.

Blogging is like running cones or tires, or doing wind sprints. It makes us stronger, faster and better. The more we do it the faster the results.

Blogging feeds the spirit.

A huge part of this business is mental. Stephen King said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

I know of many writers more talented than me, but they won’t ever be published. Why? They gave up. As artists, we need to pay close attention to our mental state. It is easy in this business to get overwhelmed, burned out and give up. Blogging gives us validation in the lean times bewteen books.

The Big Picture

Am I telling you guys to blog because I can give you a magic formula for books sold?

100 blogs x 2 years divided by # comments X Pi = NY Times Best-Seller List

No, I encourage you to blog because it will make you stronger, faster, cleaner writers AND it will connect you to a large community of support so you don’t have to drive your book sales all by yourself. Instead of spending time putting together lengthy e-mail lists, write blogs instead. It takes the same amount of time and yet one approach makes us good at spreadsheets…the other makes us far better, stronger writers which means BETTER BOOKS. We also get really great at obliterating deadlines.

Blogging also keeps our head in the game. Back to sports. The pep rally is critical. All the practice in the world cannot help a team with low morale.

So back to our question, “How many times do we need to blog?”

There isn’t a clear answer. It is up to you and your strengths. Some people come from a sales background and their strength rests in putting together e-mail lists and launching marketing campaigns. If that is your strength, go for it!

For me? I am a writer. It is what I love and do well and I work hard every day to do it better. Blogging allows me to build a platform and strengthen my writing skills simultaneously. It permits me to do my passion WRITING.

My preference? I like three times a week.

Some people are against blogging three times a week because they don’t want to overwhelm their subscribers with fluff. My solution? Don’t write fluff. Blogging is a skill. It gets better with practice. You will get better at hooking readers with titles and content the more you do it. This will help your WIP as well.

Three times a week helps your blog and your skills grow faster. I have recommended this approach to many of my students. They kicked and screamed and whined, but when they started seeing the numbers climb and the subscriptions take off they were believers that three times a week really is easier.

But when we get down to brass tacks…

I recommend that you blog as often as you can be counted upon and still finish the books. The point of blogging is to eventually drive sales for our books. The finished product is paramount.

Back to blogging. There is a bare minimum we need to meet, or just forget it. There are too many writers who post when they feel particularly inspired. Hey, I was guilty once. But that isn’t the behavior of a professional.

Once a month, I think is not often enough for our blog to be much help in our platform. I advise a minimum of once a week or just forget blogging.

What are your thoughts? Do you love blogging? Hate it? What are your biggest challenges? What are some benefits you might have gained blogging?

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.

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.

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106 Comments

Twitter Tuesday #27–Team-Building

Welcome to the twenty-seventh installment of Twitter Tuesday. In the spirit of Twitter, this blog will be short and sweet and to the point. The tips offered here are all based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. If our goal is to build an author platform in the thousands to tens of thousands, then we will have to approach Twitter differently than a faceless corporation or even the regular person who does not possess a goal of becoming a brand. This blog will help you rule the Twitterverse without devolving into a spam bot.

This Week’s Fail Whale–The Traditional Tweeter

The traditional tweeter doesn’t understand the difference between traditional marketing and social marketing. Instead of forming relationships, this tweeter is no better than spam. Oh, is messages might seem to be genuine, but up close they all say the same thing:

Me, me, me, me, me. I don’t care about you, but look at MEEEEEEE!!!!!

There are writers who, when I mention Twitter, say things akin to, “Oh, well Facebook is where I socialize. I am just getting on Twitter to sell books.”

Yeah, good luck with that.

I remember years ago I was in the grocery store in mid-afternoon. The place was practically deserted. I had a song stuck in my head and was singing to myself (believing I was alone). Out of nowhere this man came up to me and told me that I had a really pretty voice. I recall blushing at the compliment and it made me feel really good….that is, until he handed me a business card. He was selling insurance. He asked me to call him and tell all my friends about the great deals he was offering.

I felt sick.

I felt manipulated and embarrassed. See, this man had been nice to me. True. But he wasn’t kind to be kind; he had an agenda. I never gave him my business, and I certainly didn’t rush out to tell all my friends. Worse still, he ruined any trust. Even if this man approached me today in an authentic way, I would never want anything he had to offer.

Twitter is the same way. We will support who we know and like, but we can smell a phony with an agenda from a mile away. Twitter is a powerful tool for selling books. That’s true. But Twitter is ruled by social norms, not market norms. Fail to appreciate the difference and the price to a reputation can be steep.

This Week’s Twitter Tip–Be a Team-Building Tweeter

The team-building tweeter understands the difference between market norms and social norms. The team-building tweeter is all about working smarter, not harder. Last, week NYTBSA Allison Brennan posted a blog blasting social media, and you know what?

I didn’t blame her one bit.

See, the “experts” in her circle were treating Twitter as some free way to advertise. In their minds, a writer had to have in excess of 20,000 followers for there to be any impact on sales. And this is true…if we are “marketing” to people.

Traditional marketing generally has about a 1% return. This approach, most often, will only influence 10 people for every thousand blitzed. This tactic is fine if you are a Nationwide Insurance commercial airing to tens of millions.

It is a formula for a chocolate overdose if you are a writer having to do all this marketing yourself…AND still write books.

Most writers have a day job, children, families and they have to write books. This is why teams are critical. This is about working smarter, not harder. It is about multiplying influence exponentially. How do we do this?

By forging relationships and serving others without an agenda.

Yes, Allison only has 3000 followers. But I LIKE Allison. Not only is Allison an awesome person, but she also writes fantastic thrillers (go here and buy one). Since I LIKE her, I am willing to tell MY network about Allison. Now Allison has just influenced an additional 4000 (my tweeps).

Oh, but it gets better. I have friends who like me and want to help me. So, if I am helping Allison, these friends want to help me help Allison. Many of my friends also have 1,000 to 5,000 people in each network. See how Allison’s influence just exploded? And this method is FAR more effective because it isn’t spam…it is heartfelt, genuine word of mouth. Traditional marketing cannot generate this kind of influence.

WANA methods work. They have put more than a few authors on the best-selling list without working the authors into the ground marketing day and night. No spreadsheets, no mailing lists…just friendships.

Tweet ya later!

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.

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39 Comments

10 Tips for Blogging Awesomeness–Blog Housekeeping

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, the day I devote to help you guys rock it hard when it comes to social media. These blogs are 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. As part of the job description, I read a lot of blogs. I also play with paper clips and scream at my printer, but that’s beside the point. I read a lot of writer blogs, so today I am going to give some pointers to help maximize your author blog.

I am not a social media expert. I am a social media expert for writers. Big difference. I focus on teaching you guys how make the most of every second you spend on-line. Every effort must serve building an author brand. This leaves more time for the important things, like writing books.

Often I hear social media being demonized. Oh, heavens! Writers are spending too much time on Twitter and not writing. They are missing deadlines because they are too focused on blogs. Down with evil Facebook!

This lack of focus is not social media’s fault. Too much time on social media (aside from a lack in self-discipline) is very often the result of a writer not taking a time-efficient approach to social media. This is why I am here. We don’t have to choose between writing great books and having a solid platform. We can have both. Here are some general tips for author blog housekeeping. If our social media platform is a tidy, neat, efficient machine, then that leaves us more time to write amazing books.

1) Make backgrounds easy on the eyes.  

If your background is dark, change it to a lighter background. Dark backgrounds with light lettering look cool, but they are really hard on the reader’s eyes and they will do terrible loading on a PDA. If you look at this blog’s background, it’s boring. Here’s the thing. People aren’t coming to your blog to look at your snazzy background; they are there to read your brilliant writing. When we have a light, simple background free of clutter, this encourages people to subscribe, to hang around and read earlier posts, and to even read posts on the go.

2) Break up large chunks of text.   

If you have blogs with large blocks of text, break them up.  Most readers, if they go to a blog and see huge chunks of text, they move on. I read at a computer all day long and that is hard on my eyes. Guarantee you our readers will feel the same way. Try to put no more than three to six sentences in a paragraph. Readers will forgive a long blog if it’s a) interesting and b) easy to absorb/read.

3)  Insert bolded bullet points to break up text.

This makes blogs easy to scan. Remember a lot of people read blogs on the go. They are often reading from a PDA. Make life easy and they will love you for it.

4)  Remove unnecessary clutter.

This is a problem with a lot of web pages. There is too much stuff so the reader moves on. Less is more.

5)  If possible, pick blog titles in a way that will engage and spark debate.

One of my most popular blogs to date was titled: What Went Wrong with the Star Wars Prequels? I gave my two cents worth and then asked others what they thought. I have 150 comments! But the title just posits a question that BEGS to be answered.

The best blogs are not information, they are conversation. Notice there really isn’t a right or wrong answer, but it sparks some fun discussion. Also, if this title was posted on Twitter, people would want to know the “answer.” Titles can be key when it comes to driving up stats and creating a loyal following.

Additionally, this type of approach takes our blog from talking “at” people and inserts us right into the heart of a healthy discussion. Now we are speaking “with” others. When we create enough discussions, we form friendships which create community. This activates people’s innate sense of loyalty.

6)  Make sure your NAME is the blog title.

Few things are more frustrating than when I try to do a mash-up and I have to hunt down a name. There is simply no sense in blogging if it isn’t building our author brand, which is our NAME. This is working smarter, not harder. If I am contributing 2000 words a week to the Rainbow Fluffy Kitten Dreams Blog, that means nothing unless I want to change my name to Rainbow Fluffy Kitten Dreams. Our blog is a powerful tool to build our author brand, which is: NAME + GOOD CONTENT + HAPPY EMOTIONS= AUTHOR BRAND

Name recognition alone will not compel people to part with cash to buy our books. They must recognize our names AND feel good about the images and content that bubbles to mind. People buy from who they know, and more importantly, who they LIKE. This is why spamming people on Facebook and Twitter is a BAD idea. Yes, we recognize this dude’s name…but the emotions are negative because I recognize him as the dude that kept crapping up my In Box with form letters.

7)  Insert widgets for others to follow you on all your other platforms.

A blog is all about customer service. If you are also on Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, LinkedIn, Technorati, and Goodreads….I will first tell you that you are doing too much social media. Get back to writing before I take away your G+. Ah, but after that , I would advise that you insert widgets so others can hang out with you on their platform of choice. Hey, we need to take advantage of the warm happy feelings our readers have after reading our nuggets of brilliance.

8)  Make sure you embed widgets to help others SHARE your content on other platforms.

Even if you don’t tweet, make sure your readers can. Embed a widget to help readers share your content with their networks.  Information needs to be portable to go viral. This is one of the few times, the word “viral” is good. We want out genius wordsmithery to infect the planet and make them our zombie slaves fans.

9) Make sure you embed a widget to SUBSCRIBE to your blog and also to get the RSS Feed.

RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication and it delivers your blog to a web feed for your reader. This is all about serving the customer—the reader. It’s like pizza delivery. We dig yummy awesomeness magically appearing in our news feed. Also, make sure that readers don’t have to go hunting for the subscribe button. Make life easy. We dig easy.

10)  Go through your posts and look for personal pronoun infestations.

If we use a lot of “I, I, I, I,” “me, me, me,” “you, you, you” it turns people off. We sound at best like we are lecturing and at worst like we are full of ourselves.

11)   Yes, okay ELEVEN tips. I lied :P. Make sure you have questions at the end of each post designed to spark discussion and encourage sharing.

When we get good at enticing conversation, then our blog becomes the cool place to hang out and chat. Blogging is less about great writing and more about being a good host/hostess. I see some really wonderful writers who have crappy blogs. Hey, I was once one of them. I am here to help you guys take the short-cut to success. I did all the dumb stuff so you don’t have to ;).

Speaking of questions at the end, I love hearing from you! What are some other tips you would like to add? Did I miss something? What do you guys like to see in a blog? What turns you off?

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.

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.

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78 Comments

Testing the Idea–Is It Strong Enough to Make a Novel?

Whether we are traditionally published, indie published or self-published, we must connect with readers and tell a great story. Structure is the “delivery system” for our story, so it’s wise to make it as solid as possible. Many writers don’t have the luxury of writing full-time. Thus, it becomes critical for us to use time effectively. We don’t have time to waste writing 30,000 words only to realize our “great idea” cannot support the bulk of a three-act structure. Thus, we need to get really good at testing our ideas.

I assume that most of you reading this aspire to be great novelists. Novels are only one form of writing and, truth be told, they aren’t for everyone. Stringing together 60-100,000 words and keeping conflict on every page while delivering a story that makes sense on an intuitive level to the reader is no easy task. That said, all novels begin with an idea. But how do we know if our idea has what it takes to make a great novel?

Many new writers start out with nothing more than a mental snippet, a flash of a scene or a nugget of an idea, and then they take off writing in hopes that seed will germinate into a cohesive novel. Yeah…um, no. In my novel writers critique group, we have experienced first-hand that not all ideas are strong enough to sustain 60,000 or more words.

Think of your core idea as the ground where you will eventually build your structure. Novels, being very large structures, require firm ground. So how do you know if the idea you have is strong enough? Good question. Today we will discuss the fundamental elements of great novels. If your core idea can somehow be framed over these parts, you are likely on a good path.

James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure (which I highly highly, highly recommend, by the way) employs what he calls the LOCK system. When you get the first glimmer of the story you long to tell, the idea that is going to keep you going for months of researching, writing, revisions and eventually submissions, it is wise to test its integrity. The LOCK system is one method we will discuss today.

Lead Objective Conflict Knockout… or, LOCK

LEAD

First, we must have a sympathetic and compelling character. It is critical to have a protagonist that the reader will be able to relate to. Our characters must have admirable strengths and relatable weaknesses. Many new writers stray to extremes with protagonists, and offer up characters that are either too perfect or too flawed.

Perfect people are boring and unlikable and they lack any room to grow. Perfect characters are no different. New writers are often insecure and our protagonists are us…well, the perfect version of us anyway. Our heroines are tall and thin and speak ten languages and have genius IQs and rescue kittens in their free time…and no one likes them. Seriously.

Think about it for a moment. Why do so many people demonize women like Angelina Jolie or Martha Stewart? Because most of us feel very insecure around women like these. They show us where we are lacking, and so we don’t like them. Most of us cannot wrap our minds around what it is like to be too beautiful or have zillions of dollars or the free time to carve pumpkins into sculptures while making our own curtains from recycled prom dresses. These individuals fascinate us with their “perfection,” yet we secretly wait for them to trip up so we can revel in their failure–I knew it! She isn’t perfect!

That’s why STAR Magazine can sell hundreds of thousands of tabloids with the promise of showing us that Angelina Jolie has cellulite. We want to tear her down and make her human. Not the best way to start out with your protagonist. If we make her too perfect, readers will revel in her destruction. Bad juju. We need readers to rally to her team, to like her and want to cheer for her to the end. How do we do this? Give her flaws, and humanize her.

Bridget Jones and Forrest Gump are two great examples. We can all relate to not being the prettiest or the smartest and so these characters are easy to love and root for. What if you are writing a thriller or a suspense, something that generally has a cast of uber-perfect people? Give them flaws. Perfect characters are passé. Don’t believe me? Watch the new James Bond movies, and contrast Daniel Craig with William Moore.

Now, to look at the other side of the spectrum. Often to avoid the cliched “too perfect” charater, an author will stray too far to the other end of extremes. The brooding dark protagonist is tough to pull off. In life, we avoid these unpleasant people, so why would we want to dedicate our free time to caring about them? Oh, but the author will often defend, “But he is redeemed in the end.” Yeah, but you’re expecting readers to spend ten hours (average time to read a novel) with someone they don’t like. Tall order.

To quote mega-agent, Donald Maas (The Fire in the Fiction):

Wounded heroes and heroines are easy to overdo. Too much baggage and angst isn’t exactly a party invitation for one’s readers. What’s the best balance? And which comes first, the strength or the humility? It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that one is quickly followed by the other.

Objective

Your protagonist MUST have a clear objective. There are many times I go to conferences and I see all these excited writers who are all dying to talk to an agent. When I ask, “So what’s your book about?” I often get something akin to, “Well, there is this girl and she has powers, but she didn’t know she had powers, because, see. Hold on. Okay, her mother was a fairy queen and she fell in love with a werewolf, but werewolves in my book are different. Anyway she has a boyfriend in high school.”

Huh?

Your protagonist must have ONE BIG ACTIVE GOAL. Yes, even literary pieces.

Don’t believe me? Okay. Here’s a good example. The movie Fried Green Tomatoes very easily could have been just a collection of some old lady’s stories that helps our present-day protagonist (Evelyn Couch) bide the time while she waits for her husband to finish the visit with his mother, but that is far from the case.

Evelyn is having trouble in her marriage, and no one seems to take her seriously. While in a nursing home visiting relatives, she meets Ninny Threadgoode, an outgoing old woman, who tells her the story of Idgie Threadgoode, a young woman in 1920′s Alabama. Through Idgie’s inspiring life, Evelyn learns to be more assertive and builds a lasting friendship of her own with Ninny (per IMDB).

Learning to be assertive is an active goal. Building is an active verb. Gaining the self-confidence to make your own friends shows a change has occurred, a metamorphosis.

Oh, but Kristen, that’s a movie. Novels are different.

Um…not really. I use movies as examples of storytelling because it saves time. But, here is an example in the world of literary fiction to make you feel better that I am steering you down the correct path.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan could have been just a collection of tales about three generations of Chinese women, but they weren’t. There was an active goal to all of these stories. The mothers left China in hopes they could change the future for their daughters, and yet the old cycles, despite all their good intentions, repeat themselves and echo the same pain in the lives of their daughters. Actually the protagonist in the book is the collective–The Joy Luck Club.

The stories propel the living members of the Joy Luck Club toward the active goal of finding courage to change the patterns of the past. The mothers seek forgiveness and the daughters struggle for freedom, but each is actively searching and eventually finds something tangible.

We will discuss this in more detail later, but keep in mind that running away from something or avoiding something is a passive goal. Not good material for novels. Novels require active goals…even you literary folk ;) .

Conflict

Once you get an idea of what your protagonist’s end goal is, you need to crush his dream of ever reaching it (well, until the end, of course). Remember in March we talked about the Big Boss Troublemaker. Generally (in genre novels especially), it is the BBT is who’s agenda will drive the protagonist’s actions until almost the end. Your protagonist will be reacting for most of the novel. It is generally after the darkest moment that the protagonist rallies courage, allies, hidden strength and suddenly will be proactive.

Riddick, for most of the story, is reacting to the Lord Marshal’s agenda. Riddick’s goal is to defeat the BBT, but there are all kinds of disasters and setbacks along the way. Logical disasters are birthed from good plotting. One of the reasons I am a huge fan of doing some plotting ahead of time is that it will be far easier for you to come up with set-backs and disasters that make sense.

There is a scene from the Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles that I just LOVE. The prime villain, Hedley Lamarr, is interviewing scoundrels to go attack a town he wants to destroy so that he can build the railroad through it. There are all kinds of bad guys standing in line to give their CV.

Hedley Lamar: Qualifications?

Applicant: Rape, murder, arson, and rape.

Hedley Lamarr: You said rape twice.

Applicant: I like rape.

This sequence gets quoted quite a lot in my workshop. Why? Because there are many new writers who, upon noticing doldrums in their novel, will insert a rape scene.

I am not making this up.

And if I hadn’t seen it so many times in my career, I wouldn’t have brought it up. We can chuckle, but this is fairly common to the new writer, just as it is common for children to write the letter “c” backwards. It is a heavy-handed attempt by a new writer who hasn’t yet developed plotting skills to raise the stakes and tension. Robberies, rapes, car chases and dead bodies are justifiable conflict, if they genuinely relate to the story. Otherwise, it’s contrived and awkward.

Knockout

So your novel has thrust a likable, relatable protagonist into a collision course with the Big Boss Troublemaker. The Big Boss Battle must deliver all you (the writer) have been promising. Endings tie up all loose ends and sub-plots and, if we have done our job, will leave the reader a feeling of resonance.

Your protagonist MUST face down the BBT. No fighting through proxies. Darth (Annakin) had to face the Emperor. Same in literary works. Evelyn Couch had to stand up to her husband and her monster of a mother-in-law. She couldn’t send in Ninny Threadgoode to do it for her. In the movie’s climactic scene, Evelyn employs the “Jedi skills” she learned from stories about Idgy. Her Jedi skills are confidence and self-respect, and she uses them to defeat her oppressors by refusing to take any more of their…shenanigans.

So when you get that nugget of an idea and think, Hmm. THAT is my novel. Try using Bell’s LOCK system. Ask yourself:

Can I cast a LEAD who is relatable and likable?

Is this OBJECTIVE something that will keep readers interested for 60-100,000 words?

Can I create a BBT and opposition force capable of generating plenty of CONFLICT to keep my lead from her objective?

Does this story problem lend itself to a KNOCKOUT ending?

This is just a taste of the good stuff that James Scott Bell has to offer in Plot & Structure so I recommend buying a copy for your writing library. Bell makes plotting simple. I was a die-hard pantser (writer who writes by the seat of her pants) and Bell helped me learn to plot, yet still retain the pantser spontaneity.

What are the biggest problems you guys have when it comes to developing your ideas? What are some setbacks you have faced? Do you guys have any recommendations for resources? Or, feel free to commiserate and laugh about all the good ideas that went oh so wrong.

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 Stella Deleuze. Please send 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

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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45 Comments

Creating Cover Art: Down & Dirty Tips

Happy Friday! Today, I have a special treat for you. My pal, Maria Zannini is here to give us the low-down on creating great cover art. No matter what route to publishing you choose, I go out of my way to provide the best information to help you forge your own path to success.

Maria, take it away!

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Perhaps the most formidable part of self-publishing is creating the right cover for your story. Where do you find art? How do you decide what art to use? When should you hire an artist? And if you hire someone, how do you know you’re getting your money’s worth?

I’ve been a graphic artist for more than thirty years, recently retired from my day job as an art director for a large communications company. I know good design. But more importantly I know how to create the emotional trigger that inspires and demands a second look—if only to quell natural human curiosity.

It would take a whole book to explain all the subtleties of good design, so instead I’m going to share some down and dirty tips to get you started. If you have any questions at the end of this post, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments.

Art

• To find suitable art, Google ‘royalty-free art’. Here are a few of the most popular ones.

Morguefile

istockphoto

dreamstime

shutterstock

Fotosearch

• As you browse, pull any art cuts that catch your eye. Don’t assume you’ll be able to return to that page later. Chances are, you’ll never find it again. (They’re tricksy that way.) Just save the ones you like and cull them later.

• Remember that unless you’re creating a book in a specialty size, you’ll want to focus on art that can be used inside a vertical format.

• Think in layers. There are 34 layers in the cover art for my book, The Devil To Pay. Skillful layering will create depth and movement.

• In the Western World, we read from left to right. This means your eyes will naturally settle on the left hand side of the page and travel right. You want to place something visually stimulating that will guide the viewer gently to the other side.

• Before you choose your art, think about your message. What’s the genre, theme, and mood of the novel? How do you want the reader to react when he sees the cover? (Remember, you’re creating an emotional trigger.) Once you have the parameters set in your brain, you will automatically scan and cull anything that doesn’t fit the criteria.

• Careful not to muddy your colors or use too detailed an image. When in doubt, reduce the image to a postage stamp to gauge the art’s readability.

Very Important: After you’ve created your cover, save the original in its layered file, then create a duplicate. Flatten the duplicate image and save at 72dpi, or use the function, ‘Save for Web’. When you upload to Amazon, Smashwords, or on a blog, you’ll want to use the lower-res version. Not only will it load faster, but you’ll prevent anyone from thieving your high-resolution image.

Fonts

• Invest in a set of fonts (or two) that specifically say “Licensed for Commercial Use”. Stay legal.

• The general rule of thumb is to use no more than three different typefaces per cover. The title font should be legible even when reduced down to ten per cent of the original art.

• If you’re skilled in editing programs like Photoshop, add drop shadows and highlights to your title to make it pop off the page.

Artists

• If creating your cover art proves too daunting, spend the money on a good artist. Nothing says amateur like a poor cover.

• Find the best artists by asking the authors whose covers you admire. This way you’ll also get the inside scoop on the author’s personal experience with the artist.

• Always ask the artist about her turnaround time. An in-demand artist can be booked far in advance, so plan
ahead.

• As you browse artists’ portfolios, pay attention to their range. Does it all look the same, or is there a uniqueness to each book? You want your cover to stand out, not look like it came out of a factory.

• Ask if the fee can be lowered if you provide the photos.

• Get everything in writing, and make sure you understand the contract.

• Don’t expect miracles. Short of creating an original painting for you, the artist can only work with the resources at hand. She might be able to alter the color of the model’s hair, but not a change of wardrobe.

That’s it for this session, kids! Do you have any questions for me?

I hope you’ll follow along with the rest of the Indie Roadshow as I share the things I learned on my road to self-publishing.

The Devil To Pay is available at Amazon and Smashwords for only $2.99. It’s the first book of the series, Second Chances.

Synopsis:
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and bad tequila. Shannon McKee finds herself at the end of her rope, and she bargains her soul in a fit of despair.

Shannon’s plea is answered immediately by two men who couldn’t be more different from one another. Yet they share a bond and an affection for the stubborn Miss McKee that even they don’t understand.

When Heaven and Hell demand their payment, Shannon has no choice but to submit. No matter who gets her soul, she’s not getting out of this alive.

Bio: Maria Zannini used to save the world from bad advertising, but now she spends her time wrangling chickens, and fighting for a piece of the bed against dogs of epic proportions. Occasionally, she writes novels.  Follow Maria on Facebook or my blog.

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THANK YOU, Maria for your time and for sharing your expertise!!! I hope all of you have a fabulous weekend.

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.

Happy writing!

Until next time….

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We Are Not Alone–An Indie Cinderella Story

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, 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.  This is the day I dedicate to teaching you guys how to rock it hard when it comes to social media. Writing is hard. Building a platform is hard. Some days it will feel as if you are doing all this work, and yet it’s all for nothing. So, today I want to share some social media successes with you to keep you encouraged.

There are all kinds of social media gurus who claim to have the answers. There are books to show how Such-and-Such-Author sold a zillion books in five months. All that is great. We can always learn something, but, before we commit to any social media strategy, we need to ask some tough questions.

First, can the methods be duplicated? Just because one person sells 1000 books a day with his hands tied behind his back means little if that method hasn’t worked for others. Other questions we might ask are, “Can the approach work for an unpublished no-name author who has never recieved the traditional publishing seal of approval? Can the approach work for a new author with only one or two titles? Can this method work for the writer who breaks out in hives at the mention of the words sales or marketing?”

I can’t speak for any other methods, but I am here to give good news. Yes, WANA methods have put my books at the top of the best-selling list. That’s good news for me, but what about you guys? The GREAT news is that WANA has worked for others as well. Authors with good books that no one wanted and that no one noticed until social media completed the success equation. We will hear from one of those WANA success stories in a moment.

There are those who will say that all that matters is a good book. For the past four years, I have said that we live in a society inundated with too many choices. I felt a good book was not enough. I deeply believed that we had to find a way to generate word of mouth, too. Writers needed more. We needed a good book AND a social media approach that 1) was more than just a new way to spam people 2) that would generate a community vested in our success 3) that could offer us exponential exposure 4) that left time to write more books and have a life and 5) that didn’t try to change our personality.

So I created WANA.

The big news in world publishing this past week has been that a British writing duo, Louise Voss and Mark Edwards, have signed a six-figure, four-book deal with Harper Collins. So what?

What makes this team interesting is that this deal was not earned the traditional way through the query process. This was an indie writing partnership with two books that the UK agents and publishers didn’t want. Rejected so many times these guys actually gave up writing. For over ten years! Then, earlier this year they gave it another shot and self-published. No agent, no publisher, no hype. The books the gatekeepers didn’t want to know shot from nowhere to, literally, #1 and #2 simultaneously, in the Kindle UK chart. In June alone they sold over 40,000 e-books.

And when they hit the top spot the gatekeepers suddenly forgot these books were rubbish and came running, cash at the ready. Louise Voss and Mark Edwards, congratulations! Read their story here.

Ah, keep reading. I have more good news. Voss and Edwards weren’t the first to use social media to launch their books up the charts. Bizarrely another writing partnership, writing under the pen-name Saffina Desforges, had led the way with another novel the gatekeepers rejected time and time again. Sugar & Spice  hit #2 in the Kindle UK charts no less than three times, and is on target to sell 100,000 e-books by the end of summer. That’s with just one title! They are currently in discussion with one of New York’s most prestigious agents.

But apart from being indie thriller-writing male-female partnerships with two guys called Mark who have conquered the Kindle UK charts with books the gatekeepers rejected, what do these two writing teams have in common?

Their success was down to the way they used social media to beat the odds and achieve sales most authors can only dream of. Mark Williams is here today to explain how the Saffina Desforges team have achieved nearly 100,000 sales with just one book using social media, with a little help from yours truly and We Are Not Alone. Thank you, Mark for sharing your story…

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Saffina who? If you’re reading this in the US then you probably haven’t yet heard of Saffina Desforges. If you’re a regular on Amazon’s Kindle UK site, on the other hand, it will have been hard not to have heard of her. Our e-book has dominated the British best-seller charts, with sales not far short of 100,000, has been # 1 in six genres, and has reached # 2 in the main Kindle UK chart three times.

And it’s all Kristen Lamb’s fault.

Let me explain. It all began last year when two writers over in England, Sarah Griffiths and I, completed a gritty crime thriller we had been co-writing, and sent it off to the UK agents in eager anticipation.

Now of course we weren’t complete amateurs. We occasionally dipped into Kristen’s blog and had stolen a few ideas. For instance, establishing a brand.

Sarah created the pseudonym Saffina Desforges for us. Google Sarah Griffiths or Mark Williams and a thousand different people show up with that name. Google Saffina Desforges…  First page all the way! So Sarah became Saffina.

We set up a website as per Kristen’s advice, and thought about buying WANA. But hey, let the publisher do all that promo stuff later. We’ve got a name and a website. The rest is easy. Agent. Publisher. Fame and fortune. Sorted!

If only…

You all know how the system works. You send off your precious manuscript. The agent falls about laughing and sends it back. You tweak it, send it off to another. Repeat until someone gives in. Give in? Us? Not
a chance.

So now our walls are covered with beautifully-framed rejection slips from some of the most prestigious agents in the UK. At one point we were on course to exceed John Grisham for knock-backs. Stephen King’s legendary fifty rejections was in our sights. We greeted each rejection with faux-joy, reminding ourselves just how illiterate agents are, and then we sat quietly in dark closets and sulked for a few days. All the while quietly joking to ourselves that the next email or phone call would be from a top New York agent.

Hey, we’re writers! Fantasising is what we do!

But after a while we realised the fatal flaw in the send-reject-send-again strategy. If the agent doesn’t tell you why they rejected it (which nine times out of ten they don’t) then what do you tweak before sending it to the next? You might be making it worse, not better. And there comes a time when you think, “There must be another way.”

So we stuck it on Amazon.

Well, why not? It was cheaper than sending out to yet another agent, and this was eight weeks before Christmas. We could be in the top five by then. Or at least the top fifty… Not that we were ambitious or anything. We’d have settled for the top five hundred. Of course by Christmas we weren’t even in the top five gazillion. We were nowhere.  So far out in the charts it was unreal. In fact our book did absolutely nothing for almost three months. It was nine weeks before we even got our first review! So much for friends and family buying up a hundred copies each and writing glowing accolades.

John and Jenny No-Pals, that was us.

Then Saffi got hold of a copy of Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and excitedly told me how it was going to soar us into the charts.

Yeah, right. I mean, I read Kristen’s blog occasionally, and I had set up an old blog myself (not that any-one knew it existed). But what’s all this stuff about Facebook and Twitter? Don’t we have enough distractions as it is?

So while I tried to sell our rejection slips on eBay, Saffi started out on the WANA route to world domination. New blog; facebook page; twitter account; new shoes; make-over; night out with the girls. Things I just never would have thought were needed to promote a book.

Meanwhile our sales were consistent. Consistently non-existent, that is. With three full months on Amazon you could count our sales on the fingers of a rattle-snake. Then in early February we actually started selling. Not many, sure, but readers were actually finding us. Was Kristen’s WANA actually working? Were the new shoes paying off? All we knew was we were selling a few more than before.

So we looked into WANA again, and took it a bit more seriously. Saffi said she needed two new pairs of shoe and every weekend out on the town with the girls. I wasn’t convinced. Did Kristen really say that? All I knew was, we were selling. Hey, I’ll have some new shoes, too!

Darn. Apparently I was only allowed a new blog. But I was happy. Instead of just Mark Williams, it was now Mark Williams International. No longer a name. Now a brand.

So?

So put Mark Williams into google and get a zillion Mark Williams hits. None of them me. Put Mark Williams International into google…

And Saffi of course went the whole hog, with two blogs, facebook pages, twitter accounts, the works. She started going through WANA page by page, finding out about hashtags and pingbacks and all that stuff. And so many new shoes!

But if Kristen says a girl needs new shoes to sell, who was I to argue? We were selling. That was good enough for me. Of course, having a blog and nothing to blog about is no fun, so we tried out some more crazy WANA ideas, like TEAM. You know, sharing your cyberspace and helping others. What goes around comes around.

We invited guests, reviewed other writers’ works, and wrote about things that might interest fellow writers and readers. After a while I reluctantly signed up to Facebook, and even later Twitter, while Saffi was busy with all the rest of the stuff in WANA.

By mid February we were actually selling in double figures every day, and making some headway in the smaller categories on Amazon. By the end of February we were getting top movers and shakers places. Not just in the charts, but climbing rapidly. We were selling hundreds a week. I emailed Saffi and said, “Re-read WANA and do everything in there, twice!”

So she did.

The owner of the local shoe-shop took early retirement to Barbados. But in between trying on shoes Saffi kept at it with all the other WANA stuff. And we kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. We were leap frogging big names. Writers we’d actually heard of. Writers we’d paid to read! Suddenly we were in the top hundred across all categories. The top fifty. The top twenty! And still the sales numbers were rising. The top ten! The top five! We actually got to #2. Three times!

As I write this we are still in the top fifty, selling thousands a week. With the debut novel by the unknown author that all the UK agents had rejected! Oh, and that crazy dream about being called up by a New York agent? Out of the blue one of the most prestigious agencies in New York called us! Yes, they called us, on the
other side of the Atlantic! Nothing signed yet, but some very interesting discussions going on about our new series of crime thrillers.

Will it be your turn next? Dare to dream!

Yes, of course having a good book that readers will love is a big factor. But you might have the best novel ever written in literary history. If no-one knows it exists, no-one will ever buy it. Kristen can show you how to make sure people know your book exists.

Oh, and for those still wondering, Kristen doesn’t really suggest new shoes as part of the plan. But buy a pair anyway, along with WANA. It worked for us!

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Congratulations Mark and Saffy! Thank you so much for sharing your story, and it gives me tears that I could help you realize your dreams. If you guys are the Indie Cinderella Story, then I am thrilled I could be your WANA Fairy Godmother :D.

I hope all of you reading this feel encouraged. I know I ask a lot of you and sometimes it just feels like you are throwing a ton of effort into a black hole. I just have to say that hard work, great writing, and a solid social media platform built on a clear author brand is the formula for success, no matter what publishing route you choose to take. 

Happy writing!

Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Lessons form The Green Lantern and how NOT to plot a story. LOVED this post by Jami Gold.

6 Tips to Avoid Death by Critique by Roni Loren

What Separates Man from Pen Monkey Yes, I am a total Chuck Wendig fangirl, but this man is pure GENIUS

For the romance authors. I highly recommend Anna Destefano’s post about some important changes in the industry. Anna always has great posts and is an awesome teacher when it comes to the craft. Social media is wonderful, but at the core we need to write great books.

The Myth of Having More Time Someday by Jody Hedlund.

3 Tips for Reclaiming “Alone Time” by Tawna Fenske

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Twitter Tuesday #25–Beware TADD (Twitter Attention Deficit Disorder)

Welcome to the twenty-fifth installment of Twitter Tuesday. In the spirit of Twitter, this blog will be short and sweet and to the point. The tips offered here are all based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. If our goal is to build an author platform in the thousands to tens of thousands, then we will have to approach Twitter differently than a faceless corporation or even the regular person who does not possess a goal of becoming a brand. This blog will help you rule the Twitterverse without devolving into a spam bot.

This Week’s Fail Whale–TADD or Twitter Attention Deficit Disorder

Social media changes so quickly even us experts have a tough time keeping up. There is always some new fancy tool for Twitter, some app that promises to make life easier. One key way to use social media effectively is to get good at knowing what to ignore…which is about 85% of everything offered to us. I recommend TweetDeck. Maybe there are better information management applications. But I know that if I keep swapping tools, I will never get good at the one I am using. I will also be wasting time trying to learn a new application. As writers we need our time for writing books, so we must guard our time and not get into habits that drain time and energy from our writing. TADD, if left untreated, can cause wrinkles, hair loss and a weird eye twitch.

This Week’s Twitter Tip–Be a Focused Tweeter

There will always be some new application promising new and wonderful ways to manage your tweets. Here’s the thing. If you stick with one of the more popular applications, they are keeping an eye on the competition. Let them worry about social media, you have books to write. Trust me. If there is some new app that promises to rub our feet while we tweet, and it works, and people are signing up by the hundreds? Tweet Deck programmers will raise them a neck rub AND a cup of coffee.

Yeah, wishful thinking, but you get the gist.

We really don’t have to bounce from app, to app, to app. Focus on building a community and writing great books. At the end of the day, our goal is to be an author with a rockin’ social media platform, not a social media expert of a bazillion different platforms and applications.

Tweet ya later!

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